May 30, 2007

Coffee Ruined

I have ruined myself. Folgers used to be fine. In fact, I chose Folgers over other brands in the past. I repeat, in the past. Folgers hasn't changed, so far as I know. I have. It began with the seemingly innocuous and novel grinding of beans in the grocery store aisle. It smelled good and made a cool noise in a place immersed in elevator music (gag!). My change progressed when I received a bean grinder for Christmas. Now I could grind at home! My family LOVES the early morning sound of beans being ground. It is music to my ears and a sweet aroma for the nose.

The completion of my coffee ruination has only recently occurred. I returned from Venezuela accompanied by nearly 10 pounds of beans, which I saw hand packed by some wonderful Venezuelan ladies. So, each morning for the last month (and a few afternoons) I have relished, yea verily reveled in, the marvelous sweetness of freshly packed and freshly ground Venezuelan coffee.

So, how has this ruined me you ask? This morning the wonderful and thoughtful ladies in the office brought me a cup of unadulterated coffee (I drink it black - the only way to truly enjoy) and my taste buds revolted at the obvious taste of long canned and short flavored Folgers coffee. Alas, I will never be the same. Ruined! Gloriously ruined!

More on Coventry...

Apparently the back story on Coventry is a nice idea but not true (I'm still searching info here...) however, there is more to the story. The provost of the Cathedral led the church to pursue reconciliation with the enemies of Britain rather than vengeance. As World War II came to a close, crosses of nails were presented to the cities of Berlin, Kiel, and Dresden; cities hit the hardest by allied bombing. What could have been a moment shaping a people to anger and hatred became, for the people of Coventry, a moment shaping a people to hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Could I do the same? Would I, in response to such a horrifying event, have a similar reaction? Thinking through this magnificent moment in history causes me to look inward for some personal answers. Francis Bacon stated, "Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue." Is God worthy of my praise when things are not going well? Is God still in control when everything seems to be spinning wildly out of control? Can I trust Him? Do I dare to trust Him? When the 'bad' days come (and they will) will I be able to worship Him? The answers to these questions, and others like them, point to the depth of my relationship with God. You see, the best indicator of my walk with God is not how beautifully I sing when all is well but how honestly I worship when all is bleak. (See Job 1:20-22 for further reference).

May 29, 2007

The Coventry Litany of Reconcilliation

In my on-going and ever growing pursuit of and appreciation for classic expressions of the best of our Christian heritage I sometimes discover gems of marvelous beauty and worth. This is one of those gems. The primary story follows...

"Following the bombing of the Mediaeval Cathedral of Coventry in 1940, Provost Dick Howard had the words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the wall behind the Altar of the ruined building. These words are used as the response in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, which is prayed in the ruins every Friday at noon, and is used throughout the world by the Community of the Cross of Nails.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father Forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father Forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father Forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father Forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father Forgive.

The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women and children,
Father Forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father Forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

© Coventry Cathedral, 2004. All rights reserved.

The back story (not verified by research) goes something like this...

Following the bombing of Coventry by the Germans, the British bombed Dresden in retaliation, and, in the process, destroyed that city's prized cathedral. Following the war, a delegation from Coventry traveled to Dresden to help rebuild the cathedral there. The people of Dresden responded in kind and from this terrible ordeal came the Litany that will be repeated this, and every, Friday in the ruins of the cathedral that still stand in Coventry.

Oh, to forgive as we have been forgiven.

May 27, 2007

Moving Day

Spent Saturday moving my mother-in-law. It was a physically and emotionally draining day for all of us. This was no simple move. It was a family exercise in grieving. You see, my father-in-law passed away in February and we are still processing what life looks like without him in it. Now it looks like a new house. One that doesn't have any memory of Papa.

It was difficult to pack up the last of the things at the river house and to close that door for the last time. The house may have been emptied of its furnishings but it was terribly crowded with memories (and still is). There was a lot of "I remember when..." happening. There were also a lot of quiet moments no one dared interrupt.

Perhaps the most difficult moment of all was when we came across the contents of Papa's night stand. We just couldn't bring ourselves to go through those personal items. Somehow the place and time were just not right. Grief for another day I suppose. Same furniture. Different place. Wrong time.

It was good for the family to be together on this day. We created the first memories for this new place. We pray it will be the first among many good memories. Welcome home Nana.

May 25, 2007

A Better Way

One of my pet peeves as a pastor, mind you a conservatively minded pastor, is that I so often have to apologize for the words (and sometimes the behavior) of other, better known pastors and talking heads of American Christianity. I really get my tail in a twist over this quite often and think, to myself, "There has to be a better way!". And there is...

I understand that many of these talking heads care deeply about the issues they are addressing, I just wonder if they've stopped caring as deeply about the people involved in the issues. Whether it's a boycott of the latest corporate offender or a letter writing campaign to get our elected representative's attention about the latest and greatest threat to Christianity, I just think it is a bad way to carry out our calling as followers of Christ. I've long said that the world knows what we are "against" better than they know what we are "for". It's time the church that claims to follow Christ and His ways actually gets on with the business of doing so.

The following quote from Dostoyevsky's book, The Brothers Karamazov, put it quite nicely.

"At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by human love. Always decide, 'I will combat it with human love.' If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it."

Now, I will add that human love will fall short of righting the wrongs of the world's sins. That will always require the love of God. However, God has chosen to utilize the weak and broken vessels of humanity to communicate that love.

I love these words from 1 Peter 3:15-16, where loud and uncouth Peter, who was often a victim of 'foot-in-mouth disease', gives instructions on how to communicate the gospel. He says, "In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." Seems that somewhere along the line Peter learned the truth that you get more results from a gentle conversation than a shouting match.

So, for all you well meaning blow-hards, ease up. I'm getting weary of making excuses for you.

May 23, 2007

Are Mormons Christian? (Part III - The Salvation Question)

"Gospel", "savior", "atonement", "baptism", "missionaries". These are words that Mormons and Christians use and, to the casual listener, it sounds as if everybody is talking about the same thing. Take a moment and listen a little more carefully.

The Christian understanding of salvation is simply this; Salvation is freely offered to all who accept Jesus (the Christian Jesus, not the Mormon Jesus - see previous post) as Lord and Savior and this salvation is received when the individual responds in repentance toward God and in faith toward Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. No steps to climb. No hoops to jump through. Simply by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

How about the Mormons?

This will be an oversimplification of the process (which should immediately signal that we are looking at a horse of a different color) but perhaps it will introduce the steps of the Mormon salvation.

Mormons believe that Jesus' death resulted in immortality for all people. The question becomes, where then will they spend eternity? Mormons believe that all will experience salvation in some way. Mormons acknowledge the existence of a hell (perdition) but it is reserved for murderers, apostates from the LDS church and the Devil and his angels. Beyond that there is a three tiered heaven, the highest being the celestial kingdom where the faithful Mormon will be exalted to godhood. So how does one attain this celestial kingdom? Simply follow these 12 steps. (For a more complete treatment of this see this article).

1. Faith - Not a Christian understanding of faith, mind you. The Mormon's idea of faith never results in a personal relationship with Jesus. Faith for the Mormon is seen as a response to the commands of Christ, not a trust in Christ's ability to save.

2. Repentance - Again, different from the Christian view in that it is a work - something you do to earn the right to enter the celestial kingdom.

3. Baptism, by immersion, in the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day-Saints - The Mormons claim to be the only true church and every other church is false, therefore baptism must take place in a Mormon church as it is "the gateway to the celestial kingdom."

Laying on of Hands by a Member of the Melchizedek Priesthood in Order to Receive the Holy Ghost.

5. Ordination as a Melchizedek Priest (for males only - sorry ladies, perhaps you'll be lucky enough to be married to such a man.)

6. Receiving the Temple Endowments - Rites which much be performed in a Mormon temple - women can participate in these.

7. Celestial Marriage - Marriage that endures into eternity so that exalted gods can produce spiritual children.

8. Observing the Word of Wisdom - this word from Joseph Smith was to abstain from all strong drink, including alcohol, and caffeinated beverages (excuse me while I further disqualify myself with another slurp of Venezuelan coffee).

9. Sustain the Prophet

10. Tithing - "For he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming" (Doctrines and Covenants) In other words, you'd better tithe or you'll be punished when Jesus comes back.

11. Sacrament Meetings - Sunday meetings to sing, testify, and take the sacrament of bread and water. Not a bad thing but the point is you've gotta' show up or you don't get exalted to godhood.

12. Obedience - "There is no salvation apart from total obedience to all laws and ordinances of the church." (Bruce McKonkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966).

I'm tired from outlining this, I can't imagine trying to live up to all of it! Here's an interesting story that sums up the difference and points to the complete uniqueness of the Christian understanding of salvation.

"At a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” Phillip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?

"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." Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

May 22, 2007

Are Mormons Christian? (Part II - What about Jesus?)

I remember watching Sesame Street as a child and there was a segment that had this great little song...

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

As the song played I would decide which one was different. As you consider the differences between Christianity and Mormonism you might want to hear that song playing on the radio of your mind. When compared side by side it is clear that they are not the same.

The Mormons have done an admirable job of making a decidedly non-Christian theology sound Christian. In the last post I pointed out the obvious and vast differences in the view of God presented by Mormonism and the biblical understanding of God. Take a look at the difference in the understanding of Jesus presented by each (are you humming the song?).

Christianity's view of Jesus is nicely summed up in the Nicene Creed of A.D. 381 which states,

"And {we believe} in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end."

A few of quick points; 1. Jesus is co-eternal with God (Very God of Very God). 2. Jesus existed before the creation. 3. Jesus is God incarnate (God in the flesh).

This stands in stark contrast to the Mormon teaching. They teach that Jesus is the physical offspring of God created by procreation on the earth (
"Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father. That is why he is called the Only Begotten Son" (Gospel Principles, p. 64)). They teach that Jesus is not co-eternal with God but is, in fact, our older brother. ("Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ, so he is literally our elder brother" (Gospel Principles, p. 11).

Note the following quotes gathered from an article by Dennis Higley

LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley made a statement June 4 th, 1998 acknowledging that he (and the LDS Church) does not believe in the same Jesus Christ as traditional Christianity. He said,"The traditional Christ of who they speak in not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak had been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages." (Church News, June, 20 1998, p. 7. emphasis added)

In the LDS Church's 147th General Conference, General Authority Bernard P. Brockbank, stated that "the CHRIST FOLLOWED BY THE MORMONS IS NOT THE CHRIST FOLLOWED BY TRADITIONAL CHRISTIANITY".

He said: "It is true that many of the Christian churches worship A DIFFERENT JESUS CHRIST than is worshiped by the Mormons." ("The Ensign," May 1977, p. 26.)

It is interesting that even the Mormon leadership will openly affirm that the Jesus the Christian church is talking about is different from the Jesus they are talking about, but they will bristle at the notion of not being Christian. Help me here. "One of these things is not like the other...".

Next up, salvation.

May 17, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?

As promised, more on this topic. First, a word to my LDS friends. I gladly invite civil discussion on this topic. I think you see where I stand and by stating this I mean to distinguish Mormon theology from Christian theology. While we may say some things in agreement with each other there are foundational differences in our understanding of God and how we relate to Him. I welcome your comments.

The starting point in any theological discussion is "What do I believe about God?" Fisher Humphries (a Christian theologian) states, "The most important thing about a person is what they think about God." My Christian/Biblical/Protestant/Baptist theology informs me that "There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe." This tells me that there is ONE God who is eternal (always has been and always will be) and who created all things and sustains all things. Is this any different than the Mormon view of God? Yes.

Here are Joseph Smith's (founder of the Mormon religion) words about God.

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! . . . I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute this idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. . . It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible . . . Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.1 The Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man's. . . . 2"

1 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 7 vols., introduction and notes, B.H. Roberts, 2d rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: The Deseret Book Company, 1978), 6:305-6.

2 Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22.

I do not think I am being uncharitable when I say that the Mormon understanding of God and the Christian understanding of God are not in agreement. The Christian church throughout its tainted and stormy history has unequivocally stated there is one eternal God who is the almighty maker of heaven and earth. God is not an exalted man as Mormons teach. God was not once a man like we are.

"For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels - everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment." Colossians 1:16-17 (The Message)

May 16, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?


(I promise more on this later. Just had to answer the question today after having been asked this several times over the last 10 days. Reasons to follow...)

May 14, 2007

The Body of Christ in Venezuela

This is a photo from our trip to Venezuela in August of 2006. My son is in the red shirt. We were blessed to participate in a worship service at a new church plant and it was memorable! If you look closely at the photo you will notice a few things. First, this building is still under construction. No windows or doors and still missing a couple of walls and a roof on one end. Next, notice the chair. It was brought by the individual attending worship! Can you imagine bringing your own chair to worship? Typical for many in Venezuela. Also notice the dancing (yes, this is a baptist church!) and the joy on the faces. This was truly a celebration, as is much of the worship that we have experienced over the last few years. I have even witnessed "break-dancing" in worship! Needless to say, not what I am accustomed to in small town, First Baptist in Alabama!

The evangelical church in Venezuela is growing rapidly! I can only speak of the experience I have had with the Baptist churches in eastern Venezuela, but there is a clear movement of God happening there. I spoke with one of our Southern Baptist missionaries working in this region and he shared with me that 9 years ago they could only identify 16 Baptist churches in all of eastern Venezuela. Now they know of at least 55 and while we were there most recently he was becoming aware of additional congregations that had formed or were forming.

Everywhere I have visited in eastern Venezuela God is calling out young men and women to serve as leaders of the churches there. It is a cause for praise. I truly believe God is raising this church up for this particular time in history. When our team visited Venezuela in 2006, president Chavez was visiting the countries of Iran, China, and North Korea. These are nations that would be very difficult for the church in North America to have any impact but it is evident God is raising the church in Venezuela (and other Latin American countries) for this purpose.

My first encounter with my pastor friend in Venezuela has left a lasting impression on my life. The day I was to return to the United States he took me to his small office and rolled out a map of the world on his desk. He pointed to the Middle East and Central Asia and said to me, "You cannot go here because your skin is white and your passport says United States of America. However, I can go here because my skin is brown and my passport says Venezuela." He is right. I thank God for the opportunity to work alongside my brothers and sisters in Venezuela. It is a great privilege to encourage and strengthen them for the work that God is calling them to in this world.

We must continue to extend the gospel to all the world. "There still remain 6,525 people groups - as many as 3.4 billion people - who are less than 2% evangelized...By what criteria should any people be deprived of hearing the gospel?" (Jerry Rankin, President of the International Mission Board, SBC). Be aware of the world that God may be bringing to your door but also be obedient to His call to GO.

Problem encountered - solution offered

I'm still new at this blog-thing so bear with me. I was poking around my blog and discovered that the link to the video concerning the reliability of scripture did not work. Sorry! Try the old cut and paste method if you like...paste the following link into your address line and it should take you there...let me know if it works!

May 8, 2007

Home Again!

We have returned from our Venezuelan adventure. It is so good to be home and sleeping in our own bed again! the trip was successful and I feel that God used this as an opportunity to encourage and strengthen the church in Venezuela for this time in history. It is amazing to watch God raise up an instrument for His use at just the right moment. More on this in another post.

If you have a few moments touch base with the Scott family (pictured here), they were kind enough to include us in their newsletter. They are a godly and joy-filled family that opened wide their hearts to us. Pray for them and the work they continue to do there in Venezuela.