Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sarcasm or a Serious Plea? "If Thou Wilt Enter into Life, Keep the Commandments" in Matthew 19

A Protestant minister recently explained to me that we weren't Christian because of our belief that we must strive to "keep the commandments" and obey God, for this means we are denying the grace of Christ and relying on works instead of Christ to save us. To be fair, this wasn't the only reason we aren't Christian: there are many points of doctrine and interpretation of scripture where we differ from his infallible views, thus showing that we worship a "different Jesus" and cannot possibly be saved by faith in Christ. The only true Jesus, of course, interprets Isaiah and Daniel the way my evangelical friend does: any departure in understanding means you're worshiping a false god or demon. Faith alone saves, as long as you can also pass a scorching theology quiz.

According to some Protestant interpretations of Matthew 19, Christ is being ironic or even sarcastic when answering the young man who asks what he must do to be saved. The correct answer of course, is something like, "Do? What on earth makes you think you can do anything to be saved? You are saved by faith alone." The phrase "faith alone" or "faith only" is biblical, FYI, being found (just once) in the New Testament. Please don't worry about where it is mentioned or in what context, that will only muddy the waters. For now I wish to focus on understanding Matthew 19, where, when asked what one must do to be saved, Christ responded with a phrase that can be found throughout the scriptures: "Keep the commandments." Or more specifically, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Is there exchange an example of Christ's sarcasm? Or a loving, sincere attempt to help this rich young man drop what was standing between him and God in order to become more whole and a true follower of Jesus Christ? You might guess the answer, but in the 20-minute podcast below, I offer a few additional angles and thoughts on this topic.

The mp3 file may download slowly - I would appreciate any suggestions for a better way to play the file in Blogger. Have tried Google Docs and FileFreak as hosting sources. Both seem slow. The MP3 file is 20 Meg.

Download mp3 file

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Jesus of Christmas

I love the Christmas holiday, in spite of knowing that Dec. 25 may not be is almost certainly not the birthday of Christ and that some aspects of this holiday, now and anciently, may be based on pagan concepts. Yes, I understand that Dec. 25, anciently thought to be the date of the winter solstice, probably had more to do with pagan religion (e.g., the cult of Mithras, popular among elite Roman soldiers) than with anything from pure Christianity. I understand that the symbols we use and the traditions we practice are loaded with pagan content, though in some cases they have been reworked to convey Christian meaning. That's OK. Of course, it can work both ways. Sometimes good Christian symbols have been adapted by evil groups for their own purposes. Symbols and their meanings shift and change.

While the trappings and traditions may have shifted, may we all remember and gratefully accept the unchanging reality of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, born as man, who fully followed the Father, had authority and divine power from the Father, testified of the Father, obeyed the Father, prayed to the Father, taught us to come unto the Father through Him, and witnessed that His Father was greater than He was (John 14:28). He deflected praise and gave glory to the Father, saying, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God" (Matt. 19:17).

He yielded How own will to that of the Father, drank the bitter cup of unimaginable agony to pay the price for the sins of all mankind, gave up His life, then took up His body once again in the glorious miracle of the Resurrection, and showed Himself to many who would touch and feel and know for sure that He was alive with a body of flesh and bone, not spirit only (Luke 24:36-43). Witnesses saw and felt that He was tangible, real, physical, in Whose glorious physical image we most surely have been created. He returned to the presence of the Father, not merged into one incorporeal immaterial construct of the philosophers, but as the tangible, living, real Son of God, not shedding His body a second time, but living at the right hand of the Father as the New Testament so frequently affirms and as Stephen saw as he was being killed for his testimony (Acts 7:55-58).

In his glorious resurrected state, the Son is now fully like the Father and is even said to be in "the express image of the Father" (Heb. 1:1-3)--looking just like Him, in Whose similitude or image (physical appearance) we too are created (James 3:9; Gen. 1:26-29; cf Gen. 5:1,3 for insight on the physical nature of "image").

This is our Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind, offered up by a loving Father to save the world (to me as a parent, John 3:16 is so powerful when we recognize that it truly was a Father offering His beloved son, not somebody merely offering himself). He is truly One with the Father--but in what way? Jesus explained this clearly and powerfully when He gave his great intercessory prayer in John 17 before He was crucified, a prayer on behalf of those who did and would believe in Him and seek to follow Him. He prayed that we might be one, even as He and the Father are one:
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are....

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
He calls us to be one and to follow them and to become perfect. That word is not a Mormon blasphemy, but the call of Christ to us, who asked us to become perfect even as His Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). That is the impossible, incredible goal: to take us fallen children, so far departed from the ways of God, the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10), and to bring us back as true children of God through the grace and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to reveal the divine glory that is in us as sons and daughters of God--and if children, then heirs, even potential joint-heirs with Christ with glory waiting to be revealed within us (Romans 8:14-18). So far beyond our comprehension, yet this is the call of Christmas and of Christ: to follow Jesus and to return to the presence of the Father, to repent of all our sins and receive the grace that God offers us in a covenant relationship aimed at helping us put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-10) to have eternal joy through Christ and the Father.

This is the true Jesus of Christmas, our Savior, our Friend, the Son of God who invites us to follow Him, to participate in eternal life in the presence of the Father. Some of this precious biblical knowledge has been marred by the speculations of philosophers and the decrees of potentates, leaving many confused about the reality of our relationship to God and Christ and the purpose of our mortal life. None of us understand it perfectly, but may we seek and learn to understand these precious topics more clearly.

Many good Christians may differ with our understanding of issues such as the Creation, the nature of God, the reality of the Resurrection, the nature of heaven or the terms of the covenant of grace that Christ offers or the importance of following him and enduring to the end, but in spite of doctrinal debates and questions, let us recognize that Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus behind the generally hidden message of Christmas, is real, not a mere story, not fiction, and that His divine Atonement and love offer the only sure hope for mankind. Let us not be deceived by the gifts of the world and the choking riches that lure so many, nor by the mocking of others who cannot imagine God coming to earth as man, but let us press forward in faith and hold out to the end in worshiping Jesus Christ as our true Savior and hope.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Little Green Band of Vegetation: Another Amazingly Lucky Guess by Joseph Smith?

Have any of you pondered just how amazing First Nephi is in terms of the intellectually rich evidence it provides for the plausability of the Book of Mormon? For the intellectually and spiritually honest, it can open one's mind to the possibility that maybe this is an ancient text with origins unexplainable by the usual claims of fabrication and forgery by a sinister farm boy. I've previously highlighted the delightful evidences we have from the Arabian Peninsula (see my Book of Mormon evidences page, for example), but today I'd like to remind you of one piece of that body of evidence: the bulls-eye placement of Bountiful on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, nearly due east of the ancient burial place Nahom (or Nehhem, as it is shown on one map from the University of Sana'a in Yemen). Following the detailed directions given in the Book of Mormon plausibly takes us to the eastern shores of modern Oman, where in fact we have a couple of excellent candidates for the place that anti-Mormon critics once dismissed as an impossibility (and apparently still can't honestly acknowledge today).

The area of the Peninsula that offers such rich finds for the Book of Mormon is more than merely interesting. It is truly amazing. The region the Book of Mormon describes as a plush, green area with fruit trees and many other criteria that appear to plausibly fulfilled by real locations, is counterintuitive, surprising, and unexpected in a Peninsula that "every knows" is little more than a vast dessert. But among that entire Peninsula there is a little green band of vegetation on the coast due east of Nahom (or Nehhem or Nihm, the name of the ancient tribe who left us ancient altars from Lehi's day with their tribal name inscribed thereon, showing that the Semitic root of NHM was the key name associated with that ancient area). The plausible candidates for Bountiful are an important enough find that it is dangerously irresponsible to dismiss such an intriguing and gracious hint of ancient origins as just a lucky guess. It is not "proof" that Jesus is the Christ, but evidence that we should not be too hasty to dismiss the Book of Mormon as mere fantasy and fraud. Open your mind and your heart, read the text, and learn for yourself if it truly is an ancient witness for the reality of the Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, and evidence that the work of the gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ has begun.

There are many other videos of interest about the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. Here's one more. Important note regarding the last video: You don't need a cool hat to be a fan of the Book of Mormon or to be an LDS scholar. But I guess it helps.

Oh, did I mention iron ore? Yeah, it's a cool story from the Bountiful region. And I just updated my link to an important old article at LDSMag.com that is hard to find unless you know just where to look. It's >"Geologists Discover Iron Ore in the Region of Nephi's Bountiful" by Ron Harris in Meridian Magazine at LDSmag.com. (I dare you to find it using Google! I think everyone else's links to this article are dead after LDSMag changed the URL.) Excellent, easy-to-smelt iron ore has been discovered in the region of Bountiful on the eastern coast of Oman, consistent with the Book of Mormon. This article discusses the significance of the find and confirms that the iron ore near the area can be converted to workable metal using wood-fired technology. The video adds further insight. Cool stuff--and part of the growing body of shreds of evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon that simply don't exist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yes, Pornography is Harmful: Pamela Paul's "The Cost of Growing Up on Porn"

For those of who have read the news about alleged "research" claiming that pornography doesn't harm us, get a fresh dose of reality from Pamela Paul in her article, "The cost of growing up on porn." She's one of the few journalists who can see the hard-to-miss but easy-to-deny problems of pornography. She looks past some deceptive headlines to find out just what kind of research was behind some recent news about the harmless nature of porn. Hmmmm, a surprise! Or is it?

Be sure to read both pages of the article.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader--A Fun Movie with a Touch of Teaching

I went with my wife Friday night to see the opening of the new movie in the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If you love C.S. Lewis and his fanciful Narnia tales, you should enjoy the movie spite of some departures from the book. If you like adventure and fantasy stories appropriate for families, you might like it also. I really enjoyed it, especially as I considered what C.S. Lewis might want people to understand about this and about our fallen natures and the hope that God gives us through his Aslan-like Son. A key element is the personal journey of Eustace from whining boy to dragon, even a dragon who chose and did good, and then was freed from his reptilian scales by the power of Aslan.

In terms of enjoyment, I think the special effects were my favorite part of the movie. The water management team did a great job both with the standing waves at the end and the water that gushed into and out of the enchanted painting. Aslan is a wonderful computer animation as well. Very cool. The sea serpent was overdone, to the point of being corny and was probably too intense for young children, IMO.

I saw this in 2D (normal movie format), though it is available in 3D. From what I've heard, I think it might be more enjoyable without the 3D.

There were a few parts where I wanted to just say, "What?" Like landing at the main port of a strange and possibly hostile city, and having the king and three or four others wander in with with a crossbow or too. Nice way to lose a king in a hurry. Spend a few moments with some of our Marines to learn how to handle that kind of situation, guys. The table of Aslan scene also was less than appetizing. Creepy looking place with old frozen geezers sitting there--and we're supposed to trust the glowing star lady that the food is safe? Had it even been properly refrigerated and cleaned?

I often struggle with movies when there are major gaps in logic or science. Suffering through the eco-panic movie, The Core, was one of my most difficult experiences. (How does a small vessel with people inside travel for days through 9,000-degree molten magma and still remain habitable inside? Simple - they've got a tank of liquid nitrogen on board. That stuff is cold.) There were some such gaps in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but since it's intended to be a fantasy where the rules are a bit more fluid, it's easier for me to turn on the necessary suspension of disbelief to enjoy it. So I could deal with the whole passage to the alternate world Narnia thing, the evil island, and so forth - but I'm still irritated by that journal of Eustace. How did it manage to come along with him, in dry form, no less, after his unexpected passage to Narnia through a magical flood that left him nearly drowned and struggling for breath in a Narnia sea? Of such irritations is a trivial life made. I'll have to get over it, I guess.

Overall, a very fun movie with something of a plot, good special effects, not much gore, no salaciousness, and relatively good acting, especially by the computer-generated creatures. Had a fun time and was glad I went. Excellent for a date.

(Don't blame the movie but Lewis for most of my little objections, as Alex points out in the comments, but if I were directing it . . . oh, never mind.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Minuscule Mormonism: Satan's Most Dangerous Tool?

Recently I was in the office of a local minister, a very sharp and interesting man with many accomplishments in his ministry. I was there to participate in a low-key discussion with him and some of the very good people in his congregation. He wasn't shy about sharing his opinion that one of Satan's most dangerous tool in this crazy world happens to be Mormonism. In fact, it might be Satan's most dangerous deception of all. Not atheism, not totalitarian governments that shut down Christianity, not lust, greed, pornography, or any of the much bigger religions who teach dangerous doctrines he disagrees with, but minuscule Mormonism. While this was certainly a great ice-breaker to get our conversation going, it left me really puzzled. How can a religion that teaches people to believe in Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him be the most dangerous deception on the planet, as he also put it?

I understood where he was coming from a little better shortly after he allowed me to read a few verses from the Bible to respond to one of the many charges that had been made about our faith and our alleged non-Christian status. I explained that I wasn't reading these to disprove his faith or to convert others to ours, but to show two of his followers, sincerely worried about the souls of their Latter-day Saint parents, that it's possible for a person to believe some of the allegedly non-Christian doctrines of the Mormons while sincerely accepting the teachings of the Bible. He had just railed against our belief in the premortal existence and the idea that we are spirit children of God with divine heritage, and had said that the Bible does not teach that we are offspring of God--he had used that word, offspring. In explaining how a Latter-day Saint could believe such things, while sincerely accepting the Bible and the Jesus of the Bible, I read from Romans 8:14-18,38-39 which speaks of us being children of God and if children, then heirs, even "joint-heirs with Christ" with "glory which shall be revealed in us." I then read Heb. 12:9,10 which teaches that God is the Father of our spirits. Then when I was able to read more, I added Acts 17:28,29, which emphasizes that we are "his offspring" . . . "the offspring of God." If I were trying to be nasty, I would have reminded people that he had just denied that we are the offspring of God, but I was trying my best to be tactful, and only wanted to score the point that it's possible to accept such a doctrine while also sincerely accepting the Bible, recognizing of course that there are various possibilities for how one interprets any verse, as I explained. One can say our doctrine there is too literal, but to say that it is part of what makes us non-Christian seems like a stretch.

Well, I thought I had laid out a brief but potentially reasonable and biblical case for mortals being actual children of God, the Father of our spirits, in Whose image we are created and Whose offspring we are, etc. His response, though, was to explain that my few minutes of teaching helped confirm his point of just how dangerous the deception of Mormonism was, for Mormonism had been so deceptively crafted that many parts of it could sound and look biblical--all part of a clever, Satanic scheme to lure people away from the truth.

As for Mormonism being Satan's most clever deception, I can think of a few fine points the Master Marketer overlooked. For starters, it seems like Satan would have been a little smarter to leave out the stuff that even we Mormons really struggle with.

Well, less than 1% of the earth's population with a tiny little rag-tag team of 19-year-old kids sharing Books of Mormon and telling people to quit smoking, start reading scriptures, pray with their families, live better lives, and turn to Jesus--and we're the most dangerous deception on the planet, Satan's most deadly tool. Take that, Hollywood!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Different Jesus? Really? And Just When Do Saved Christians Lose Their Souls?

My head is still spinning--or rather, my heart aching--after a painful encounter with a local minister who tried to explain to me and a couple of the members of his flock (two sweet and devout Christians) that I am not Christian because I believe in a different Jesus. Didn't matter that I claim to believe in the New Testament and the Jesus that was born in Bethlehem, the Son of God, the one who died on the cross for all of our sins. My Jesus is a different Jesus because my theology isn't up to snuff. I believe in false doctrines like baptism for the dead, modern revelation, and the Book of Mormon. I also wrongly think it's necessary to be baptized, important to try to keep the commandments (works!), and so forth, plus my understanding of what happens after resurrection (eternal families? gag!) is non-biblical. All of which means that I am not even close to being a Christian because the Jesus I believe in is a different Jesus--not the Jesus of the Bible, but maybe (I'm guessing) Jesus Rodriguez, a shoe repairman in Veracruz, Mexico who smokes cigars when he's got them and yells at his kids. Or some other Mormon Jesus, not the one that saves.

That eventually led me to an interesting question which I wasn't shy about asking.

"Exactly when do saved Christians lose their souls?"


"Well, consider one of your followers who has accepted Christ, turned his heart to Jesus, and has been saved. What might he do to lose his soul?"

Nothing, really. God is powerful to save, and once God saves someone, he's going to heaven.

"But tell me when he loses his soul in this scenario. Imagine that he decides to walk into a Mormon church service one day. Has he lost his soul? Not yet? Suppose he enjoys the service and wants to come back? Soul lost? Suppose he starts to think that maybe he should keep the commandments to really follow Jesus. Then he starts to believe that maybe God does want him and his wife to be together even after death. He starts to believe eternal family life might be possible. Is that doctrine so abominable that his soul will be lost? Then he starts to read the Book of Mormon and he feels that it is also a witness of Christ. Is his soul lost then? Still believing in Jesus and in the Bible, he also begins to believe in baptism, even baptism by immersion Mormon style, and then baptism for the dead, and a dozen other incorrect Mormon doctrines--all while sincerely feeling that he still loves the same Jesus he once accepted. He eventually becomes a Latter-day Saint. At which point does God say that his theological understanding has become so flawed that the once-saved Christian must be kicked out of heaven and cast into hell? So when did he lost his soul?"

The minister, who couldn't quit talking before, seemed surprisingly quiet. Then he came back and challenged the scenario by saying he'd never known of a born again Christian who had become Mormon. But there have been people like that, I insisted. It's not merely theoretical. If a saved Christian can become Mormon, and many have, at what point do they lose their souls--especially when they still believe, in their hearts, in the same God and Jesus that they turned to for salvation in the first place?

Likewise, the path that I and others have been through, even while LDS, of turning to Jesus and seeking salvation from Him as the only source of redemption ought to fulfill every requirement of salvation from his perspective. If I am wrong about the Book of Mormon, if I've got my info on baptism and various other doctrines all wrong, then I'm truly sorry, but after all it is Jesus I believe in, the Jesus of the Bible, and it is through His Atonement that I have peace and hope. So in spite of all the flaws I may have in my knowledge of theology, does not my sincere acceptance of Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, and my sense that I have been born again through His grace not count for something? I may have all sorts of errors in my understanding, perhaps I have been deceived on many points of doctrine, but is it not possible to recognize that in spite of such flaws, I too may be Christian?

No, absolutely not. Because of the Book of Mormon and all our many mistakes, I believe in a different Jesus. End of story.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Touch of Heaven in a Food Court

An interesting example of freedom of expression took place in a food court in a Welland, Ontario mall recently. I was glad to see that this group could organize this kind of demonstration without facing tasers, tear gas, assault dogs, or Richard Dawkins. Guess it's still a free country (OK, that country happens to be Canada). On the other hand, this was on private property--hope they had an OK from the mall owners to do this. Since the music over the loudspeakers was part of the event, that must be the case. Nice.

Organized "pranks" of this uplifting nature may, of course, get out of hand and be done in inappropriate, offensive ways, so watch it. But you're welcome to sing that beautifully around me almost anytime, anywhere. Just knock first.

Some of the story is at the Vancouver Sun. The group is Chorus Niagara.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"I Spake Unto Thee in Thy Prosperity"

"I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice." - Jeremiah 22:21.

In this passage, the Lord is speaking through one of his servants, Jeremiah, to wake up a complacent community that had departed from their covenant with God and now found their comfort in sin, pride, and prosperity. In their prosperity, the Lord was warning them of dangers ahead, calling them to repentance, trying to teach day and night, and yet as always, they chose not to listen. Dire consequences are about to follow:

22 The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness.

23 O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail!

Modern prophets also have been warning us in our prosperity--yes, even this troubled economy, hindered by unimaginable corruption and theft of a monstrous scale, is an era of remarkable prosperity and comfort relative to what much of the world has faced. They have warned us against the threats to our families and communities, threats to personal happiness and individual freedom (e.g., the enslavement of drugs, pornography, anger, and immorality), and threats to our souls and eternal destiny. But in our prosperity, we do not listen.

In the Lord's mercy, in His undying love for us, He will continue to call us back. That's what worries me.

It worries me because I fear he needs a humble people, a people who have felt the pangs of grief that bring us to turn our hearts back to God when the false gods we have been worshiping finally prove futile in the midst of affliction.

Jeremiah had a knack at being a bit gloomy. One can see why he wasn't the celebrity of choice to entertain at big office parties. But he saw the big picture and could see the disaster ahead if his people didn't change. Our most recent modern prophets do a great job of staying cheerful, for the most part, but we must not let their loving, cheerful personalities mute the solemn words of warning they provide. These are serious times and the dangers we face are far more serious than many think.

How to find their words? Why not try the General Conference section on the wonderful new LDS>org website. President Thomas S. Monson's talk, "The Three Rs of Choice" is one place to begin.

Put the pride down and turn yourself in--to the Lord. You'll make things easier for all of us. It really is remarkable how one person's decision to repent and serve God can change so many things and do so much lasting good. Let's all get started (again) today.

This is the basic message of Christianity, though it's hard to tell if you've been listening to some of those televangelists who teach the prosperous and the greedy that prosperity is the goal. It's hard to hear the message of repentance in too much of what passes for preaching these days. But the early and persistent message of Christ's mortal ministry was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17) and as Paul put it, God now "commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). This was the basic message of Christ and all the prophets and apostles of old: repent and follow God.

It's just so much better to do it now, right now, in spite of our prosperity. Then there is a chance that we can turn that prosperity to good to truly help others and build up the kingdom of God.