Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Where Am I?
Adjusting to my new life is taking longer than I expected, but I'm enjoying every minute of it! Here is the reason for slacking off on my blog:


At least I have my other two daughters to help (while my son continues to find new ways to terrorize whatever place he finds himself!):


P.S. If you leave any comments, please do not include my children's names. I'd prefer for their lives to remain somewhat private!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007
What About God Commanding Canaanite Extermination?
I am now beginning to catch up with what I have missed over the last couple of weeks, and I've ran across a great article by Bob Gonzales over at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog: "God’s Command to Exterminate the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology." Does the question of God's commanding the extermination of Canaanites ever haunt you? Then check out Gonzales' post. Here is his conclusion:

When placed under the light of the overall Biblical teaching and worldview, the theological and ethical “problem” of holy war evaporates. In the end, those who have serious problems with the OT Holy Wars probably have serious problems with God Himself. But there are also several practical applications we can draw from the reality of the OT Holy Wars. To begin with, God’s commands to Holy War remind us to be preeminently concerned with God’s honor and rights above mere human honor and rights. Secondly, God’s commands to Holy War remind us of the serious with which God views human sin. Thirdly, God’s commands to Holy War remind us of that the consequences of sin often extend beyond the individual to the family, the church, and the society. Fourthly, God’s commands to Holy War remind us of the dangerous influences of an anti-Christian society around us. Fifthly, God’s commands to Holy War remind us how zealous God is to protect the purity of His worship and His worshipers. Sixthly, God’s commands to Holy War remind us of the serous commitment to His word that God expects from His people. And finally, God’s commands to Holy War provide us with a picture of our spiritual battle against remaining sin, the world, and the devil, as well as a foretaste of that ultimate battle between good and evil yet to come.

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Friday, May 25, 2007
Week Off
As most of you can tell, I have not been posting this week (except for a brief update about my busy weekend!). This is because I have been devoting myself to my family this week.

But don't worry! I plan to return after Memorial Day. Until then, enjoy the weekend!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A Busy Weekend!
This picture was supposed to be taken at my graduation last Friday. . . .

But my family's schedule had to change. Everyone needed for my wife's scheduled c-section was only available on Friday morning. With the seminary's graduation at 10 am, there was simply no way for me to participate. I officially received my degree "in absentia" (in absence).

Nevertheless, on May 18th 2007 my newest daughter was born. I know that I am biased, but she is a beautiful baby girl! The Lord has blessed my wife and daughter with quick recoveries, and they were both released from the hospital yesterday. Our family thanks God for his abundant blessings and looks forward to what he has in store for us in the coming months and years! Stay tuned to read more about our future!

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Thursday, May 17, 2007
Images of Jesus, Part 5 (Now Complete)
For those of you who have been following along with me, the fifth and final part of Justin Griffin's book--The Truth about Images of Jesus and the Second Commandment-- has been posted online. Here is the complete series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Wiccans
Today's New York Times includes a fascinating article on Wicca: "Wiccans Keep the Faith With a Religion Under Wraps." The following is an excerpt:

Among the most popular religions to have flowered since the 1960s, Wicca — a form of paganism — still faces a struggle for acceptance, experts on the religion and Wiccans themselves said. In April, Wiccans won an important victory when the Department of Veterans Affairs settled a lawsuit and agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to a list of approved religious symbols that it will engrave on veterans’ headstones.

But Wicca in the civilian world is largely a religion in hiding. Wiccans fear losing their friends and jobs if people find out about their faith.

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Monday, May 14, 2007
Bible Fruit?
This month, T. M. Moore wrote a challenging article for Breakpoint: "The Fruit of the Word." Moore examines Hebrews 6:7-8 and applies it to contemporary evangelicalism. His thoughts?

The fruit of the Spirit, the tokens of love, obedience unto holiness, and fervent witness for Christ: These are the fruit the Lord Himself is expecting as He cultivates the field of the Church and rains down the waters of His truth upon it, week after week.

So where’s the fruit?

We all know lots of Christians. But I’m willing to bet we know very few Christians who match up to the four-fold profile outlined above as the reasonable fruit of the Word which God is looking for in our lives. Where are they? You don’t see ‘em. I don’t seem ‘em. Christian scholars, pollsters, and sociologists don’t see ‘em. The world complains over and over about our shallowness and hypocrisy. And every year the evangelical church moves more squarely into the margin of moral, social, and cultural issues and debates. What’s wrong? Why is the most Christian-educated generation in all of Church history so devoid of the fruit we should reasonably expect to find in them?

Perhaps we’ll tackle that question in another installment. For now, can we agree on just this much: Contemporary Christian education—from the sermons we hear to the classes we take and the degrees we earn—is very near to being a complete failure, when considered in the light of the fruit we should reasonably expect to find. I know that conclusion won’t set well with many, but I’ve been involved in Christian education for over thirty years, so I have to wear this indictment myself.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007
TIME on Romney and Mormonism
The current issue of TIME magazine (Vol. 169 No. 21) has Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the cover. It contains two stories on Romney and Mormonism. While I am avoiding posting too many entries on Romney, this kind of major attention deserves to be noted and interacted with. Here are the two articles:

Karen Tumulty, "What Romney Believes." A brief history of Mitt Romney and his political life.
Nancy Gibbs, "Romney's Mormon Question." A look at Mormonism and the role of religion in the political sphere.

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Friday, May 11, 2007
The Names of God
Identify three primary names of God found in the Old Testament (not including El, Elohim, Adonai). Using a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, indicate what is the theological significance of each of these names. What do these names tell us about God’s character? In what way do they inform our understanding of God's relationship to us? How can they be used in a pastoral setting or in the development of one’s spiritual life?

God has revealed many names for himself in Scripture. These names do far more than simply identify a divine being—they teach us more about the God who is revealing himself. This rich abundance of insight can be demonstrated through identifying and briefly studying three primary names of God found in the Old Testament.

One name of God is ’El Shaddai. The Tyndale Bible Dictionary (TBD) explains: “God as ’El Shaddai is presented as the all-powerful One, totally self-sufficient, absolute ruler, and the One who can and does make final disposition.”[1] Essentially, ’El Shaddai expresses God’s sovereignty. Genesis 17 gives us the first recording of this name in Scripture: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty [’El Shaddai]; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’” (Genesis 17:1-2). God uses this name when entering into a covenant with Abraham, commanding him to follow God as the Sovereign One. Christians have the same responsibility, becoming children of Abraham through faith in Christ (Romans 4:11-12). As our Sovereign Creator, we owe God our love, our trust, and our submission. He has the absolute right to do all things in accordance with his own good pleasure.

Consequently, ’El Shaddai greatly instructs believers in the development of our spiritual life. Since Jesus is God incarnate, the Christian life is a life of submission to his lordship. There is no Christian faith without submission to the Savior. Pastors need to proclaim the whole gospel, including the need for converts to crucify themselves daily. Grace is not cheap—it cost Jesus Christ his very life! Believers’ spiritual lives are lived in repentance for our failures and trust in Christ’s atoning work for righteousness. Pastoral ministry must also be rooted in God’s Word, for it is in the Bible that Christians continually remember and apply the gospel as well as understand God’s purpose and will for our lives. Whether from the pulpit or in counseling sessions, the Bible is the foundation upon which God’s sovereignty is learned and observed.

Next, God is called ’El ‘Olam. This name is also clearly defined by the TBD: “’El ‘Olam is used to refer to God as the everlasting or eternal one, a clear instance where the name of God and an attribute of God are combined.”[2] It was also used during the life of Abraham: “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God [’El ‘Olam]” (Genesis 21:33). God’s eternal relationship to us is clearly portrayed in Psalm 90: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’” (Psalm 90:2-4). While God is eternal, our lives are short and then we die. God’s eternality demonstrates the fundamental difference between the natures of God and man. God necessarily and always exists whereas humanity’s existence is dependent on God and ends due to God’s wrath against sin (90:7-11).

Pastors also find a rich wealth of truth in ’El ‘Olam. Psalm 90 points us toward the practical significance of God’s eternity in its first verse: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” By having God as our dwelling place—our place of rest and security—our lives find meaning and purpose. In the New Testament, we see that this rest comes in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4). Therefore, church members can depend on the eternal God who has always existed, will always exist, and will never change. And Christ has taken the wrath we deserve upon himself, reconciling us to God. This truth enables believers to endure and even find joy in various trials and troubles, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Pastors should point to God’s eternal name and nature for security and comfort.

Third, Scripture refers to God as Yahweh-Rohi.[3] This name appears at the beginning of Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd [Yahweh-Rohi]; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Here, God’s name reveals himself as a shepherd. In Ezekiel 34, God further explains this truth, especially in verse 15: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.” Of course, God as a shepherd is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). God cares for his people and his creation, and as a shepherd he is intimately involved in his world. His supreme act of shepherding was in the sacrificial death of his Son.

God as Shepherd clearly displays his love and care for those made in his image. In a unique way, Jesus Christ shepherds his people as our chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). What comfort he provides! Thus, the well-known Psalm 23 points Christians to their Savior. David concluded by writing, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). Pastors rightly quote this biblical passage to show God as a shepherd. In him, whether in life or in death, we have true joy.

When one studies the names of God, he or she should praise God for the complementary ways in which his names function to reveal more of himself to us. God is sovereign (’El Shaddai), he is eternal (’El ‘Olam), and he is our shepherd (Yahweh-Rohi). May we rejoice in our God, proclaiming him to a world that needs to hear of him and of the redemption which he alone gives.

[1]Walter A. Elwell and Philip W. Comfort, ed., Tyndale Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 540.
[2]Ibid.
[3]Ibid, 542.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007
More on (and from) Beckwith
Obviously, the blogosphere is still buzzing after Francis Beckwith's return to Roman Catholicism. While I cannot link to everything (nor would I want to!), here are a few more important updates:

1) Statement of the ETS Executive Committee regarding Dr. Frank Beckwith’s Resignation as ETS President (already added as an update to a previous post)
2) Christianity Today online, "ETS Resignation Triggers Tradition Discussion"
3) Christianity Today online, "Q&A: Francis Beckwith"

Additionally, in his latest blog post, Beckwith said the following:

Over the next year or so I hope to work on a book, or perhaps a major article, that offers a detailed account of why I returned to the Catholic Church. Consequently, please do not treat this interview [the Christianity Today Q&A] as if it were my theological treatise on the subject.

I look forward to the growing interaction on these essential issues!

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Images of Jesus, Parts 3 and 4
What happens when you are finishing your final semester of seminary? You forget to continue reading an online series posted weekly.

Therefore, here are the next two sections from Justin Griffin's book The Truth About Images of Jesus and the Second Commandment:

Part 3
Part 4

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Book Review: The Battle Belongs to the Lord
Does defending the Christian faith scare you? Why do you hear so much about apologetics today? Is it something that you ought to let informed people like church leaders, theologians, and philosophers handle? Should you use your Bible when talking to those who deny that its God's Word?

If you are asking questions like these, then you must read K. Scott Oliphint's The Battle Belongs to the Lord. It is a simple introductory work which turns to Scripture to understand God's call for his people to defend the faith.

After applying insights from the biblical battle between David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, Oliphint structures his book around explaining what several key biblical passages reveal to us about our apologetic work. The chapters include examinations of 1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 1:3; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Romans 1:16-18, 19-32; and Acts 17:15-34.

Oliphint summarizes his central concern by saying:

Since Christ is Lord, and the battle is his, we must always be ready to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We must use the weapons, not of this world, but of the Lord. We must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ as we demolish the arguments, with gentleness and reverence, of those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, exchanging the truth of God for a lie, worshipping created things, rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

What an excellent statement! And every phrase of it comes from God's Word. Why should we begin with anything other than God's own revelation in learning more about defending the faith?

I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is filled with biblical insight. Additionally, Oliphint includes study and application questions at the end of each chapter, making it a great teaching tool or small group study. I am simply amazed that he has managed to compress so much in less than 200 pages.

At the same time, this work should be seen as the beginning of fruitful apologetic study. It is an introduction to the Christian life of gospel proclamation and defense. More detail and depth will come through reading other material. Nevertheless, Oliphint has provided us with an invaluable starting point. Every follower of Christ will find this book spiritually challenging and edifying.

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Monday, May 07, 2007
ETS President Returns to Roman Catholic Church
I know that the blogosphere has been buzzing with the news that Francis Beckwith returned to the Roman Catholic Church. I don't want to post my thoughts for several reasons: 1) I am a seminary student while Beckwith was just president of the Evangelical Theological Society, 2) Beckwith has not yet given enough details for me to understand why he has left for Rome, and 3) other evangelicals have provided insightful, respectful, and balanced responses.

As a result, I decided to post some links for those interested:

1) Francis J. Beckwith, "My Return to the [Roman] Catholic Church." You'll obviously want to start with Beckwith's own explanation.
2) Carl Trueman, "Thoughts on the Return to Rome of Professor Beckwith." Some good thoughts, including a brief examination of Beckwith's appeal to the early church fathers and their writings.
3) R. Scott Clark, "ETS President Converts to Rome." A helpful look at Beckwith in light of the growing bankruptcy of evangelicalism. While I'm not as opposed to modern evangelicalism as Clark (and Hart) seem to be, I completely agree with us coming to see the bad fruit of not having a confessional foundation.
4) Jason Engwer, "Francis Beckwith's Reversion To Roman Catholicism." Engwer makes several important points.
5) James White, Any Recent Post on His Blog. While White is getting a lot of heat for publicly "outing" Beckwith's decision, his concerns and responses are necessary and needed.

I want to close by reposting a letter to Beckwith by Douglas Groothuis:

Dear Frank:

This is a sad day for all true sons and daughters of the Protestant Reformation, for all who lived and died for its truths.

Having abandoned the distinctives of the Reformation (which are deeply rooted in Holy Scripture), you are embracing serious theological error. I wish I could say otherwise, but conscience-bound, I cannot.

By joining Rome, you are putting an institution above God; you are putting men (and I mean males) ahead of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ (See Galatians 1:6-11).

However, you are doing the right thing to resign from your position at ETS.

I have appreciated much of your writing over the years, but I lament what you have now done.

Sincerely,
Doug Groothuis


UPDATE: The Evangelical Theological Society's Executive Committee has responded.

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Friday, May 04, 2007
Mohler on Mormonism
Dr. Albert Mohler has posted his contribution to the current OnFaith internet discussion: "After 175 years of existence, is Mormonism entering the mainstream of American religious life or are people still suspicious of it?"

His response: "Evangelicals, Mormons on Same Side of Cultural Divide." Here is an excerpt:

Mormonism holds that God is an exalted man, with a physical body. Christianity teaches that God is Spirit. Mormonism denies the historic Christian understandings of the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation. Christianity promises salvation through Christ's atonement and the sinner's justification by faith. Mormonism promises deification. Christianity calls for personal faith in Jesus Christ. Mormonism calls for obedience to its own teachings as the path to exaltation. Mormonism replaces belief in the sole authority of the Bible with other writings, including the Book of Mormon. This list is only a brief summary of the vast chasm that separates Christianity from Mormonism. Put simply, Mormonism is not just another form of Christianity. It is a rejection of historic Christianity.

That is a theological summary, but there is a sociological dimension as well. From that perspective, Mormonism can certainly claim to have achieved a comfort level in contemporary American culture -- especially in what might be called "Middle America." Most Americans would feel quite comfortable with Mormon neighbors. The Mormon effort to identify with American culture has been stunningly successful, and the movement's idealization and inculcation of family values has won it the admiration of millions of Americans -- including many evangelical Christians. The convergence of Mormon and evangelical Christian concerns on a host of cultural, moral, and political issues is no accident. The preservation and conservation of the family is a prime concern of both groups.

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The Accuracy of Scripture
Read a discussion on textual criticism. Suppose someone in your church comes to you, telling you that she has just discovered that some manuscripts of the Bible do not always agree on how the text should read. Her faith has been shaken. How would you inform and encourage her, in light of what you have studied about the state of textual critical understanding?

Unfortunately, many Christians today are uninformed about how we obtained our Bible. We don’t have the actual, original letters written by the Apostle Paul. Neither does anyone possess Jeremiah’s originally written Old Testament book. What we do have are copies that have been passed around and duplicated further since they were reproduced. When believers discover this historical information, they often wonder if the Bible we have today accurately preserves the inspired Word of God. With this in mind, it is not hard to imagine people’s faith being shaken when they learn about different copies of Scripture. Suppose someone in my church came up to me and told me that she has just discovered that some manuscripts of the Bible do not always agree on how the text should read. How would I respond and encourage her?

To begin, I would assure her that it is perfectly understandable and acceptable to wonder about these issues. After all, we’ve all played the “telephone game,” where we’ve started to pass a message down a line of people only to discover by the end that the message the last person hears bears little resemblance to the original message. Could the Bible be any different? After all, there was no printing press for most of the Bible’s history. The only way copies were made was by hand. A member from one church would visit another church which has a copy of a letter from an apostle. He would then write it down and take it with him. This practice continued as Christianity continued to grow. Even if all the copies were in the original languages (and they obviously are not, having been translated numerous times), then after 2000 years knowing what was originally written appears impossible.

However, the “telephone game” does not really apply to the transmission of Scripture. First, the distribution was not linear, where one person gave a copy to a second who gave another copy to a third, etc. The Bible was spread geometrically. For example, one letter made five copies which then became twenty five which then became two hundred. Copies were normally reproduced multiple times. Second, transmitting something by writing allows for much more accuracy and testing than spreading a message by word-of-mouth. The more copies we have from different places and different periods of time, the more comparisons we can make.

We have an amazing number of copes from the Bible, especially the New Testament—over 5000 Greek manuscripts or parts of manuscripts. There are 8000 more partials or complete manuscripts of versions. All of these manuscripts are divided into text types, where copies are classified on the basis of which location they originated from. Mixed types result when a manuscript was taken from one region to another and then reproduced along with other local manuscripts. When copies are very similar and show evidence of direct borrowing, they are classified together as a family.

With this information in mind, it is usually not hard to tell which copy reflects the original (also called the autograph). Misspellings become clear and changed word order is easily noticed. When a copyist wanted to mistakenly assist the reader by adding something to a manuscript for further insight, these additions are straightforwardly detected. Are there differences between the copies that we possess? Sure there are. But the vast majority are easily resolved. There is simply no reason to doubt the accuracy of a Bible translation. The translators are almost always able to determine the original words of the inspired biblical writer.

As D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo summarize: “The overwhelming majority of the text of the Greek New Testament is firmly established. Where uncertainties remain, it is important to recognize that in no case is any doctrinal matter at issue.”[1] Christians don’t have to worry about any of our beliefs depending on one debated textual difference. These scholars continue to explain: “Of course, textual variants may raise the question as to whether a particular doctrinal stance or historical datum is or is not supported in this or that passage, but inevitably one can appeal to parallel passages where the text is secure to address the larger doctrinal or historical issues.”[2] God has clearly revealed himself to us in Scripture, and we can trust his truths as they are communicated throughout the Bible.

It is also wise for us as Christians to trust in our all-knowing and all-powerful God to preserve his revelation for us. We do not know why God did not allow us to keep the autographs of Scripture, but it ultimately was for our good. If we did have the original texts today, they would have brought with them their own problems. Believers would most likely care more about them as a sacred artifact than they would pay attention to the message they actually convey. Just look at how many Christians throughout history have handled relics! Imagine what people would do with the actual scroll written by the hand of the Apostle Peter.

Of course, I would also welcome questions and the opportunity for further discussion when talking with a woman about these issues in my church. There are answers to her questions and doubts. She can trust in her Bible, and in the Savior that it reveals to us.

[1]D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 31.
[2]Ibid.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007
Interaction with a Mormon
On the "Faith and Reason Radio" show, Matt Slick (from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) recently interviewed Steve (a Mormon) on various biblical verses and topics. While Slick is much more aggressive than I would be in this dialogue, the back-and-forth is still informative. Listen to the interaction (in MP3 format).

(HT: Jeff Downs)

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007
PBS Mormon Series Aftermath
I admit it--I haven't seen the PBS documentary series The Mormons. With the end of the semester looming, I have been busy writing a research paper on the extent of Christ's atonement. While a friend is taping it for me to watch, now I may not even need to pick it up from him.

Why? Because PBS has been generous enough to post the entire documentary online. I cannot wait to finally watch this series!

And what do Mormons themselves think about it? Today's Deseret News includes a report on their reaction: "'Mormons' elicits a mixed response." It is worth the read.

UPDATE: Don't forget to check out the official LDS response to the documentary. Additionally, be sure to visit the On Faith internet panel, which is currently discussing the question: "After 175 years of existence, is Mormonism entering the mainstream of American religious life or are people still suspicious of it?"

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Baptist and Mormon DVD Distribution
Yesterday, Baptist Press released two articles on the recent nationwide Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith DVD distribution:

"DVD challenges Mormons to take closer look at their beliefs"
"Collegians flex passion for Mormon witness"

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About Me

Name:
John

I am a former Mormon who has been saved by Jesus Christ. Now I am a missionary involved with the Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR). I seek to live in light of Paul's words: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21 ESV)

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