Author Archive for Mark Cares

25
Apr
14

Blogging on tilm.org

After taking a few months off, I have started to blog again. But now I will be blogging on tilm.org.  I hope that you will follow me there.  Thanks for all of you who have read my posts and have sent me encouragement.  I truly appreciate it.

My most recent blog is about talking about the Trinity.  You can find it here.

08
Jan
14

The Sobering Truth about Outer Darkness

According to Mormonism, only the worse of the worst will go to outer darkness.  “Second, the word hell is used to refer to outer darkness, which is the dwelling place of the devil, his angels, and the sons of perdition.” (True to the Faith, p. 81)  Mormonism designates only a relatively small handful of people as sons of perdition thus reserving outer darkness for only a few.

But is that biblical?  In that regard, Jesus’ parable of the wedding guests recorded in Matthew 22:1-13 is especially pertinent since the man without the wedding garment is cast into outer darkness (v.13).  In fact, Jesus’ whole purpose for telling this parable was to warn against that fate.  Therefore it is only fitting to see why that man was cast out.

And it was because he refused to accept the gift of a wedding garment!  That the wedding garment was something given to him, and not something he himself owned or purchased, is evident both from the culture of the day and also the words of the parable themselves.  Note that Jesus is talking about the wedding of a king’s son (v.2).  In the culture of the day, when princes married, the king provided the wedding garments for all attendees.  We can be confident that this was well-known to Jesus’ original listeners.

That this was the case is also seen from the parable itself.  “So those servants went into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests” (v.10).  Obviously these people who were gathered neither had the time, and probably most neither had the means, to provide their own wedding garments.  They came directly from the highways and the byways.  Especially interesting is that the servants didn’t just gather the good people either.  They gathered “both bad and good”.

The sobering truth about outer darkness is that it is not reserved for just a few.  It will be the destination for all who don’t accept the king’s great gift of salvation.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  I have asked many members of the LDS Church whether or not eternal life is a gift or a reward.  Without hesitation, they say that it is a reward.  In saying that, they are faithfully echoing LDS teaching.

But that is so tragic.  Refusing the king’s gift infuriates him.  Look at his reaction. “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away; and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 13). You can just see the king’s red face and blazing eyes as he gives this order.  How dare anybody refuse his gift!  In a similar manner, everybody who tries to provide for their own salvation or even thinks that they have to contribute to their own salvation, will experience the same reaction when they meet their Maker.

Eternal salvation and life are God’s gifts to us.  They were purchased with the precious blood of his Son.  The only God-pleasing reaction is to eagerly accept them and profusely thank him for them.  My prayer is that many more Mormons will do just that.

21
Dec
13

Jesus’ Mission

One of the many things I love about Christmas is its simple message that God so loved the world that he deployed his Son to be our Savior.  In these days before Christmas, I find myself repeatedly rejoicing over the fact that Jesus saved me by doing it all for me.  The Son of God became flesh as our substitute, taking all our sins on himself and paying for them with his death – and also living that perfect life that we can’t – and then freely giving us all that perfection (righteousness) that he had accumulated.    Christmas is all about the sending of a Rescuer – a thought that has been stressed over and over again this Christmas Season in my church.

That’s why an article in the January issue of the Ensign (the LDS Church’s official magazine) which recently arrived in the mail stopped me in my tracks.  It is entitled, “The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Exemplar”. Following is the entire article.

“As we understand that Jesus Christ is our example in all things, we can increase our desire to follow Him. The scriptures are full of encouragement for us to follow in Christ’s footsteps. To the Nephites, Christ said, “For the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do” (3 Nephi 27:21). To Thomas, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

“Today our leaders remind us to set the Savior as our example. Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, said, “When each of us has the doctrine of the Atonement written deep in our hearts, then we will begin to become the kind of people the Lord wants us to be.”

“President Thomas S. Monson said, “Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is our Exemplar and our strength.”

Let us resolve to draw near to Jesus Christ, to obey His commandments, and to strive to return to our Heavenly Father.”

Yes, the Bible does, at times, point to Jesus as our example.  But that is not what it emphasizes.  And that surely is not what it says his divine mission was!  His mission was to save us, not by being an example and showing us what we need to do, but by actually doing it all for us.  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)  Jesus came to redeem us – to buy us back.  And that is what he did.  To use a simple analogy, he didn’t save us when we were drowning by showing us how to swim.  No, he jumped into our world as a lifeguard and rescued us.

But notice there is nothing about that in this article, notwithstanding the brief mention of the Atonement.  The whole article is about following Jesus’ example “to strive to return to our Heavenly Father.”  And what is so sad about this is that this is the visiting teaching message for January.  That means that this is the lesson LDS women are to teach each other as they fulfill their duties as visiting teachers.  Throughout Mormonism this will be the emphasis of those visits.

How tragic – for a couple of reasons.  One is that this will just increase the heavy weight many LDS women are feeling already.  Following in Jesus’ footsteps is an impossible task!  And secondly, such a message dishonors our Savior tremendously.  It doesn’t glorify him as the one, who at tremendous cost, saved us. It puts all the focus on what they are to do, not what he has done for them.

It is my prayer that this Christmas more Christians lovingly and clearly share with Mormons the tremendous news that Jesus, our Savior who has done everything for us, has been born.  Furthermore I pray that the Holy Ghost will open the eyes of many LDS to see this wonderful truth.

In Jesus, our Savior, have a wonderful Christmas.

27
Nov
13

Our Forgiveness: Cause or Effect of God’s Forgiveness?

Does God forgive us because we are forgiving or are we forgiving because God forgives us?  In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable that seems to indicate that God’s forgiveness is based on our forgiveness.  Here is the parable:

“21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

At first glance it does look like Jesus saying that we have to earn God’s forgiveness especially when he underscores the lesson of the parable in verse 35.   Over the years many LDS members have referred to this passage to make that point to me.

But a closer look at the parable shows that this is not its message. Before anything else, the king forgives the unmerciful servant.  Also note how wonderfully he does that.  The servant doesn’t even ask him for forgiveness.  All he asks for is a time extension. Instead of granting him that wish, however, the king immediately and fully forgives his massive debt. (10,000 talents of gold was an unbelievable debt seeing that a talent was about 100 pounds.  We are talking about 50 tons of gold.)

The king’s incredible forgiveness of this massive debt comes totally out of the blue.  Nothing the servant did merited this forgiveness. At this point in the parable all we know of the servant is his failure to pay the debt. It is obvious that God did not forgive him because he was so forgiving.  God’s forgiveness came first. Our forgiveness of others flows from God’s forgiveness of us, and not vice versa.  God’s forgiveness gives us the motivation and the impetus to be forgiving ourselves.

This parable then becomes another illustration of how works, in this case our being forgiving, are an effect of being forgiven and not a cause of our being forgiven.  It brings in the added element that when the Holy Ghost creates faith in people, they are naturally changed.  They were spiritually dead.  Now they are spiritually alive.  And if that change is not evident – in this case by not being forgiving – then it is an indication that the person does not truly believe.

What an awesome God we have.  To him be all praise, glory, and honor.

14
Nov
13

Perfect or Becoming Perfect?

Over the years, one of the Bible passages I have repeatedly returned to is Matthew 5:48.  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  I have talked about it so much because Mormonism talks about it so much.  We see it again in one of the first talks given in the recent General Conference.  Elder Ulisses Soares cites it in his talk entitled, “Be Meek and Lowly of Heart.” After quoting it, he continues by saying, “If we ‘come unto Christ, . . .deny (ourselves) of all ungodliness; .  . .and love God,’ then through Christ’s grace the day will come when we may be perfect in Him.”

First of all, note the conditions he cites for becoming perfect especially the condition of “denying ourselves of all ungodliness”.  It’s not just denying some ungodliness but all ungodliness. This must happen before Christ’s grace becomes active – note the “then”.  This agrees with one of the steps of LDS repentance, namely, the forsaking of sin.  In either case, whether you talk about denying all ungodliness or forsaking sin, an awful lot has to be done by the person.  It is like the Book of Mormon says:  “We know it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.”

Besides noting those conditions, note the uncertainty of when this happens. “The day will come when we may be perfect in Him.”  Again that depends mainly on the person.  A little bit later in his talk, Elder Soares quotes President Snow.  “It is our duty to try to be perfect. . .to improve each day, and look upon our course last week and do things better this week; do things better today than we did them yesterday.” According to Mormonism, you can’t know when you will be perfect.

In striking contrast is the message of the Bible.  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”  Instead of talking about the day that will come sometime in the future, it talks about the day that has already come.  And instead of talking about conditions people have to fulfill, it talks about what Jesus has already done for us with his one offering.  Through the offering of Christ on the cross on that one day close to 2,000 years ago, believers are perfected.  It is a done deal.  Or as Jesus himself said, “It is finished”.

What the Bible says and what Mormonism teaches is in striking contrast.  Mormonism talks a lot about what people must do in order to be perfect and acceptable to God.  The Bible talks a lot about the fact that perfection and acceptance depends not partially, but entirely, on what Jesus did for us.  Mormonism speaks of eternal life as a reward.  The Bible describes it as God’s gift to us.

It is my prayer that LDS members simply read the Bible as a child would and see the great things God has done for them.  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5).  To God be all the glory!

04
Nov
13

The Lesson from the Rich Young Man

Chapter 14 of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow talks about Mormonism’s teaching that “God will add His strength to our efforts” and thus nothing is impossible. In that connection he spends a few paragraphs talking about the story of the rich young man recorded in Matthew 19.

“16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”  (Matthew 19)

I find this reference to this story interesting.  Again the whole point of the chapter is that “with God all things are possible”.  But that is not what Jesus told the young man!  He doesn’t even hint at God helping the young man.  There is no mention of grace whatsoever.  All he talks about is keeping the commandments.  If Mormons want to point to these words as a template for gaining eternal life (as many of them do) then they had better not mention grace at all – because Jesus doesn’t.  Here Jesus says it’s 100% – not 50%, not 25%, not 1% – but 100% about keeping the commandments.

That is God’s consistent answer to the question:  “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  If the question is about what a person needs to do, then God’s answer is you have to do everything.  You have to perfectly keep all the commandments.  If that is the question, then grace is not part of the answer.

That, my friends, is a sobering answer.  It is one that can easily lead to despair.  And that is God’s exact intent!  He wants people to despair – of their own goodness and efforts.  That is what Jesus wanted to accomplish with the young man – he wanted the young man to throw up his hands at the impossibility of doing this.  He wanted that because only people who realize that they are in deep trouble look to him for rescue.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a person who had to get across the ocean but didn’t realize how big it was.  He was a good swimmer so he thought he could swim across.  He was convinced that he could do it, even after many told him he couldn’t.  Finally they urge him to get into the water and start swimming.  They do that for the express purpose of proving to him that he will fail – so that he won’t try when nobody will be around to save him.

Jesus was doing a similar thing with this young man.  He wanted to impress upon him the impossibility of his keeping all the commandments.  Thus no mention of grace.  Contrary to what Mormonism teaches salvation is not a both/and proposition.  It is not both by grace and works.  It is an either/or proposition.  Either by grace or by works.  It’s one or the other.  Not both/and.  The story of the young man, contrary to what many Mormons state, does not support the both/and proposition, but the either/or one.  This is an important point to remember when this story is being discussed.

Even more important to see – and believe – is that our salvation depends 100% on what Jesus did and 0% on what we do.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  To God and God alone be all the glory!

24
Oct
13

Worry is a Big Deal

Some friends of mine have been visiting regularly with a couple of sister missionaries from the LDS Church.  They got onto the topic of sin and my friends pointed to Luke 12:22 and shared how worry is a sin.  (The LDS Bible footnotes this verse by saying that the phrase “take no thought” means “don’t worry”.) One of the sisters replied that if worry was a sin, she was in big trouble!

I knew Mormonism didn’t talk much about worry but I never really explored that more.  So I checked the manual True to the Faith which lists many topics.  Not listed.  Same result with their Bible Dictionary.  Interestingly the Topical Guide said to see “fearful” – which gives it a somewhat different connotation.  I then went to lds.org and typed in the question, “Is worry a sin?”  Some results came up but none of them pertained to the question.  In other words, I couldn’t find any LDS source that labeled worry a sin.

But it is.  Just like Jesus told us not to do many other things, he told us not to worry.  And when you stop and think about it, it is quite apparent why worry is sinful.  It exhibits lack of trust.  As someone once said, worry is a form of atheism.  Whenever you worry, you are calling God less than trustworthy.

But let’s go back to what the sister said.  “If worry is a sin, she is in big trouble.”  That’s absolutely correct.  In God’s sight, worry is as damnable a sin as any other – each and every sin, regardless of how we view it, is a capital crime.  There are no misdemeanors in God’s set of laws.  Neither are there simple felonies.  Each and every sin is a capital crime.  “For whosever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)  One sin –regardless of what it is – makes us “guilty of all”.

And that is why we can do nothing to earn our acquittal.  Because we can’t keep ourselves from sinning.  We concentrate on not worrying only to find ourselves falling into pride, or jealousy, or anger or what have you.  Trying to keep ourselves from sinning is like playing a game of whack a mole on a football field!  When we whack one sin, another pops up – and then another and another . . . There is no way that we can even begin to keep ourselves from sinning.

That’s devastating news because sin is so serious. And God wants us to feel devastated by our sins.  Because then, and only then, will we realize how desperately we need somebody to save us. Before we can truly see our Savior, we need to clearly see our sins.  And that is why Mormonism’s tendency to not call sin a sin is so dangerous.  (Another example of that is the explanation that Peter never sinned when he denied knowing Jesus since Jesus earlier had told his disciples to tell no man who he was!)  The less you see the extent and seriousness of your sins, the less desperate you are for a Savior.

Worrying is a big deal.  As is jealousy, pride, selfishness, lust, greed, anger, laziness, harmful words, and a boatload of other things.  The only thing that can atone for them is the pure, unadulterated blood of Jesus.  To him be all praise and glory.




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