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Thursday, October 22, 2015

5 Truths About Christianity Most People Aren't Aware Of

Towards the beginning of September 2015, I wrote about Jesus being the single most ridiculed, slandered and misinterpreted individual who ever lived on this planet, though I may not have worded it that way.  In my recent conversations about Christianity as a whole I have heard many opinions that have brought me to honestly pity those, as plainly as I can put it, who just don't understand Christianity.  They are so riveted on their misunderstandings, as innocent (or not) as they are, that anything that challenges their ideas or disagrees with them is brushed under their proverbial rug.

Regardless of the reason for their misunderstandings, I hope to shed some light on what and who Christ really was all about.  Whether the elected response of the reader is to reinforce emotional or mental (or even physical) walls against these truths, wholeheartedly open their minds and hearts to it, or some where in the middle of those two, I hope that someone's life can be changed for the better through this, via greater understanding of the joy and grandeur of the life, purpose and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The reader should be aware that all these points come from the perspective of a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Misconception

Christianity came from the Jews.

Clarification

I think it is safe to say most people would agree that any belief system named after the person from whom it originated is designed for it's followers to mirror the life and words of that person.  From that angle, consider these words straight from the Master, "...then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)  While Christ did obey the law of Moses, consistent with the Jewish culture in which He grew up, He boldly and unapologetically declared that He was the one who gave the law of Moses in the first place, that He was simply there to do the will of His Father and that He came to earth to exemplify, teach and enforce a higher law, which His Father had given Him.  His teachings were not dictated by Jewish customs or beliefs.  He declared, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."  (John 18:36) I'm not sure you can get much more obvious than that.

Misconception

Christianity teaches that God is unknowable and incomprehensible.

Clarification

Christ also directly contradicted this idea when He said, in John 17:3 "And this if life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent."  The very Messenger of the salvation of God would not, in the midst of His great intercessory prayer, declare to our Father and our God that eternal life IS to know God, to comprehend Him, if it was not in His eternal plan for us do so at some point, whether in this life or the next.  Think about it this way.  When you think about what you want your children to become when you first hold them at birth, do you not want them to become great?  Do you not want them to have and become everything good about you and even have the good qualities that you don't have?  In the case of God the Father, nothing is not good about Him, so that point still stands.  Why would an omnipresent, omniscient, all powerful, all loving Father in Heaven want anything less of us than to really understand Him and become like Him, sharing with Him in the joys of His power and creation?  The answer is obvious.  He doesn't.

Misconception

Christianity is all about "if you live a good life, you're going to heaven, if you live a bad life, you're going to hell."

Clarification

I can understand to an extent why so many people think of many Christian sects like this.  Even the doctrine of the LDS church, which is more inclusive regarding salvation than any other, declares that those who do not measure up to the potential God gave us will not enjoy all the blessings He has in store for us if we do.  However, the Book of Mormon, helps to explain things further, as a volume of scripture completive with the Bible, "...for I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction." (Alma 29:4)  So to be perfectly candid and honest, when we go before the feet of the Lord for our final evaluation with Him, it will not be those who chose not to follow Him saying "I know I didn't quite do everything I was supposed to but please let me in, let me be with you forever."  Rather they will be acknowledging that they have become, however short they fell from their potential, the kind of person who doesn't want to live in a state of Godliness, that they would rather live a lower way of life than is required for exaltation.  Everyone will receive exactly what they want.  For Latter-day Saints, "hell" can be used to mean anything that constitutes separation from God, so it's not always quite as black and white as "if you live a bad life, you're going to hell."  For more/official doctrine on this, go here, here, here and here.  Also, I have provided more of my perspective on this specific subject in this article.

Misconception

Christianity is basically just "believe in Jesus and you're saved, period."

Clarification

The Savior Himself said "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)  At the same time, the other side of that coin was emphasized very well by A. Theodore Tuttle when he said "Just as faith without works is dead, likewise, works without faith are dead."  I have heard so many people express an attitude of "you can't earn your way to heaven" and they're right!  You can't earn it, but you can qualify for it.  Even then, we only become qualified for it, by the Savior for His sake, as we make consistent choices and changes in our lives that make us like Him.  As Brad Wilcox reminded us, heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to become heavenly.  They won't want to be there.  It goes beyond works alone or faith alone.  You have to have both constantly feeding each other, founded on Jesus Christ, His example and His Atonement.  That is what Christianity teaches about salvation.  Jesus saved everyone from physical death unconditionally and He can save us from spiritual death (eternal separation from God) if we follow and become like Him.  The price has already been paid for us, totally, completely, entirely.  What is left for us to determine is if we will make choices that transform us into someone who is qualified to inherit what is now waiting for us.

Misconception

As long as you have faith in Jesus Christ, the specific sect or denomination to which you may or may not adhere makes no difference.

Clarification

The apostle Paul actually clarified this in several different ways to several people.  One example is in Ephesians 4:5 where he says "One Lord, one faith, one baptism", indicating that the Lord established one method to return forever to the presence of God and become like Him.  Furthermore, the Lord Himself said in Matthew 7:14 "...strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."  An attitude of "oh, any old Christian sect will suffice" or even "the sect that fits me best" or "the person with whom I identify the most" just doesn't fit with the idea of a straight gate or a narrow way "which leadeth unto life".  What Christ taught, through Paul, was that His church will always have apostles and prophets, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, to unify His followers, united in all things, not "carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men" (verse 14).  The belief that any church that professes to follow Christ or happens to fit your perspective will get you back to God contradicts the absolute truth that all of Christ's true followers will be perfectly unified in His pure doctrine.  There most definitely is one correct way to interpret the scriptures.  How do you know what that way is? You'd have to listen to and follow prophets and apostles sent by the Lord Himself, for, as Christ said "whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same".  Does this mean that there is no good in all but one of the existent Christian sects today?  No.  It simply means that there is only one place where the whole truth and nothing but the truth can be found and that is in Christ's one true church.  As for me, I have received witness from the Holy Ghost that that church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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There are, of course, many more flawed perspectives and misunderstandings (both deliberate and innocent) regarding Christianity.  Agency, our ability to choose granted by God, can be a tricky thing and when people are afraid of being wrong or are angry at God it is easy for them believe anything that convinces them that whatever they are doing is okay with God.  Change is not something people embrace as much as they should (read more about that here) but the more we seek to put our own will on the back burner and focus more on Christ's will for us, we will be truly happy, for that is all He wants for us, happiness.  Only sticking to pure Christianity in it's true form will result in our eternal happiness.

*edit* read the sequel to this here

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Practice CAN Make Perfect, but Always Makes Permanent



I love this article about practicing habits and have shared it with many friends during discussions about music, piano and practicing.  I believe I first heard from a sister missionary who served here in our ward (I won't mention names just in case), practice makes permanent.  I also believe that it's 100% true.  As the article I mentioned indicates, when people were observed and evaluated in their methods of practice, the following was discovered.

1. Practicing longer didn’t lead to higher rankings.
2. Getting in more repetitions had no impact on their ranking either.
3. The number of times they played it correctly in practice also had no bearing on their ranking.

What did matter was:

1. How many times they played it incorrectly. The more times they played it incorrectly, the worse their ranking tended to be.
2. The percentage of correct practice trials did seem to matter. The greater the proportion of correct trials in their practice session, the higher their ranking tended to be.

It also mentions that the top three most influential factors in the end result of the experiment were as follows:

-The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected.
-Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct; or sped things up to test themselves, but not too much).
-Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials.

Note how all three of these things have direct connection, not with an attitude of just "practice, practice, practice", but more so with how they responded to their mistakes while playing.

However, this entry is not meant to be applied or to just music or any other art or skill.  Our very thought patterns, habits, communication and perspectives heavily depend on the kinds of practices we choose to develop and strengthen in those areas and more.  I can practice communicating kindly and effectively all I want, but if my practice consists of making the same mistakes over and over again without actually doing something different, the bad habits I am really practicing will stick.  No matter how much I think I'm going to do better next time, I can think nothing but "I'm going to [insert action step here] better next time" 100,000 times in one day, but if the hoped result behind it does not become reality in what I say and do, I have just continued to practice the same thing. Instead of making the change I am looking for, I have only made it worse. Planning, as critical as it is, will never mean anything if the plan is not deliberately and actively applied and made into reality.

This also applies to religion.  There is a reason why the Lord has declared that sexual relations of any kind are to be reserved for marriage.  I have been a first hand witness to the devastation that pornography causes in people's lives.  I have personal experience with how difficult it really is to kick a habit like that and one thing I know for sure is that it is a prime example of a habit that takes the right kind of practice to rid it's infectious poison from our lives.  No matter how many times I kept saying to myself I'll never do it again, until I actually turned full force to my Savior and went about recovery His way instead of my own way, the problem only gained momentum.  However, I know also know now that, especially in this area, practice makes permanent, not always perfect.

There are moments in an addicts life where they are literally in the act of their addiction at the same time they are saying to themselves "I shouldn't be doing this, I should stop. Umm... that means stop! Stop it! I said stop it stupid! You freaking retard, idiot, moron! Stop it now! You are ruining your life and relationships!" And they keep going.  Why?  Because their practice habits in recovery have not included effective identification of the problem or core reasons behind their thought patterns and the correct response to them.  They have literally given up their agency, their ability to choose, to a degree.  They have not yet turned, full force, to the most effective source of healing and a change of heart and mind, the Lord, Jesus Christ.  While I'm on this subject, to those who are struggling with any kind of addiction, please don't wait until the pain of the problem becomes worse than the pain of the solution.  Save yourself that kind of pain.  Start implementing effective practice habits in your life now.

There's a song I really like by Cherie Call called That's Where Faith Lives.  The lyrics go like this:

"It doesn't live at the end of a rainbow,
It doesn't sleep at the edge of your bed
And sometimes it doesn't fit so well
With the plans you're making in your head
But just before you reach the service station,
Right before the car runs out of gas
In the eye of the tornado
With all the strong winds blowing past

That's where faith lives
That's where fear tries to go
That's where everybody guesses
And you're the one who knows
And it may take the most that you can give
To find the place where faith lives

It lives in the fiery furnace, and it lives in the lion's den
And sometimes in the wilderness where it lives and dies and lives again
It lives where the doors fly open, it lives where the sun comes out
It lives in the window where you throw away all your doubts"

It's in the moments of "now is the time to decide, now is the moment of change", as Cherie puts it, right in the eye of the tornado, where we have to give our all to accurate recognition of and response to our previous mistakes.  Yes, mistakes will be made no matter what in the process of perfection and we can't learn to fix mistakes and overcome them if we don't make them in the first place, but it's always better to make those changes sooner than later, seeking the Lord's timing for us instead of ours.  No expertise in sweet talk, no social or intellectual prowess, no degree of eloquence (to ourselves of anyone else) will be sufficient, of itself, to make the things we practice in our lives improve if the key to effective practice is not applied.  No matter the area of ability, in order for practice to result in perfection we must make sure that the things we are making permanent about our practice are things that will make us perfect.

It's all in how you respond to your mistakes.