Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Literalist’s Christmas (Luke 2; Matthew 1&2)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Mt.1:18)

How it irks some people to hear the Christmas Story. This week I saw a YouTube video by a self-proclaimed atheist purporting to debunk the whole business and setting out all the pagan motifs and festivals that have been usurped – “stolen” – by Christians to give us the familiar Christmas emblems. Oh, perfidy thy name is Christian!

I recall a conversation I had with a Jehovah’s Witness who explained conspiratorially that the famous children’s “Ladybird Books” had produced a little volume explaining the origins of many of our familiar Christmas customs. He explained, sotto voce, that “they” didn’t like it and so the volume was mysteriously removed from the shelves of WH Smith. Next day I went to a book store and bought a copy off the shelf and have it on my desk as I write this. It is called “Christmas Customs” and has a publication date of 1988. I am not sure who “they” are but, to date “they” haven’t turned up to take me to task over the issue so I feel safe enough.

Most of the cosy and heart-warming motifs we relish today were given us by Charles Dickens, including snow. How often have children in the UK looked out their windows on Christmas morning and felt that pang of disappointment at seeing the ground barren and bare with no covering of snow? More often than not is my experience.

The reason we think of snow at Christmas is that Dickens always portrayed it that way. In his own childhood, it snowed for eight Christmases in a row, from 1812 -1820, the first eight years of his life. This was his abiding memory of the festive season and so it got put into his books, along with a good deal else that seems so appropriate for the Festive Season.

Christian Customs

Here are some more customs we associate with the season:

Carols: Come from the Greek word for chorus and means a round song. Originally carols were sung throughout the year to mark different festivals, such as Midsummer, Easter, May that hails the growing season and November that celebrates the harvest.

The Crib: Was first made by St Francis and was originally a real cave, containing real animals and Mary and Joseph played by real people. It dramatises the story and no bad thing when you are trying to get folk to imagine what it must have been like.

Holly and ivy: Holly is a symbol of good luck and of man, while ivy was thought to be a symbol of woman. Holly and ivy intertwined was traditionally supposed to ensure peace and harmony in the home. Christians linked the symbols to the Christmas story and all the elements are there in the song. The white flower of holly symbolising Christ’s purity, the red berry his blood, the prickle his crown of thorns and the bitter taste of its bark the bitter vinegar offered him on the Cross. The ivy is included because of its association with an older, pagan version of the song depicting rivalry between male and female. Of course, there is always the evergreen motif for everlasting life.

Christmas cards: The first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole who, on finding himself short of time to write letters, commissioned an artist to design a festive card to send to friends. These days we have cards made for us every year and still find ourselves short of time.

Advent: is the period of four weeks before Christmas when we watch for the advent (coming) of the Lord. Advent calendars originally held appropriate Christmas scenes behind twenty four numbered doors to concentrate our minds on this special season.

Twelfth Night: celebrates the coming of the wise men with gifts for the new-born king. This marks the official end of the Christmas season and, if you haven’t already done so, you should take down your decorations now.

Yes, the story has grown down the centuries and all sorts of things have been pressed into service to relate the history and significance of those events faithfully recounted in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The story is familiar enough and if you haven’t seen it acted out in a local church or school nativity play then you have missed a treat. What really happened on that first Christmas and what are we to make of the legends, icons and motifs that have grown up around this event?

As it has come down to us through centuries of telling and retelling Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem late at night after a long and arduous journey. Travelling from Inn to Inn they found themselves turned away. Finally, a friendly innkeeper took pity on them and, since his rooms were all taken, offered them a stable as accommodation.

That same night Jesus was born in a stable and laid in an animal feeding trough, a manger. Shepherds on a hill heard the “first noel”, the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ advent and wise men, perhaps astronomers, travelled from the east to pay homage to the newborn king.

However, there would almost certainly have been no Inns in Bethlehem, no hotels or commercial accommodation. Bethlehem was a small village set apart from main routes so there would be no commercial advantage in having an Inn.

No Room at the Inn?

It is worth remembering that Mary and Joseph were travelling back to their home village. Surely there would have been some relatives there and surely that would have been their first port of call in seeking accommodation. Middle Eastern rules of hospitality would have demanded that room would have been found for them.

So where did this idea of the Inn come from? They key is in Luke 2:7 where we read:

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn”

The Greek word translated “inn” is kataluma and can be found again in Luke 22:11 to refer to the guest room where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. The normal word for “inn” is pandocheion, used in Luke 10:34 to describe the place where the Good Samaritan took his injured friend:

“Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him”

Joseph and Mary would have put up with his closest relatives in the village; of not Joseph’s then Mary’s. It was a planned journey and so Joseph would surely have had the wit to make plans. They would not have arrived so late in Mary’s term and so probably arrived weeks before, giving them time to make the appropriate arrangements. In such a home there would have been one main room and, if they could afford it, a guest room – kataluma. In a lower area of the main room there would have been a place where animals were brought in at night.

If the guest room was full then here, among the domestic beasts, that Jesus was born and “laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room”. There would have been a midwife, family and the simple comforts of a Bethlehem home. Jesus was born in the main room of a peasant home.

Keeping Perspective, Maintaining the Truth

A combination of misunderstanding language and cultural references, embellishing and romanticising the story has led to the nativity story as we know it today from school Christmas nativities and there is a lesson here in Bible interpretation. It is important to find and tell the truth but it is also important to remember that culture plays an important and inevitable part in the stories we tell.

From Shakespeare on the estate to Bible characters dressed in medieval dress in great paintings we recast old stories to fit them into our own culture and time. It helps us to identify with important events from distant times and places, and that is alright, as long as we identify and pass on the essential elements of the story.

Mary and Joseph were ordinary people with an extraordinary pedigree who were used mightily of God to usher in the time of refreshing from God, when grace would fulfil law and faith would receive hope in Christ. Theirs was a testing experience notwithstanding the help of family and the assurances of God and their example of faithfulness is an inspiration.

Jesus was Immanuel “God with us” and he really was “with us”, identifying with the poor and outcast in his conception, birth, life and death. His coming was the fulfilment of prophecy and announced by angels to the poorest in society, his life was sought from the beginning and he was a fugitive and outcast. Wise men sought him and seek him still because Christmas marks the beginning of a journey that would end on Calvary. Calvary where Christ died for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:17)

There are many things in life to celebrate, to sing carols about and to give us cheer and consolation in an otherwise difficult world and we mustn’t let the literalists rob us of the joy of this special season. The next time someone (you know who I mean) tells you the truth about Christmas’ pagan roots tell them the truth about Jesus and defy them to be miserable in the face of such great good news.

A very Happy Christmas

Woman died after refusing transfusion - Local & National, News - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Mrs Baxter, of Naas, Co Kildare, died of acute cardiac failure caused by blood problems in Tallaght Hospital on September 15, 2009. The Jehovah's Witness died five days after surgery to remove a tumour from her colon, after which she suffered significant bleeding.
Surgeon Diarmuid O'Riordan told the inquest there was a “98% to 99% chance she would have survived if she was given the appropriate blood transfusion”.
A woman with a 98% chance of surviving surgery dies because she has refused blood. The madness of this tragic decision becomes even more incredible when you realise that the blood issue came about, not because of a biblical injunction to abstain, nor from a misinterpretation of Bible verses regarding blood, but because of one mad man’s irrational opposition to vaccination.

In 1919 Clayton J Woodward became editor of the JW publication The Golden Age magazine. in 1923 an article appeared that proved the first shot in a salvo against vaccinations. Under the title The Great Vaccination Fraud! the writer claimed, “It has been shown conclusively that there is no such thing as rabies”

A 1925 edition however commended the man who frequently donated blood.

But in 1929 the magazine declared, "Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccinations, . . . Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion . . . it has never saved a single life"

In 1931 Witnesses were told, “vaccinations are a violation of the Eternal Covenant God made with Noah”

In 1931 members were informed, "All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man."

In 1945 blood transfusions and all blood products were officially banned as pagan and dishonouring to God.

In 1951 Woodworth died and in 1952 the organisation declared that vaccinations were now officially allowed; but the ban on blood transfusions has stayed. You can read more here

It was never about blood at the beginning but vaccinations which, according to God’s mouthpiece, were a fraud and an abomination. It became about blood because of the association with vaccinations and transfusions by vaccinations. But since 1952 vaccinations have been allowed so why hang on to the blood transfusion nonsense?

It beggars belief until you realise that it is about power and control. And when you see the people who are in control that’s when you really start to worry. You think governments are bad; take a look at that crowd in Brooklyn HQ and thank God that at least we can vote governments out. Who is going to get rid of the guys at the top of the Watchtower? What comfort is there for the family of this poor deceived woman and many like her?

Woman died after refusing transfusion - Local & National, News - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk

FLDS: State pleased with sentence» Standard-Times

It hardly seems credible that this kind of thing could happen. We have unfortunately become used to, although I hope not inured to stories of men and women preying on the young and vulnerable to satisfy their own perverted sexual gratification. We call it paedophilia or pederasty and express our abhorrence at such things, regarding perpetrators as sick and dangerous members of society. Nothing provokes people’s ire as does this crime.

Yet in our 21st century society, there are men and women who staunchly defend such activities on religious grounds, subjecting girls as young as 14 and 15 to loveless “marriages” to middle-aged or even elderly men. Young men in the community are driven away as unwanted rivals, becoming waifs and orphans, victims themselves of this twisted systematic abuse. Young girls are threatened with eternal damnation if they do not abide by the commands of their elders and leaders. But our elders are supposed to be our betters and not our stalkers!

And who did this thing first? Why, Joseph Smith, the 19th Century pederast, cult leader and demagogue. If it hadn’t been for Joseph Smith these things would not be happening today. The Mormon Church denies any association or culpability; but the Mormon Church lies.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Allan Keate raised his two cuffed hands Thursday, shortly after he heard the sentence of 33 years in prison for sexual assault of a child, and smiled briefly at the gallery, at more than a dozen fellow members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — men and women, adults young and old…

Outside the makeshift courthouse, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols stepped into the harsh light of television cameras at about 10 p.m. and read a prepared statement.

He said Keate’s victim, 15 years old at the time of the assault, which occurred around April 2006, had been in a “celestial marriage” twice.

Celestial marriages are unofficial religious betrothals that FLDS members use to practice polygamy.

Nichols said Keate had given away three of his daughters in marriage to older men. Two of those daughters were 15 and one was 14, and the last was given away to Warren Jeffs, then prophet of the FLDS who has been imprisoned for aiding in child rape by transporting a young girl across state lines.

FLDS: State pleased with sentence» Standard-Times

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Have a Happy Mormon Christmas!

Its Christmas for Pete's sake and if we can't raise a smile and laugh at ourselves at such a merry time - well...Have a Merry Christmas

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – A Shepherd and King (2 Samuel 5:2)

One of the arresting but often overlooked aspects of the Christmas story is that not Herod nor the priests with whom he consulted had any doubt or were in any way confused about the fact that the well known reference in Micah 5:2 (c.f. Mt.2:5-6) alluded to a person, that he would come from Bethlehem, and be the Messiah.

“But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel”

The final line in this verse finds its parallel in 2 Sam.5:2, which describes how “all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron” to make him their king and the parallels with the life of Jesus are so striking as to be prophetic. The Sanhedrin or Supreme Court of the Jews applied these words in Micah and 2 Samuel to the Messiah and prophecy came true before their eyes.

David was born in Bethlehem – 1 Sam.16

Jesus was born in Bethlehem – Luke 2:4-7

David was beloved – 1 Sam.16:13 (the meaning of the name David is “Beloved”)

Jesus was beloved – Mt.3:17

David was anointed of God – 1 Sam.16:13

Jesus was anointed of God – Lk.4:18-21

David received position and honour – 2 Sam.7:13

Jesus received position and honour – Lk.1:32-33

David passed through humiliation to exaltation – 2 Sam.22:17-20

Jesus passed through humiliation to exaltation – John 18

We have often seen in our studies how God has brought about his purposes from the most unlikely and unexpected of circumstances yet here there is a clear understanding of what God was going to do, and yet a blind determination to prevent it.

In his Commentary on Matthew William Hendriksen observed:

“When anyone reads such precious Old Testament passages – and this includes also Gen.3:15; 22:18; 49:10 2 Sam.7:12,13; Isa.7:14; 8:8; 9:6 and many, many others – without seeing the Christ in them, is he not reading them blindly? See Lk.24:25-27,32)

The world today, and indeed the church in the world, is crying out for a shepherd and the Bible says of God’s Son that he will shepherd the people of Israel. We must first trust that when circumstances seem impossible to us nothing is impossible to God; we must believe that God is true to his promises and not appoint our own “saviours” in this world and we must know those promises intimately so that when his anointed Saviour appears we will know him and rejoice in his appearing.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Where is the Great Crowd?

Who needs a Bible when you have the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the indepth, probing articles of the Watchtower?

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Saved From Our Saviours (Psalm 78:70-72)

We live in difficult times and Christians seem increasingly marginalised and under fire from a world that has lost patience with religion in general and with the church in particular. You can almost hear, as you open the newspapers and listen to the pundits and commentators, “We will not have this man to be our king!” We have an idea in our minds of how we think things ought to be in our picture of “the last days”, “Preparing the church” or “building the kingdom” depending on your eschatology. “The battle belongs to the Lord!” we cry, and wonder why it doesn’t look like it. In such times it is natural to feel that it’s all gone wrong; to cast around looking for someone or something to make it the way it ought to be.

This was the situation Samuel faced after God had rejected King Saul. Would Israel survive without Saul’s leadership? What happened to the plan we thought we had? Is God no longer with his people? Things looked bad for Israel and Samuel had much on his mind when God spoke:

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king’” (1 Samuel 16:1)

When things seem out of control God is always in control. Samuel’s grief was understandable, even commendable because it wasn’t just the king he had on his heart but the people. But where Samuel saw a problem God already saw the one who would be anointed king.

When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem he saw Jesse’s son Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD.” (16:6) and you can understand why. Samuel’s picture of a king was Saul, who is described in chapter 9 v.2 as, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.” But God knew what Samuel was thinking:

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”

With each of Jesse’s seven sons it was the same, a grand young man by Samuel’s reckoning and a source of great pride on Jesse’s part but, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.”

How often, in times of trouble, do we flock to the obvious choice, the pastor who is well thought of in the community, the platform speaker who can draw the crowds, the ones who appear to have influence, the movers and shakers who appear to be God’s choice. It is well to remember at such times that we must not choose as Samuel might have chosen but, like Samuel, we must wait on the Lord to show us the way. We must look on the heart of a man, which to us is best demonstrated by his prayer life, his family life, his devotion to biblical truth and his burden for the saints and the lost.

We sometimes need saving from the saviours of our own choosing. God’s choice was a young man so insignificant that it didn’t even occur to Jesse to call him in from the fields where he tended sheep and yet the psalmist declares:

“He chose David his servant

and he took him from the sheep pens;

from tending the sheep he brought him

to be the shepherd of his people

Jacob,

of Israel his inheritance.

And David shepherded them with

integrity of heart;

with skilful hands he led them.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Kinsman/Redeemer (Ruth)

The story of Ruth is set in the time of the Judges; a time characterised by religious and moral degeneracy, and demonstrates again the remarkable nature of God’s intervention in the most unpromising of circumstances to achieve his purposes. It is a truly bitter/sweet tale of loss and redemption and begins with Naomi, whose name means ‘pleasant’ but who lost her husband and two sons who died childless. Her sense of desolation was so great that she declared “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant) call me Mara (bitter) because the Almighty has made my life bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)

The story is familiar, of how Naomi in her wretchedness returned home in Bethlehem in Judah and urged her now widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their own home in Moab where their chance of gaining another husband would be greater. Orpah finally returns to her people but Ruth demonstrates a fidelity rare for the time and follows her mother-in-law to Bethlehem.

“So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

Landowners were instructed in the Law of Moses to leave what the harvesters had missed for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless could glean grain for their needs. Ruth determined to follow the harvesters and provide for her and her mother-in-law. It was here that she was found by Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband who offered his protection and fulfilled his role in the law as kinsman/redeemer. By law the kinsman/redeemer was responsible for protecting the interests of needy members of the extended family.

At a time when men did what seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25) Boaz offered his protection and married Ruth.

“And she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman/redeemer...He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’

Then Naomi took the child, laid him on her lap and carried him. The women there said, ‘Naomi has a son.’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”

From the calling of a pagan Abraham, whose barren wife Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, through the deliverance of an enslaved Israel, to the devotion of a foreign daughter-in-law and the noble actions of Boaz at a time of moral degeneracy which produces a son to a woman who had given up hope of children the Lord guarded and made fruitful the line that would lead to the birth of the Saviour that we will soon celebrate.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – God’s Treasured Possession (Exodus 19:3-5)

We began last time to look at God’s providence and the unlikely calling of a man, Abraham, out of a pagan, polytheistic world who was promised great things. He was promised a great posterity and that he would be a great nation and God provided a son when Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and barren.

The promise of fruitfulness and progeny given to Adam and Abraham (Ge.1:28; 12:2) were fulfilled as Israel multiplied in Egypt. However, God’s people are not invulnerable to the challenges and injustices of this world and the physical descendants of Abraham found themselves in slavery in Egypt. From a position of great office and privilege in the land Israel, within 200 years, became slaves to a king that knew nothing about how God had blessed Egypt through Abraham’s descendents (Ex.1:6-14).

God rose up a man from Pharaoh’s own household, Moses, the Israelite who had been adopted by the king’s daughter and it was he whom God used to deliver his people from what seemed hopelessness and broken promises. By a series of miracles God demonstrated to Israel and to Pharaoh that his promises will be fulfilled and his purposes prevail. When finally Israel walked out of Egypt Moses led them to the foot of Mount Sinai and there God entered into a covenant with the ones he would call his people.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex.19:4-6)

God had all the nations of the earth from which to choose and he knew none could be good enough to be his people. He chose Israel, not on merit or because they were better or bigger than other nations (Deut.7:7) but because he loved them and swore an oath to their forefathers. The covenant made at Sinai was between a people saved from slavery and their Saviour/God. A God who declared that this now was how a saved people were to live if they would just add obedience to faith and worship the God who saved them.

We too are saved because of God’s love and not because of any merit on our part. A God who saves demands obedience but it is not the obedience, nor indeed the act of faith but God who carries us on eagle’s wings and brings us to himself.

Friday, 20 November 2009

American Creation: U.S. Presidents and the Mormons

Mormons often complain about their victim role in American history but a selection of quotes from state of the Union addresses from various presidents shows how concerned the government was and perhaps has reason to continue being. This quote is from Chester A Arthur, 21st American president. For more click through to the American Creation blog.

“The fact that adherents of the Mormon Church, which rests upon polygamy as its corner stone, have recently been peopling in large numbers Idaho, Arizona, and other of our Western Territories is well calculated to excite the liveliest interest and apprehension. It imposes upon Congress and the Executive the duty of arraying against this barbarous system all the power which under the Constitution and the law they can wield for its destruction. Reference has been already made to the obstacles which the United States officers have encountered in their efforts to punish violations of law. Prominent among these obstacles is the difficulty of procuring legal evidence sufficient to warrant a conviction even in the case of the most notorious offenders."

American Creation: U.S. Presidents and the Mormons

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Father of the Faithful (Genesis 12:1-2)

Providence is usually defined as the unceasing activity of God in blessing (Ps.145:9), upholding order (Acts 17:28), governing events (Ge.45:5-8) and directing everything to his ultimate purpose and for his glory (Eph.1:9-12). (See New Bible Dictionary, 3rd.ed. p. 979 for more helpful insights on providence) Over the next six weeks we will look at God’s unmistakable and providential hand has worked through Bible history to provide the Saviour we will soon celebrate.

We naturally think of Abraham as a nomad, a tent dweller, whose wanderings are recorded in the early chapters of the Bible. However, for the first seventy-five years of his life, Abraham was a metropolitan, a city dweller, living in the bustling, sophisticated and important trade centre of Ur on the Euphrates River and later further north in the equally important city of Haran.

Both Ur and Haran were worship centres for the sun and the moon and Abraham, was raised to be a polytheist, like his father. The building that dominated Ur, and still dominates the site today, was the temple, a ziggurat or stepped tower dedicated to these pagan gods. We get a picture of their purpose by looking at the Tower of Babel, which was such a tower.

“Then [men] said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth’” (Ge.11:4)

This was a city in which a community and nation might gather and a tower that would establish a name, identify a people of renown. This was the background from which Abraham was called, these were the gods he was called to renounce for a God who promised him a name and who would make him a great nation:

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great...” (Ge.12:1-2)

When Abraham’s wife, Sarah heard the promise of a child she laughed because she was old and passed child bearing age (Ge.18:10-15) but “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Ge.15:6) When Sarah had a son Abraham called him Isaac, which means laughter.

“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” (Ge.21:6-7)

Who would have said indeed? A man called by God out of the pagan world of his father, promised a son and, in his old age, borne a son by his elderly and barren wife. Is it any wonder that Sarah laughed at such incredible events? The providence of God would continue to operate and, from the most unlikely, even impossible circumstances raise up a line that would eventually bring salvation to the world for his purpose and to his glory.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Victoria Advocate | Meeting expected to pump $100M into state economy

It is well to remember that not everyone is unhappy to see the Jehovah’s Witnesses turn up. I just wonder if Jehovah’s Witnesses are altogether comfortable pumping that much money into this world’s failing system of things.

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Tourism Authority calculates delegates to the Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Hawaii Convention Center to spend about $100 million.

HTA Vice President David Uchiyama says the projection is based, in part, on 161,000 hotel room nights. He says the spending figure includes nearly $10 million in tax revenue.

Organizers expect more than 30,000 delegates to attend the convention. That includes as many as 8,000 from Hawaii.

Spokesman David Fitzgerald says the convention's two sessions are scheduled to run Nov. 19-22 and Nov. 26-29.

Delegates are coming from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Taiwan.

Victoria Advocate | Meeting expected to pump $100M into state economy

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament: The New Simplified Bible.

It always interests me what influences people’s thinking. Nowhere is this more important than in how we approach the Bible and so I found this story fascinating. A new, free, version of the bible is available but this reviewer concludes that notwithstanding the translator’s claims it is “Jehovah’s Witnesses lite”.

"There is a new version of the Bible on the market (not another version!). This one is free and it is available online. James R Madsen is the translator and editor of the New Simplified Bible. This new translation of the Bible comes in three different editions:
The Jehovah Version
The Yahwist Version
The LORD Version
Although the translator makes the disclaimer that his version of the Bible is not related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New Simplified Bible could be classified as 'Jehovah’s Witnesses lite.'"
Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament: The New Simplified Bible.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Snare of Legalism (Matthew 19:1-12)

The Chambers Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to law...the tendency to observe letter or form rather than spirit, or to regard things from the point of view of law.” It also helpfully illustrates the definition with a reference to the opposing doctrines of salvation by works and salvation by grace. I do like The Chambers Dictionary and commend it to you.

But what is wrong with keeping the law? Surely as Christians we believe in being law-abiding? There is certainly enough in the New Testament about obedience to authorities. We are instructed, “obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph.6:1); obey your earthly masters with respect” (Eph.6:5); obey your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb.13:17) and we are reminded “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:3)

When we witness to those with a legalistic bent we are often challenged with these and similar texts and accused of practicing antinomianism, “being emancipated by the gospel from the obligation to keep the moral law, faith alone being necessary” (that’s Chambers again)

Of course, if we were antinomian in our teaching and practice our prisons would be full of Christians (in some parts of the world Christians do find themselves imprisoned and worse but for entirely different reasons). The folly of legalism is highlighted in this passage as Jesus answers what his interrogators think is a difficult question and it had certainly exercised the best Jewish minds for generations. Moses said:

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes here a certificate of divorcement, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, give it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord” (Deut.24: 1-4)

In Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought. The scholar Shammai taught that “something indecent” meant marital unfaithfulness while Hillel emphasised the words “who becomes displeasing to him” and taught that if she did anything he didn’t like, such as burning the toast it justified a divorce. You see, that is the trouble with legalism, not that law is a bad thing but that we always put ourselves in the place of God and make it mean what we like, or what seems right to us. In our everyday lives we are often very sure of what are our rights and what are other people’s obligations. Jesus’ answer cut right through this tangle of opinions and interpretations by appealing to the purposes of God.

You see, someone following either the school of Shammai or Hillel might feel justified, righteous and superior for having nailed it but neither was right, although Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai over Hillel. Divorce, he said, was granted because of sin and God, whose purpose and ideal from the beginning had been that the two would be one, graciously accommodated his purposes to circumstances because of sin that caused damage to people. The Pharisees had asked the wrong question. They wanted to know what was permitted or forbidden when they should have been asking what was the purpose of God.

They asked when and under what circumstances disappointed and hurting people should separate when they should have been asking how broken relationships can be mended and people healed from their hurts and disappointments. It is a stark and frightening insight into what they cared about, and what we care about when we address these life issues from the point of view of law.

Jesus preached the standards of the kingdom which see citizens as servants who seek each other’s good and the heart of God in every matter. In this of course Christians believe in and practice obedience but from a heart changed by the miracle of the new birth and not from a list of statutes, permissions and prohibitions. Where do we find and how do we follow these standards of the kingdom that speak so eloquently of obedience yet offer citizenship not to the obedient but to the believing? As Jesus taught Nicodemus:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again...no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” Jn.3: (3-6)

We are saved into the kingdom by the miracle of rebirth and we take hold of and begin to understand the will of God and the standards of the kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. The regenerate person has a renewed mind (Ro.12:12), has the law set in their minds (Heb.8:10;10:16) and has the mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16)

In our witness we teach truth, correct doctrine and bring understanding but we are not, like Shammai and Hillel, simply interpreters of the Bible but offer to people nothing less than new birth, renewed minds, the mind of Christ in all matters pertaining to the kingdom,

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor.2:12-16)

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Bolivian Catholics asked to forgo human skulls - Yahoo! News UK

 

The Bolivian Episcopal Conference on Friday asked the overwhelmingly Catholic nation to cast aside the "growing" trend of seeking protection from bad luck by making offerings of coca, cigars or drinks to human crania.

As much of the world celebrates Halloween and Mexico prepares for its Day of the Dead, Bolivian bishops had another festival on their minds, the Day of Skulls, which falls on November 8.

Bolivian Catholics asked to forgo human skulls - Yahoo! News UK

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Panorama - Undercover - Hate on the Doorstep

This is a very disturbing documentary for, amongst others, the following reasons (from most to least obvious):
  1. Racism is alive and punching in the UK
  2. The abolition of corporal punishment has proved disastrous
  3. Islam is an incredibly destructive force
The BBC1 documentary follows two British Muslims who go undercover for eight weeks, posing as an Asian couple in a Bristol housing estate. They are constantly abused, harassed, sworn at, racially slurred, sneered at, subject to missiles of glass and brick, threatened, mugged, reduced to tears and actually physically thumped. It makes one sick to be white and British, and stiffens one's resolve (if it needed any stiffening) against the BNP and Nick Griffin's slippery attempts to sanitise its inalienably racist platform.

Firstly, then, the most obvious conclusion is that racism is not dead in the UK, despite Trevor Phillips' assurance that nobody has a problem nowadays living next door to someone of a different ethnicity. Mancunian reporter Tamanna Rahman finishes the programme with a beaming smile on her face - because she is so relieved to be leaving the hell-hole she's spent only two months in. In that time, she avers, she experience more racist abuse than the rest of her life put together. The programme itself is an almost tediously ceaseless litany of hidden-camera clips of her and her on-screen husband getting attacked by nasty little oiks.

But this takes me to the second point: corporal punishment. The programme exposes not just that people are racist in Britain. It also shows the rather obvious point that undisciplined and unoccupied youngsters will latch on to any distinguishing feature of someone 'other' and attack it, like starving piranha. Skin colour is the most obvious distinguishing feature and laziest way of creating a 'them and us' dynamic, which can then lead to the cheap thrill of defeating someone weaker in an artificially constructed competitive scenario. Which is to say - it's easy to bully a brown person because they're brown than to work hard at Maths which you've never really been too good at, and you've never had much help with. Now, obviously, the broader point is that some of Britain's schools are failing to engage and motivate their students. But I posit that the removal of the cane has been a pulling out of the linchpin of school management. The children and young men in the documentary are entirely without fear of reprisal. They delight in creating terror and panic in the poor Asian couple. I cannot avoid the conclusion that if they had experienced the thwack of birch against their fleshier portions they would not be so greedy to terrorise those they label 'terrorists'. Humiliation in both senses of the word is radically underrated, and scrapping the cane has done this: that is, the burning shame in both face and buttocks of having been found out as a nasty little boy, as well as the humbling of soul and the pause for thought every time future temptations to be a racist bully present themselves.

On the terrorism theme, we consider, thirdly, the effect of Islam on both its adherents (radical and moderate) and the nation as a whole. Islam in its rarefied, Koranic form incites religious and racial violence. It is a religion of the sword, and now the bomb. To the moderate Muslim majority, Islam's sword is two-edged. Vilified as compromisers by the Wahabis, moderates are blessedly unfaithful to the violent tenets of their own faith, and mercifully ignore the Qu'ran's 'rise up and slay them' suras. However, these dear people are often the ones who bear the brunt of white Britain's confused fear of the terrifying and bloody excesses that Islam daily produces around the globe. It is interesting how the ill-informed and ill-mannered kids on the estate nevertheless constantly employed the semantics of 'the war on terror' in their bullying tactics. It wasn't just 'Get out P*ki'; it was 'Don't bomb me!' and 'Iraq's that way' and so on. While Al-Qaeda are flying planes into towers and coercing Down's Syndrome females to blow themselves up in crowded markets, normal, ordinary, assimilated, pleasant, decent, hard-worker, British moderate Muslims are taking the flak. But this is not the worst of it. Islam does not just slay the infidel, it slays its own followers. Many who die in extremist attacks are themselves Muslims, including 9/11 and 7/7. And yet this is still not the worst of it. Mohammed evacuated the gospel of the Cross, and left no way for his poor followers to find a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. Islam is Christianity with the Cross replaced with a sword. The most truly loving thing to do for a Muslim is to show them the love of Christ and help to them to escape from the prison of Islam.
Watch the documentary, fight racism in all its forms, discipline your kids (spare the rod, spoil the child and everyone around him), and love your Muslim (or otherwise) neighbour with the gospel.

Britian's most haunted village 'cancels Halloween' - Telegraph

I wish to point out that the typo in the heading comes direct from the Daily Telegraph whose copy office is probably haunted by the ghost of Samuel Johnson, a man who was never that punctilious about what he put in his famous dictionary. When he was asked by a lady why he defined ‘pastern’ as the ‘knee’ of a horse, he replied, ‘Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.’

“The village is said to have at least 12 spectres, including a highwayman, a phantom monk, the hanging body of a schoolmaster and a poltergeist in the local pub.”

It seems that things that go bump in the night are not the fun-packed entertainment they are popularly thought to be. If only more would grasp this truth.

Britian's most haunted village 'cancels Halloween' - Telegraph

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Spoof : Merger creates new Church of America funny satire story

I do so want this to be true because then we can merge our literature into one mega-tract we can hand out to everyone.

Salt Lake City, Utah - In an unprecedented merger, expected to have massive ramifications for spirituality in America, several major off-brand sects of Christianity have all joined together into one monolithic faith.

The Spoof : Merger creates new Church of America funny satire story

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Great Ones and Little Ones (Matthew 18)

There is something so human about the question, you have to smile. Along comes this amazing Jesus who walks on water, heals the sick and raises the dead. He begins to talk about his kingdom and offers you a place in it. It is human nature to wonder, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples are thinking the way the world thinks, of ambition, endeavour, accomplishment and status. The kingdom Jesus describes is characterised by entirely different principles.

18:2-4 Greatness in this kingdom is realised only by having the faith of a child. It is impossible without total dependence on God as a child depends on a parent. When Jesus called Israel they refused him and stood at a distance in judgement. A child, when called, responded immediately, trusting and humble.

18:10-14 Greatness in this kingdom is realised by recognising the worth of others with childlike eagerness. Greeting them with joy not judgement, caring for them and searching them out when they stray.

18:15-22 Greatness in this kingdom is realised by understanding that believers are brothers and sisters and we deal with them as family, seeking to resolve differences, being quick to understand and forgive.

18:23-35 Greatness in this kingdom is realised in servanthood. Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve (Mt.20:28) and his service was expressed in sacrifice. Our faith does not elevate us but offers us opportunities to serve sacrificially.

Some people think that rules make the world go around and help us grow and achieve. We need rules of course but it is the courtesies, sacrifices and selflessness of people that make the world go around. It is rather like the grace notes on the piano. You learn the piano by the discipline of the rules but it is those grace notes, the all-important embellishments that can turn a piece of music into a symphony. Just so in the kingdom where it is the grace notes of Christian service that make kingdom living and identify Christians.

In our witnessing doctrine is essential, apologetics is invaluable but the sacrificial, forgiving and loving life of the Christian is the greatest evidence that the kingdom of God is near.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

“A Record Kept”: Constructing Collective Memory - LDS Newsroom

In June 2009 the Mormon Church announced the building of a new church library to house historical records of the church.

“From the earliest moments of the Church’s founding, Latter-day Saints have kept a record of their history. The principle behind this practice stems from a scriptural mandate: “There shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1), intended for the “good of the church” and “the rising generations” (D&C 69:8). Maintaining a perspective on the past, while fixing an eye toward the future, is nothing new in religious history. Accounts of God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind have been promulgated by prophets and sages since the beginning of time. These records have provided a framework of meaning that continues to shape human conceptions of morality, identity and progress. Continued

Consistent with this long tradition of sacred record keeping, the Church has devoted substantial resources to construct a new library. This building, which, in the words of Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen, “will rival the great libraries of the world with its facilities and collections,” is more than a physical repository of information. It is, at its heart, a vast spiritual undertaking aimed at expanding the collective memory of a people. And yet, without the laborious process of preserving tangible records, the spiritual act of remembering is diminished. Memory, both collective and personal, is a fragile thing.”

History is indeed fragile, especially Mormon history which seems to break as soon as it is looked at. Mormons have faithfully kept this history for generations but every time it is cited it is denied, dissembled and dismissed. The 26 volume Journal of Discourses, which is supposed to have been the exemplar of record keeping for Mormons, the diaries carefully recorded and passed down through families, all become opaque and unreliable historical curios because of the embarrassing information that can be garnered from them.

From polygamy through the Mountain Meadows Massacre to Negroes and the priesthood and the  disingenuous and disgraceful mission on the African continent the Mormon Church seeks at every turn to distract attention from its history and perhaps one of the most inconvenient “revelations” Joseph Smith ever had was D&C 21.

They end the report, “if a religion cannot explain its history, it cannot explain itself”

(No I don’t find this funny. That was an ironic laugh you heard. As Freddy Frinton said, “not funny, ha, ha. Funny, ugh”)

“A Record Kept”: Constructing Collective Memory - LDS Newsroom

Monday, 19 October 2009

Koinonia: Latayne C. Scott: The Lost and Found of Masonry and Mormonism

 A great blog post from Latayne Scott:
I imagine that many Christians have wriggled uncomfortably as they read Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol. Scattered through the book are disparaging references to Christianity (and not a few barefaced prostitutions of Bible verses taken out of context).
But imagine the reaction of some Mormons who have been through the secret LDS temple ceremonies when they read, in the first pages of the book, of Masonic oaths whose penalties are "Throat cut from ear to ear. . .tongue torn out by its roots. . .bowels taken out and burned . . .scattered to the four winds of heaven.."
Koinonia: Latayne C. Scott: The Lost and Found of Masonry and Mormonism

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Good Shepherd (John 10)

The picture of sheep and shepherd is used to describe the relationship between God and his people. The psalmist wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Shepherd also describes Israel’s spiritual leaders in the Old Testament and their responsibility was serious. Jeremiah wrote:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” (Jer.23:1)

As Jesus spoke we have to remember what picture was brought to people’s minds and how his words described their leaders and challenged them. And it is a challenge, to them and to us. Jesus identified the characteristics of a good shepherd, who is,

A courageous protector: The shepherd slept in the one opening to the fold like a door between the sheep and their enemies. He protected them with his life, prepared to lay down his life for his sheep

A steadfast leader: In Palestine sheep are not driven but led. The shepherd leads “from the front” and they follow

A trustworthy guide: The shepherd concerned for his flock guides his sheep to the best pasture, “that they may have life to the full”

A personal friend: At might sheep might sleep several flocks in one fold but in the morning each sheep knew the voice of the shepherd and he knew them

Jesus doesn’t mince his words as he declares, “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that there are those who call themselves shepherds but are thieves and robbers who come to steal, kill and destroy; or are hired hands who cares nothing for the sheep. I said there was a challenge and it is this; do you know the shepherd?

All shepherds will have followers but do we know and recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd? Are we confident that we are following the One who laid down His life for His sheep or is our shepherd one who expects us to sacrifice for him? Is our shepherd leading us in green pastures, giving us life to the full, or is our diet poor and lacking nourishment? Is our shepherd our friend and do we know his voice?

That is the challenge, to know him and to follow no matter the other sheep and other voices.

Friday, 9 October 2009

McConkie: The Apostle Mormons Love to Hate

Bruce R McConkie (the ‘R’ stands for Redd), member of the First Council of the Seventy from 1946, was an apostle of the Mormon Church from 1972 until his death in April 1985. Born into a Mormon family he boasted polygamist forebears who rubbed shoulders with Joseph and Hyrum Smith. One biographer describes McConkie as, “breathing, talking, and living the principles of the [Mormon] gospel... in the McConkie home.” He married Emma, the daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum, apostle from 1910 and church president 1970-72. He studied at Utah Law School, obtaining his BA degree and his LLB, served in the military, retiring as lieutenant-colonel and worked for the CIA.

His work has been described in glowing terms in a biographical note in the Ensign magazine, Jan.1973:


“He has written numerous articles and handbooks and read hundreds of manuscripts submitted for his appraisal. His sermons at conferences have been consistently doctrinal in nature, pointing out the basic gospel principles that lead to exaltation. He has truly taught that to know God and his Christ is to have life eternal. He has raised his voice in many lands as he has toured missions. His value in counsel has been wise, clear, and in harmony with the true principles of the gospel. His gift to write and speak concisely and with clarity amounts almost to genius, and he exercises these gifts willingly for the benefit of the work of the Lord whose name he reveres.


During his years in the First Council, he has found time to write four volumes of doctrinal studies and to edit three volumes of the doctrines expounded and explained by President Joseph Fielding Smith. These books, exhaustive in treatment and clearly written, reveal the clarity of the mind, the logic of the presentations, and the guidance of the Spirit in their composition. These stand as bulwarks defending true doctrine against the nebulous assertions of modern philosophers.”


A “True Believing Mormon”, a gifted man of doctrinal consistency, clarity, wisdom and genius, McConkie was, then, a man with solid Mormon credentials whose background fitted him well for a place in the leadership of the Mormon Church and his scholastic endeavours for his role as commentator and interpreter of Mormon Doctrine. Notably missing from the 1973 biography is any reference to Mormon Doctrine (pub.1958) the book that would become celebrated and repudiated in equal measure by Mormons.

In it he attempted to assemble a one volume systematic dictionary cum commentary, a compendium of what Mormons believe. McConkie described the work as the first major attempt to digest, explain, and analyze all of the important doctrines of the kingdom" and "the first extensive compendium of the whole gospel—the first attempt to publish an encyclopedic commentary covering the whole field of revealed religion." From Aaronic Priesthood, through Godhead and Scripture to Word of Wisdom, Worthiness and Zion McConkie presented the prevailing Mormon Doctrine.

It was written primarily as a reference book for Mormons and so its author was able to be more forthright on sensitive issues such as the Mormon attitude to Catholic and Protestant Churches (the former characterised in the first edition as “the Whore of Babylon” and the latter “daughters of a harlot”). However, such forthright language came under criticism by church leaders and the book was published in a revised form in 1966 and with further revisions in 1978. What was revised?

It seems the most notable difference between first and second editions was the tone. What concerned Mormon leaders was the use of “forceful, blunt language; some strongly worded statements [and] its authoritative style” and, while there were some doctrinal changes, it is notable that much of the Bible dictionary included in today’s Mormon reference Bible (pub.1979) was taken directly from Mormon Doctrine. There is a good account of the controversy at ex-Mormon.org. Since that time Mormons have found it easy to dismiss McConkie whenever he is quoted to them by critics yet he continues to be quoted widely by members, leaders and official publications of the Mormon Church.

This situation has earned McConkie certain notoriety and it is easy, indeed instinctive for Mormons to dismiss this Mormon apostle with impunity. It is interesting, however, that at least 80% of his "controversial" book was taken from Doctrines of Salvation, a compilation of the sermons and writings of his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith; a work that McConkie himself compiled and knew thoroughly. Smith's remarks on apostasy and “apostate churches” are hardly less controversial than McConkie's (Vol.3 of DofS). I just read him again on the subject and Smith is frank in his teaching about a mother church, which he pictures in the hands of Satan, a church that is evil, corrupt and polluted with pagan philosophies, and [Protestant] daughter churches that are no better.

He does concur that "there is some truth in all the churches" but this is not the ecumenical statement it sounds for he doesn't mean Christian churches especially but religions of the world, mentioning Buddhists, Greek and Roman Gods alongside what we might more readily call a church; not exactly flattering comparisons for the Evangelicals with whom Mormons seem anxious to associate and identify these days.

Smith comments:

"The fact that they teach some truth does not make them the Church of God. There is but one Church of God."

Smith's commentary is no less "offensive" to Christians or less controversial for the Mormon Church than McConkie’s, but McConkie was censured while Smith wasn't. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so ready, therefore, to buy into the whole disowning McConkie business. The “truth” he wrote chimed very well with the Mormonism of recent generations but what Mormons once believed and how they expressed that belief was becoming a liability.

I was a Mormon from 1972 until 1986 and my memory is vivid not just because I was there but because I was taught, and in turn I taught this material for much of that time in priesthood, seminary, institute and Sunday school classes. Historically speaking, this is my old stomping ground so to speak. I know what we were taught and what we comfortably believed and McConkie was a very snug fit notwithstanding the official rebukes of his work.

The fact is that Mormons did and still do identify with McConkie and you will find his book on their shelves. A question I often ask is why does Mormonism not have commentaries? I think Mormons were hungry for something solid in that line to get their teeth into and McConkie provided it. They flocked to him, not because he and they were wrong, but because they spoke together the language of Mormonism, a language that became inconvenient as the world became more politically correct, and they identified with him.

How often have I heard people who minister to Mormons yearn for those days of McConkie because you knew where you were with him; not like today’s mealy-mouthed leaders whose work has to go through a correlation committee to ensure they are on-message even if they are a prophet. I just can’t imagine somehow Ezekiel, Isaiah Jeremiah or Paul seeking approval and endorsement for what God inspired them to say. Yet these are the men in whose footsteps these timid Mormon leaders purport to follow. John the Baptist would turn in his grave.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – This Table is for Sinners (1 Co.1)

Following a remarkable morning in church, fellowshipping around the Lord’s Table, I find myself coming back time and again today to the simple but shocking words of the man who officiated there: “This table is for sinners!”

These words are simple enough but at the same time incomprehensible to many who find themselves shocked at the suggestion that “sinners are welcome here.”

In today’s verses we first learn two things:

1. There is power in the Cross (1 Co.1:17) and the power of the Cross can be lost if the gospel is reduced to man’s wisdom. When men and women try to pin down the gospel and conform it to their humanly devised systems and cleverly constructed arguments they are frustrated as the power of the Cross eludes them.

2. While there is power in the Cross nevertheless, to those who are dying, those who are impressed by human wisdom and sophistication, the Cross seems foolish (1 Co.1:18) because it comes with power and not nice arguments.

Nowhere has this been better demonstrated for me than in the unhappy verdict of one man who declared that he didn’t go to church because he is “not worthy” right now. As we read on in Paul’s letter to Corinth we find a disparity between the way man sees things and the way God sees things. Man, we are told demands evidences piled up one on another and wisdom told in familiar human terms. Such men would indeed concur with my friend that he is not worthy and needs to straighten himself out. God, on the other hand, offers his own power and wisdom through the Cross which, “to those who are being saved is the power of God and the wisdom of God”

Paul’s following illustration is surely unsettling to those who insist on applying the world’s standards to kingdom life. These are standards that demand the top table belongs to the wise, the noble and the powerful.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in God’s presence.”

We sing in the hymn, “To God be the glory, great things he has done”. Here we see that the glory is due his name because of the Cross.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written,

‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’”

At the Lord’s Table the only way to “qualify” is to approach weak, low, despised and empty handed. “This table is for sinners!”

It is for sinners because only sinners who confess their sin and surrender to Jesus, seeking to add nothing to his finished work and looking to him alone for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption are acceptable to God. Anyone who seeks to add to this will subtract from it.

If this seems madness, foolishness, unreasonable and wrong then you should stop looking at it through the world’s eyes. To the world it will always seem naive, simplistic and incredible. If your worldview right now does not allow for it you need to trade it in for God’s view. Isaac Watts sums up well the way the Christian approaches the High Table of Communion with Christ through the wisdom of God in the Cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“This table is for sinners!”

Are you a sinner? Then come!

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Mormon God’s Dysfunctional Family

You know those moments when you look at something you’ve looked at a thousand times before and suddenly see something new?

I was looking at a blog I found via the Google Blog Alerts service and it told the familiar story of the Mormon “Plan of Salvation”; you can read it here. There really was nothing surprising until I started thinking about what people might think if a family they knew conducted themselves the way the Mormon “family of God” do in this story.

People from abusive backgrounds have problems enough with the idea of God as a Father but this story would put anyone off the idea forever! As I recount this story think about what the typical dad would do as his kids are growing up and compare it with this “exalted man.”

According to Mormonism “God created our spirits” and we lived with him in a pre-mortal existence (Mormons say “pre-existence” but it is not possible to pre-exist, i.e. to exist before you exist. The noun “existence” has to be have the prefix “pre” otherwise the word makes no sense whatsoever).

Mormons traditionally have believed that more than “creation” went on back in the pre-mortal existence and have a hymn that celebrates the existence of a heavenly mother. The picture of the nuclear family unit, then, is complete. There he is, with his wife and children, “literally our loving Father in heaven”. Well, let’s see if that is true.

In heaven we were taught the “gospel” and decided whether we were going to be obedient or rebellious – Now I am a dad and I can tell you that whether my children were going to be obedient or rebellious was never a great priority with me. It seemed to be more important to know whether they learned to love, cared about others and felt secure and appreciated in the family. I didn’t give them a “gospel” to test them but told them the gospel to bless them. After all, they are my children and not my cattle.

In order to progress and grow further it was necessary that we left our heavenly home and came into the great wide world. That sounds familiar enough. All my children have left home to make their way in the world. But what would you think of me if I hid from them and only communicated with them through third parties and ancient texts, or agents I sent out to tell them “your dad told me to tell you…”

But that is what the Mormon God does. He tells his family his plan and when some of them don’t like it he just throws them out and makes them pariah’s! The rest are sent out into the world and, here’s the weird part, he makes them forget him and then sends messengers to teach them all over again who he is even though they knew in the first place!

He has them pass on a formula for finding out who their dad is and what he wants (Js.1:5) and gives them a list of commandments to follow so they can go back to him. That’s like your son or daughter arriving at university and looking blank when someone asks, “So what does your dad do?” Would you want to go back after being treated like that?

Actually, the university analogy is popular with Mormons, this life being a learning experience, the Mormon Church being a sort of tertiary college and the temple being a university. First student asks, “So what are you studying at university?” Mormon replies, “I came to find out who my dad is.”

Finally, this dad stands at his front door with a clipboard, tick box and pen, checking to see, on their return from university, if they come up to his exacting standards, have straight A’s etc. before he allows them back into the house where they were “born”. Can you imagine an earthly dad standing at the door and asking his children, “Can I see your temple recommend?”

Now compare this with the Christian gospel.

In the beginning God created everything, including man (Gen.1&2) We are not “the literal offspring of God” but creatures of God’s making, created in His image and to be stewards of His creation, but created nevertheless. There is no pre-mortal existence, only mortality, where we live, and eternity, where God dwells.

Mankind rebelled against God by simply but tragically choosing to put man’s will above God’s, thus losing the role of steward over creation and bringing creation crashing down in ignominy with him. From the beginning God has promised and worked for the redemption of man and creation and every act of God is bent to this purpose so that God may have his will and receive the glory due his name. The condition we now find ourselves in and the work of God to effect our rescue are described in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Ro.3:10 - There is no-one righteous, no matter how good we are or how hard we try.

Ro3:23 - All have sinned and fallen short. It is impossible for us to measure up to God's standard.

Ro.5:12 - Death came to all men, because all sinned. It is our nature to sin.

Ro.5:8 - Because of God's love for us, he sent Christ to die for us - while we were still sinners, not because we had done anything to earn it.

Ro.6:23 - The wages of sin is death - wages are what you earn as a result of what you do. The gift of God is eternal life - you do not earn a gift, or deserve it. God gives the gift because He loves us. We do not need to work for it, only accept it.

Ro.10:13 - Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, regardless of who they are or what they have done. You only have to call.

Ro.10:9,10 - True, heart-felt confession of faith in Jesus is what it takes to be saved, not works.

There is no exam to find your grades, no test to see if you will be obedient or rebellious, only the simple yet profound question of whether we have trusted in Jesus and the finished work of the Cross.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Obey God Rather than Men (John 10-12)

The proverb declares that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr.1:7). Another declares “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Pr.29:25). In chapters 10 to 12 of John’s gospel we see people who are well instructed in the former nevertheless falling into the snare warned of in the latter.

In chapter ten “The Jews” (John’s term for the religious authorities) challenged Jesus to put his cards on the table saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (24) Jesus, in his answer, declares that his position could not be clearer, his miracles spoke for him. Why did they not see it?

“I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (25-29)

There is no doubt that they understood what he was saying when he declared that he gave eternal life, that his sheep were secure in him, that he and the Father are one. They picked up stones to stone him declaring that it was for blasphemy, “because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (33)

In chapter 11 we read of the raising of Lazarus, the result of which was that, “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (45) Again we find the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus.

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called together a meeting of the Sanhedrin...from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (47-53)

In chapter 12 we read of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. “[A] great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him shouting, ‘Hosanna!’” We read that the word of Jesus’ mighty works spread and that, “Many people, because they had heard that he had given his miraculous signs, went out to meet him” (12-18)

Yet we read, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they [the religious leaders] still would not believe in him” (37)

When they asked him for a definitive answer he pointed to his miracles. He did not come with fine words claiming to be the Messiah (plenty came with fine words and outrageous claims) but with a demonstration of God’s power showing who he was (1 Cor.2:4). The people who put their faith in him did so because of what he did and how he lived, and in Jerusalem “Many people, because they had heard that he had given his miraculous signs, went out to meet him.” The common people knew and understood something of the significance of these signs but the leaders, who saw what they saw and heard what they heard “still would not believe him.”

Why?

Their motives are revealed in two clear statements of concern made by these leaders. After the triumphal entry “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look now, the whole world has gone after him!” They plotted to kill him just as had been predicted in Jesus’ parable of the Tenants (Lk.20:14) and for the same reasons.

“Here is this man performing miraculous sings. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn.11:47-48)

They served themselves by serving Rome and feared to lose what they had. They feared men more than they feared God and events proved the proverb true because within a few decades they lost their place and their nation.

There are those today who reject Jesus for similar reasons. They fear losing the approbation of their friends, the reputation they think they have and the consequences of admitting that they had been wrong all along. From people with a well developed sense of the religious to those who simply follow after the crowds too many fear to lose their place, begrudge giving up their status as leaders to become followers.

As Christians we need to demonstrate that it is liberating to consider as junk all that we lose in order to gain Christ (Philip.3:7) and to examine our own walk to see if there is something we are holding onto and denying Christ for fear of men. Just as the evidence of Christ’s identity was in the works he did and the life he lived, so today the evidence for the gospel is in the lives we live before a watching world.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Don’t you Question my Authority! (Mark 10:35-45)

The self-possessed young Mormon missionary had engaged me in friendly conversation with the breezy impertinence typical of so many young American Mormons. He wanted to be my chum and tell me all about Joseph Smith. However, when I revealed that I had been a Mormon but now was a Christian and explained that the difference was grace he became positively aggressive. When I gently challenged his claims and the tone in which they were delivered he almost bellowed, “Don’t you question my authority!”

I was taken aback by his impudence but had to smile because I have memories of the “authority” he insisted was his. I remember as a young man of just nineteen receiving the “authority” he claimed now to have. I recall being told that I now had more “authority” than all the spiritual leaders in the world outside the Mormon Church. Think of that! I have seldom felt so much confidence in something I didn’t even begin to understand and that was no better understood by those people who conferred this dubious honour on me. I have often wondered since why people who lay such great store by “authority” should have such a tenuous grasp on what it is in biblical terms.

It was this kind of authority that the disciples James and John now sought from Jesus; authority conferred, a right to bestow or withhold blessing, to judge and dispatch, to proclaim orthodoxy or declare heresy. They sought to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus in glory as though it was in Jesus’ gift to simply give it. In a gospel where the message is of God’s grace, of salvation that costs us nothing and Jesus everything it is surprising to discover that in God’s kingdom authority is demonstrated by self-sacrifice and service.

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Putting your name on an office door doesn’t mean you fill the office because authority is not a right to power but a characteristic of maturity. Authority is not gained like a promotion but developed like a character trait. Maybe that’s why community leaders have always been called “elders”?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The real reason for the Mormons being expelled : Kaieteur News

Here is an interesting insight into the (unwitting?) role of the Mormon Church in the “colourful” politics of Guyana. A letter to a Guyana newspaper explains that support for the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been falling in recent years especially among Amerindians who have, the writer claims, complained that the government has not been investing in Amerindian interests as much as they used.

The opposition People’s National Congress (PNC) hasn’t the funds to fill the gap and so, he alleges, has shrewdly “encouraged” the Mormon Church to charitable work among the Amerindians in “Partnership” with the PNC. The governing PPP has apparently seen this as interference in their political territory and has sought to end the partnership in a rather dramatic fashion by attempting to expel the Mormons as previously reported.

Are the Mormons so innocent as they would have us think? It is the case that in Ghana they paid bribes to get their temple built in Accra and were pretty pragmatic about it, saying that it was the way the system worked. In my part of the world I have been impressed at their foresight in building a local chapel ostensibly at the back of beyond but eventually at the edge a prestigious new housing development and golf course complex.

My money is on these people knowing very well what they are doing and, while the folks on the ground who were detained by the CID and face expulsion may be unwitting pawns in this game of catch-as-catch-can, the men sitting in downtown Salt Lake City have a firm grasp on the big picture. After all, business is business.

The real reason for the Mormons being expelled : Kaieteur News

Monday, 7 September 2009

Guyana makes Mormon missionaries leave - World Faith- msnbc.com

Half the Mormon missionary force in Guyana is facing deportation, ostensibly over document irregularities, but it is thought that the church has been perceived as uncomfortably close to opposition leaders.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - Authorities in Guyana grew "uncomfortable" with the presence of Mormon missionaries who have been ordered to leave the South American country, a governing party leader said Thursday.

About 40 missionaries were briefly detained Wednesday and told to leave within a month as authorities said their travel documents were out of date…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been sending missionaries to this former British colony for more than 20 years. About 100 of them are now in Guyana, many of them deep in the country's interior where the government has little presence.

Guyana makes Mormon missionaries leave - World Faith- msnbc.com

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Are You as Good as the Next Man? (Mark 10:17-34)

Last time we looked at legalism. This week we consider the folly of humanism, that idea that, as pre-Socratic philosopher Protagorus said, “Man is the measure of all things”. In this text we find a young man presenting himself earnestly to Jesus and thinking himself a faithful Jew while all along adhering to a classic humanist philosophy.

“’Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother’

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

By a clever device Jesus exposed and challenged the young man’s assumptions. By what standard was he measuring goodness? “No one is good – except God alone”; and by what standard was he measuring himself?

When Moses received the Ten Commandments they were written on two tablets. The first related to our obligations to God and the second to our obligations to others. Jesus quoted from the second tablet and you can almost see the exclamation mark at the end of the young man’s response, ‘Teacher all these I have kept since I was a boy!’ Again, just as he measured goodness by man’s standard so he judged himself in the same way: “I am as good as the next man!” How many even religious people think this way, measuring goodness by man’s standard, judging themselves by comparison with the next man? As Jesus said to the young man, “One thing you lack.”

The first tablet of law began, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex.20:3) Jesus challenged him in the thing that he had put before God – money; money and respectability, standing in the community because of his wealth, generosity and scrupulous and careful adherence to his duty towards others. It is no great sacrifice out of your plenty to be a humanitarian and gain the acclaim of man but putting God first may demand that we sacrifice those things we hold most precious and so easily put before him. Our comfort and security, reputation and our image of ourselves and the all-too-humanistic way we measure all things by ourselves.

When we feel tempted to declare ourselves “as good as the next man” perhaps we need to take a closer look at the next man and remember that God alone is the measure of goodness and determine to put him first.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Mormons, Evangelicals And Affinity Fraud

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Web site defines an “affinity fraud”:

“Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are — or pretend to be — members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse.”

You don’t have to be a believer of any kind to fall prey to affinity fraud but if you are a person who is daily looking for the “leading of God”,  who believes that God is bound to have a hand in the minutiae of your every day life, that there is no such thing as a coincidence and that God is “wanting to bless you” as part of his great plan then you  are a prime target for fraudsters.

You will have heard of Bernard Madoff who targeted those who shared his Jewish heritage, rubbing shoulders with significant and trusted members of the Jewish community, to create the biggest fraud of its kind in history. Now a $50 million affinity fraud that took in Mormons and Evangelical Christians has come to light.

Nightly conference calls included prayer and fellowship. This wasn’t just a business but a spiritual mission.

“It was almost like a cult,” one Mormon victim said. “There were prayers at the end of most of the calls. That element was key. There was a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of community, and everything we were going to do involved humanitarian efforts to change the world. That’s why you felt like you didn’t dare disrupt it. God’s behind us, and you shouldn’t betray him.”

Retirement accounts were raided to “invest” and friends and relatives were recruited. It was a classic example of the triumph of faith over reason. A cautionary tale for our time.

How do believers guard themselves from these fraudsters?

Firstly, Remember Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn.18:36) and come the day of judgement whatever we build on a foundation of gold, sliver etc. will be burned up and some will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Co.3:11-15)

Secondly, Because we are believers doesn’t mean the usual rules of life don’t apply. It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that a Christian’s life is somehow meant to be charmed. We see it on bumper stickers that declare “Angels jump off at 70mph” and in the popularity of testimonies telling of miraculous provision. Believers can spend an inordinate amount of time worrying why God is not blessing them in a particular way as though the faith is one great get rich, stay slim, and prosper scheme. The ensuing guilt and worry does Satan’s work for him as we become ineffectual  in our preoccupation with ourselves when we should be concerned for others. Of course God blesses us and in so many ways but Christians are subject to the same ills and fortunes as everyone else so remember:

  • If it looks too good to be true then it almost certainly is.
  • A business deal is always a business deal and should be approached as such. Believers shouldn’t approach it as a heaven-sent provision anymore than unbelievers should approach it as simply a bit of good luck.
  • There are no friends in business and Christians should heed the same advice as everyone else, caveat emptor, buyer beware.
  • “Prayer covering” is not an insurance against fraud, being alert, well well advised and cautious is. The people in this story simply trusted that this was genuine even though the amount of Gold that was supposed to be being traded amounted to twice the quantity in the US Federal Reserve!
  • If a decision just has to be made today then the best decision is usually “no”. I never made a decision that couldn’t wait 24 hours.