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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jesus Christ = Freedom

Bondage: "restraint of personal liberty by compulsion; involuntary servitude; slavery; captivity."

I think it would be safe to say that when most people think of the idea of bondage, they picture slavery via human trafficking, sexual crimes, hostage situations and such.  However, bondage goes much broader than that.  In 2 Nephi 2 says: "And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon... Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself."

This is one of the most effective and all encompassing summaries of the God's definition of freedom I know.  So bondage, if considered in contrast with this definition, would mean anything that inhibits our ability to act for ourselves.  That opens up a whole different can of worms as to what it means to be in bondage.

Whether it be bondage to sex, power, money, games, drugs, alcohol and other substance abuse, social status, materialism or even the self (narcissism), it destroys the freedom of choice.

For this entry:
#2 Jesus Christ = Freedom

Now let's go back a bit.  According to the scriptures, the plan of God, our Heavenly Father, was to send us to earth to "prove [us] herewith, to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us];".  We loved Him like we loved nothing or no one else before this life and the plan was to send us here to see if we would still make choices that show our love for Him while on earth. However, God knew that we would not do so perfectly, that we would fall short and therefore render ourselves permanently incapable of returning to His presence, being unclean before Him, so He said He would provide a Savior for us to enable us to return.  Two ideas were presented.  Jesus Christ said: "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever."  The other idea was presented by Lucifer who said: "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor."

Whoa! Hold the phone! Did you see the problems with idea number two?

There was an investigator the missionaries had been teaching here in our area about whom I heard an interesting thought.  As best I remember being told about it, this individual was asking what we believe about grace and the conversation veered towards divine potential.  The missionaries said that our God given potential is to become like Him, to which the investigator responded something like: "Whoa! Whoa guys! That's what Satan wanted, remember? And look what happened to him!".  Their response was that while Satan didn't end up well, what he wanted was not to be like God.  He wanted to be God.  He wanted the glory of the Father all to himself.  The missionaries are quite right.

Satan said it quite directly, "give me thine honor."  That's why Satan became a son of perdition.  He didn't want to share it.  He wanted it all to himself because his mindset was "I will make sure not one soul of God's family is lost by forcing them to obey without any option to choose for themselves.  Therefore I deserve the glory because I'm going to be the one to do it."  On the contrary, God, in all His love for us, wanted us to be able to choose.  Said He: "Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;"

Satan wanted us to become mindless, thoughtless drones, bound and subject to his every whim and will.  One thing he refused to acknowledge is that the freedom to choose God has given us was the only way whereby we could become like Him.  Notice that word, become.  I have written a whole different article previously about this subject matter and you can read more about that here. But God's plan was to make us truly free and allow us that gift of choice and that gift could only be preserved and still allow us a chance to return to our Father in Heaven through Jesus Christ.

Satan, of course, tried his hardest to persuade us to misuse this gift and do things that our loving Father has told us will bring us misery because he is jealous of our freedom to choose.  The power of God, granted more liberally to us as we obey His commandments, keeps us free.  He knows what choices will keep us free to use our ability to choose and which ones will enslave us and destroy that gift.  His power and love are infinitely greater than all things evil and wrong.  Any time we give in to temptation and indulge in ungodly things and behaviors we become a slave to them.  

I can add my personal witness of the dangers of pornography.  It nearly destroyed my marriage.  Ever since I cut it out of my life completely I have continually felt a greater and greater amount of self control and greater personal freedom.  How often do you hear someone say "I get to go have my coffee now" as opposed to "I GOTTA have my coffee!!!"?  Honestly, I don't even think it's worth compare.  Coffee is addicting and enslaving.  So are alcohol, smoking (no matter what you're smoking), energy drinks, gambling, and maybe innumerable other things.  Heck, things like gaming, food, socializing, alone time, reading, facebook (I have to work on that one), work, travel, working out, dieting, studying, photography, T.V., music, research and any thing that is not evil in and of itself - and even really good things - can become an addiction that robs you of your ability to choose if used in excess.  Even thought patterns can be addicting if we choose to entertain the wrong ones.

Now don't get paranoid.  Don't be ridiculous and think "Oh man!  Everything I'm doing and thinking could be destroying me inside".  That's crazy.  The Lord doesn't want you to be so hyper analytical of yourself and your circumstances that you enslave yourself with an addiction to ridding yourself of addiction itself.  That's just stupid and really self defeating.  What He does ask you to do is take things one day at a time, even one hour, one minute or 10 seconds at a time if you must and work on making yourself a little more free every day be holding tight to the gospel of Jesus Christ and living by it a little better every day.

God continually and lovingly reminds us of the benefits of following His Son, Jesus Christ.  As we willingly, joyfully and lovingly choose to follow Him our ability to choose will be magnified; more of the rewards He has in store for us, purchased with His own flesh and blood, with His own soul, will become ours and our freedom will be enhanced more than we could ever imagine in this life.



I can personally promise you, in the name of the mighty God, the Lord Jesus Christ, that as you follow His word, as you live by it more consistently, completely, lovingly and willingly every day you will become truly free.

I've heard some people talk with an attitude of "God's commandments are so restrictive and limiting. I want to be more free." Those people have completely misunderstood.  Think of this.  When you follow the norms of society or the media, are you not obeying them?  When you see a commercial for a product or an online advertisement that tells you to do or buy something and you do so, are you not obeying them?  Even when you do something that you just want to do, entirely of your own accord, are you not obeying yourself?  The point is, whether you're obeying God, obeying trends set by society, ads on T.V. or the internet or something said by a friend or acquaintance or anyone at all, you're still obeying something or someone.  Since everything we do is in obedience to something or someone anyways, why not show obedience to Someone - Jesus Christ - who can and wants to give you and help you become more, because of faith filled obedience to Him, than anyone or anything else ever could and be truly set free in the process?

One last note to finish this off.  I'm referring to Jack R. Christianson's The Mortal Christ again.  He mentions in that lecture the symbolism of the Jews having Barabbas released at the Jesus' expense.  Do you know what the name Barabbas means? Bar = "son of". Abba = "Father". Barabbas = "son of Father".  The sons and daughters of the Father go free because of Jesus Christ.

You want to be free?  Follow the Savior.  Live like Him.  Work every day to become as He with faith in Him and His atonement for us.  Then, regardless of your circumstances, you will still truly become free.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Jesus Christ = Peace

From October 2014 to February 2015 I wrote 5 articles focusing entirely on our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I was doing so in order to help myself come to know Him better.  The whole reason I even began to blog more often as of last year was because of how much I learned in preparing a talk for sacrament meeting, how much closer I felt to my Father in Heaven and His perfect Son.  Throughout the next little while I'll be revisiting this idea and seeking to come to know my Savior even better and hopefully help someone else in the process with 5 more entries purely about Him.

Memes are so ubiquitous on the internet now that much of society seems to remember things better when they associate it with a meme.  I saw one the other day that had a donkey and an elephant (representing those political parties) and it said that neither the donkey or the elephant can save America, but rather the Lamb, meaning of course, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy One.  Whether He does or lets America suffer the consequences of it's laws, He is still the only one who can bring us joy and peace even in the very moments where we face the most difficult challenges.  So for this entry:

#1 Jesus Christ = Peace


The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Savior's peace is the chapter in the Book of Mormon where they were in the middle of a war and Mormon still says "But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges."  Wait.  Why?  How could they be so happy in the middle of this war when so much around them was going wrong?  What warranted this peace in their hearts amid so much chaos and conflict?

The answer is simple.  They were focused and immovable in their love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  My wife recently learned the song "Live Like You Believe" by Jenny Phillips.  Part of the lyrics go like this:

Live like you believe
Live like you know
it's one sure way
your faith will grow
Listen to your heart
search in your soul
and you'll find the strength that you need
His light the gift of His peace
when you live like you believe.

This illustrates in more detail why the Nephites in the Book of Mormon felt His peace in the middle of tribulation like that.  They lived the way the Savior taught.  God's counsel to the Nephites, through prophets, was not just a good coping mechanism to get by in times of trouble.  It was woven into the very fragments of their souls, engraved in their countenances if you will.  The very model they used for their behaviors, choices and way of life, their whole motivation behind what they thought, said and did was the love of God and His Holy Son.  When they lived like they believed, not even a gruesome war could rob them of the peace of the Savior.

At our most recent Stake Conference this month (August 2015), I had the privilege of playing the piano for a musical number sung by Sister Gayle Nantais (permission granted to use her name) called The Master's Voice.  Some of the lyrics go: "Abide in me, the Savior said, Walk with me in meekness and be blessed, He taught them on the mountain, He taught them by the sea, In word and deed He taught them and He said, Come, follow me..."

I had to regain my composure a bit after reading that while playing because the Spirit spoke to me a special message.  Jesus did not let the location where He taught affect the Spirit of His message.  He can teach us anywhere, anytime, in any circumstance He wants provided He sees we are ready to receive it.  I had a very strong impression that I needed to supplement my efforts to endure well and always seek the influence of the Holy Ghost through difficulty with something more.  I learned that I need to go beyond learning how to cope in hardship and actually seek to allow my trials to be sanctified for my good as the Lord sees fit, to respond to them with meekness, patience, faith and love.  That's not an easy thing for anyone to do, but I know that I will be blessed as I ask for Father in Heaven to take my afflictions and the pains I feel for those I love and sanctify them for my good that I may become more like Him through Christ.  It will become a pleasure for me to ask, as Elder Bednar encouraged, "Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?"

This, I believe, will result in peace of mind even right in the middle of difficulty and an even greater capacity to feel the full joy of the love of the Lord.

The peace of Jesus Christ in our minds and hearts is not dependent upon circumstance or other people but, rather, upon our willingness to consecrate our pains and afflictions to His work and respond to them - in thought, word and deed - like Christ would as much as we can.  His atonement provides peace in cleansing from the effects of sin, healing, inspiration, eternal perspective and change in our natures.

One last thing to wrap this up.  I won't try to do it justice with my own words, so here is the video.


No matter your circumstances, Jesus Christ = Peace.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Do You Actually Believe That?" - Common Questions About Mormons

I know there are already many places online to get reliable answers to the questions most frequently asked about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) by those who are not members of the church, regardless of whether they are asked in innocence or to pick a fight.  Because there are still so many people spreading false information about the church, here is one more spot to get answers from an actual Mormon. (Read disclaimer at the bottom of this site)

Well, to all those out there who have heard some crazy things about us, here are some answers to the a few of the most frequent misconceptions and/or misunderstandings about the Latter-day Saints.

1. Do you worship Joseph Smith?

No.  We do nothing of the sort.  The reason many people ask this question seems to be because they see us saying so much good about him that it appears, to them, a form of worship.  I know about one person who, upon visiting one of our congregations, got up and left because of the hymn "Praise to the Man" was being sung.  The first words to the hymn are "Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!  Jesus anointed that prophet and seer.  Blessed to open the last dispensation, Kings shall extol him, and nations revere."

A few things to point out.  First, this hymn is absolutely clear that the reason we have such respect for Joseph Smith is because Jesus Christ Himself anointed him as the prophet of the restoration of His gospel in these the last days.  Joseph could have chosen to reject that calling from God and He didn't.  So with that being said, the second thing I'll point out is that we love the example Joseph set because his example points us to Christ, but that's pretty much the whole reason.  Not all people see him that way and that's not something we are going to pick a fight about.  Everyone has the right to believe what they want so long as it does not force others to go against their beliefs, but we see Joseph as a man who, although not prefect, set a great example of Christ-like living and leadership.  We have faith in God's calling to him as the vessel through which God restored His authority to the earth after being lost for about 1400 years.

We do not worship Joseph Smith. We worship our God, our Father in Heaven, and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  We revere Joseph and we have faith in his calling from the Lord, but we do not worship him.

2. You say your church is the only true church on the earth.  Does that mean I'm going to hell when I die unless I join your church?

No.  There are two parts to this question that deserve separate explanations.

To Latter-day Saints, the term "hell" can mean a few different things.  We believe that when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, they were then susceptible to two kinds of death, physical and spiritual.  The physical death refers, of course, to the separation of the spirit from the body when the body can no longer keep itself alive for whatever reason.  Spiritual death refers to nothing more or less than separation from God.  Yea, that's a pretty loose definition, but what it means for Latter-day Saints is that hell can refer to either simply being on this earth or separating ourselves from Him via sin or ending up in a place that is not the Kingdom of God at judgement day.  Something else to consider here is that, as outlined in 1 Cor 15, we believe in three different degrees of glory for God's children to go after the end of the earth and that the two that are not the Celestial Kingdom (which is where we believe God the Father resides) are a state of separation from God and can also be termed as a "hell".

Since we believe that Joseph Smith was the prophet through whom God restored His priesthood authority to officiate in sacred covenants (promises with God) and ordinances (actions whereby we make those promises) and establish His church, it goes without saying that we believe that all other attempts to make those covenants and participate in those ordinances, however virtuous the intent, is not recognized by God.  All men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are ordained with that authority can trace it directly back to Christ Himself.  However, this does not mean that all those who are not baptized into the Mormon Church are going straight to hell.  This leads into the next question.

3. What goes on in Mormon Temples?  Why so secret?

In our temples we do not baptize dead people. You'll not find a single dead body in any of them... unless... someone... like, has a sudden heart attack and dies on the spot or something, but after that it's in the ground they go and there they stay until the resurrection. :)  We also do not make blood sacrifices.  Or dance around like crazy people.  Or anything weird like that.  We don't speak alien languages or some unearthly strange tongue.  It's all very simple and beautiful.  Trust me, I've been to several of them many times and have experienced everything that goes on.  I know.  We believe that anyone who did not receive enough chance or any chance at all to accept the gospel as restored by God through Joseph will have that chance when they die, before the resurrection.  In our temples we follow the implied counsel of Paul (also in 1 Cor 15) and do baptisms and other covenants and ordinances, by proxy, for those who have died without making those covenants and participating in those ordinances I mentioned above.  Whether or not they choose to accept that work and keep those covenants done for them is entirely up to them.  There is never any force involved.  That's why we believe that even someone who isn't a Mormon by the time they die aren't necessarily going to hell.

Did you ever have something that happened between you and a family member or friend that was so special and amazing that no one would ever understand unless they were there?  Something that is so special that talking about it in great detail to anyone else would actually diminish the value of the experience?  Saying something like that is secret isn't so much the case as it is sacred.  It's not something you'd be ashamed of, but rather something you hold so special to you that it's sacred nature warrants giving only those who would really be able to appreciate it access to detailed information about it.  Mormon temples are like that.  We are not afraid of anything that goes on there.  On the contrary, things we do in temples brings us the purest joys available in this life to God's children.  The details of baptisms for the dead, the endowments of knowledge we receive, sealings (marriages) and other covenants we make and ordinances we receive are so sacred to us that in order for others to understand them and in order to not diminish the value of it all, you just have to experience it for yourself by living the Lord's restored gospel and preparing yourself to enter these sacred edifices.

4. The church has made some big mistakes.  Even church leaders have done some bad things.  Doesn't that bother you?

There was one blogger that said it better than any other article I've read to this point.  Here it is.  "Sometimes I think we're so concerned with the roots of the church that we tragically forget to look up and see the fruits of the church, even the ones we have picked and savored frequently throughout our lives. The Atonement of Jesus Christ, sacred covenants, and the ability to be with our families forever are magnificent fruits indeed, fruits that we cannot find combined anywhere else."  No prophet, apostle, seventy, stake president or bishop of the Mormon church can or ever has claimed to be mistake free.  They all have their fair share of faults and sins.  Some of them have done some things that look pretty terrible in the public eye.  That could be said of many Latter-day Saints.  However, as John said in the Bible, "by their fruits ye shall know them."  A persons mistakes does not mean that God can't work with them.

Lets look at some of those fruits.  Statistics about members themselves are from back in 2012.
100% of our meetings are focused on Jesus Christ.
1.3 million+ worship services with sacrament administered in 2011 (? Don't quote me on the year)
Christ is mentioned 3925 times in the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon.  That's once every 1.7 verses!
9 out of 10 members pray weekly, with more than 80% of us praying daily.
According to an independent study, Mormons are among the most knowledgeable of the Bible and religion.
4th largest church in the U.S.
77% of members attend church at least weekly, compared to 39% of the U.S average.
81% say being a good parent is among their top goals in life, compared to 50% of the general public.
90% of the U.S. view Mormons as having strong families.
73% list a successful marriage as a top priority, compared to 34% of the public.
Members read scriptures and pray with their children and send them to receive religious education.
96% donate to religious causes once a year.
80% donate to non-religious causes once a year
70% participate in religious volunteering
More members live outside the U.S. than in.  In fact, there are members in over 180 countries.

That hardly seems like something any church could pull off unless they were guided by the Lord Himself.  Yes, leaders make mistakes.  They mess up, but that shouldn't warrant as much worry as it does because we don't worship the prophets.  Yes, we take their counsel as direct revelation from God, but we do not worship them, we worship He whose words they speak, Christ.

5. What do you believe about grace?  I heard Mormons believe they can earn their way to Heaven.

We believe the grace of Jesus Christ is not a free ticket to heaven that we can just snatch up any old time.  However, we also believe that our works in this life do not earn us "holy points" or get us any closer to heaven.  Confused?  Many people do not understand this one so I hope this helps.

As Brad Wilcox so eloquently stated "we are not earning heaven, we are learning heaven."  We are practicing to become heavenly.  He used an analogy of a piano student to illustrate, which, since I am a professional level pianist, I will use as well.  When a mom pays for her child's piano lessons, she and the teacher require practice from the student.  Does the practicing pay mom back? No. Does it pay the teacher back? No. Then what good is it?  Or in other words, if our works in this life do not pay Heavenly Father back or pay back the Savior for what He did to get us back to God, what good are they?  The same answer applies in both situations.  It makes the gift used and changes us and thus qualifies us to inherit and keep the gift that has already been paid for.  If the student never practices they will never be any good.  In the same way, if we never use the gift of the atonement of Christ by obedience to His laws and commandments, we will never be able to handle the cleansing, healing, transforming power of His grace.  It would overwhelm us and be useless to us.  He is too nice to give us something that would go to waste like that.  His grace is more than a cleansing power.  It heals, changes and enables us to become who and what we need to be to inherit eternal life with the Father.

6. Do you use a different Bible?/Does the Book of Mormon take precedence over the Bible?

We believe both books to be a great witness of Jesus Christ and put equal weight on the study of both of them, for one of them would not be sufficient without the other.  As M. Russell Ballard so accurately stated: "Brothers and sisters, I am sure many of you have had the experience of hearing people say that “Mormons are not Christians because they have their own Bible, the Book of Mormon.” To anyone harboring this misconception, we say that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and the author of our salvation and that we believe, revere, and love the Holy Bible. We do have additional sacred scripture, including the Book of Mormon, but it supports the Bible, never substituting for it."  If you are still not sure about the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon or our belief in the Bible, read his whole talk and read this.

7. Are Mormon's Christian?

Yes!  We are absolutely Christian.  Book of Mormon mentioned Jesus Christ more often than the Bible does (refer to the point above). Just read 2 Nephi 25:26, "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

Also, Moroni 10:32, Jacob 4:11-12, Helaman 5:12.

Would you like more?  I can reference at least 10 more places just off the top of my head in the Book of Mormon where the Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped as the God He is, our Savior and Redeemer.  And that would be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mormons being Christian.  If, after looking for an hour through lds.org, you say you've found nothing about Jesus Christ, you are either blind or lying.  Heck, the name of the church is The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints.  Mormon is just a nickname people give us because of the Book of Mormon.

8. A few small things.  
Joseph Smith pulling the Book of Mormon out of a hat?

False.

Mormons having horns?  

Also false.

Multiple wives/husbands?

Nope.  These three points are asked far too often and based on ridiculously over circulated misunderstandings about church history.  The Lord commanded a small number of men to practice polygamy (muliple wives) in the early history of the churh so that the very low percentage of men compared to women would not result in many of those women being childless.  Many of those men actually considered it a great burden but did it anyways.  Such has been done away because it became no longer necessary.  You can read more here.

Aren't Mormons forbidden from drinking caffeinated drinks?

Nope.  The Word of Wisdom, a revelation given by the Lord to Joseph Smith, revealed that no one should ever consume coffee, tea (except herbal tea), tobacco, smoking, alcohol and all other harmful or addictive substances.  Personally, I stopped drinking all carbonated drinks a while ago (and the benefits, mentally, have been awesome), let alone all the other things mentioned there, but there is nothing in the church's teachings that prohibits members from good standing in the church if they drink pepsi or something like that.  Many church leaders discourage it but past that, the main emphasis is that members be guided by the Holy Ghost and simply avoid all things that are addicting, harmful or puts their spiritual health in jeopardy, which can be different depending on the person.

_____________________________________________________

There are more misconceptions out there I'm sure but these are a few of the most frequent that I have heard/been asked.  For more information try here.  However, The safest place to go for truth about the church is lds.org or mormon.org.

All in all, my hope here is that the world can see that Mormons really are normal human beings just like everyone else.  While we do believe that we are the only religion on earth that actually does have the whole truth and nothing but the truth about our Heavenly Father and His perfect Son Jesus Christ, we don't think that makes us better than anyone else.  We are just happy to know what we need to be doing and hope that others can eventually partake of the blessings we enjoy from the truth we know and do our best to live.

___

*Related posts:
 - 5 Truths About Christianity Most People Aren't Aware Of
   http://plpulsipher.blogspot.com/2015/10/5-truths-about-christianity-most-people.html

 - 5 More Truths About Christianity Most People Aren't Aware Of
   http://plpulsipher.blogspot.com/2016/06/5-more-truths-about-christianity-most.html