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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Words of Wisdom Part 2: When To Ask Why

Quite a while ago I wrote an article about certain standards and commandments the Lord has set for us to help us become more Celestial and Heavenly.  The purpose of it was to help others understand why we shouldn't have to know reasons for everything He asks us to do, to a point of course.  I outlined certain aspects of modesty in clothing, parts of the Word of Wisdom and some other doctrines of the LDS church that are often debated over.

However, this article is more directed to the general Christian population.  Matt Walsh recently did a blog post about why we should attend church and some of the points he makes got me thinking about just how saddening it is that so many in the world today are, either outright or through their actions, asking "why do I have to [insert Christian thing here]?"  Honestly, though, if it was just that it wouldn't bother me as much but the reason it prompted me to write this is because of how many people depend on the why's in order to just do it.

I'm not saying that it's always bad to ask why, but there is a time and a place and a good and bad reasons to ask.

If you take a good look at mankind's expertise and understanding of life as a whole, it's pretty obvious it's shoddy at best.  One look at the wars mankind has fought over different interpretation of God's word and will is evidence of that.

What the scriptures refer to as the natural man plays a big part in these issues.  As the Book of Mormon states, "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."

Life is a constant battle between our spiritual identity as children of God and the natural man in us that is constantly screaming to be satisfied.  Unfortunately this causes a lot of corrupt motives, driving people to look for loopholes in His word, trying to make His will match theirs or otherwise come up with selfish or childish (different from childlike) reasons to not live by it.

In the article I mentioned at the very beginning, I talked about several examples of people looking for what mankind's "experts" say on a matter or doing their own "solid" research to find reasons why God has asked us to do and not do certain things.  What these people are doing directly contradicts Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."

I pointed out in part 1 of this that that doesn't always mean it's a bad idea to find out specific details why something the Lord has commanded us to stay away from is bad for us or why something He has commanded us to do is good.  But we have to remember that basing our faith on those reasons more than the solitary fact that He knows more than we are even capable of knowing as mortals is fatal to our spiritual health.

God invites us all to pray to know for ourselves if gospel principles are true, but the purpose behind us asking should not just be to say, in effect "Oh, I was just wondering.  I'm wasn't actually planning on following your advice" or "I just wanted to see if you're way agrees with my opinion."  If you're going to ask God what is true or whether something is right or wrong without concern for making whatever sacrifice is necessary to live according to the answer you get - or if you're seeking to have God agree with you instead of the other way around, you're wasting your time and mocking God.

The whole purpose of faith in our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ is that faith means you don't know all the answers but are trying be the kind of person He asks us to be simply because we trust Him implicitly.  He does command us to seek understanding of all things, so seeking to find out why He commands what He does isn't wrong, so long as we are not doing so to find out faults with His reasoning or ways around it.  As Isaiah 55:8-9 says "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

So I think the answer that would sum it all up would be that the right time to ask why is when we are asking because we are trying to align our perspective, will and opinion with His.  Sometimes, the answer still might be "you just need to trust me for now" or "you're not ready for the answer yet", but I assure you it's still worth it because the more pure faith you exert, the more the whys will become more clear.

The following applies, I believe, to all Christians (and, heck, all humanity) but is doctrinally specific to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Whether you wondering why baptism, going to church every week, dressing modestly, abstaining from coffee, alcohol, tea, or tobacco, paying tithing, following the prophet, staying away from immorality, serving selflessly, daily prayer and scripture study, temple worship, forgiving, doing missionary work, fasting, building up food storage, or keeping our language and attitude virtuous are good ideas, I promise you the reasons will become clear.  Not only will the answers become sweeter to you but your understanding of them will be more complete.  Obeying from faith ("a hope for things which are not seen which are true" [Alma 32]) will actually increase the joys you will have from exerting it.  I testify this is true for I have experienced it in my own life.  I have seen His promises fulfilled according to the level of faith and obedience shown to Him and they are greater than anything this world could ever offer.

Obeying Christ because you've first seen proof of their benefits isn't bad, but doing so without seeing them, faith, has far sweeter results.  That kind of obedience is the key that unlocks all the blessings of the Atonement of Christ.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Abuse vs. Discipline

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote about this subject matter on my blog.  It's highly controversial and people on both sides of the issue seem to be permanently at odds about it.  Most on both sides get started in their discussions (or arguments) when the word 'spanking' comes up, but my purpose here is to focus on the issue of abuse vs. discipline from a broader angle.

Many of my comments here will be taken from former LDS Stake and Mission President Dr. John L. Lund's "Without Offense - The Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism", but, as always, statements from God's prophets as well.  I feel a need to clarify here that this is not in response to a specific conversation I have had with anyone about this kind of thing, but rather an effort to clarify what I believe to be some key points of the subject.  As a disclaimer, there is no intent in how I present my thoughts here to say, in any way, "my way of thinking is the right way, period."  I respect everyone's right disagree with me, so long as that disagreement is peaceful without any passive aggressive or sarcastic comments.

First off, I think of Dr. Lund's book was when he said "In order to be a disciple of Christ, we cannot belittle the worth of another. Ever! It cannot be tolerated.  We never have the right to attack the inherent value or self-worth of another—not in jest, not in the heat of anger, not out of frustration, not out of our own personal weakness, Never! Never! Never!  This means no name-calling, no swearing at someone, no epithets.  It means no spiritual, physical or emotional abuse.  This is a nonnegotiable.  When someone is called “dumb” or “stupid,” it is an attack on his or her worth.  To attack self-worth is presuming a right that we ... do not have."

The part that most people bring up and argue about most frequently in debates, though, is the physical part.

Many cite the Savior in the temple as justification for displays of "righteous anger" or physical aggression.  Says Dr. Lund about this, "Anger is a choice.  It is a poor choice, because it transfers the focus from the message to the messenger.  The scriptures do not support anger as a Christlike behavior.  [And I would add it is not listed as a Christ-like attribute in the Preach My Gospel manual either.] There are those who support anger as an appropriate Christian behavior under the guise of “righteous indignation.”  They use Jesus cleansing the temple to substantiate their view of righteous anger.  The assumption that Jesus was angry while driving out the money changers is not reinforced in the scriptures."

When it comes to discipline vs. abuse, there is one thing about it that most people miss.  While I do understand that mortal standards for perfection are different celestial standards, as Brad Wilcox said in regards to grace, "We are not earning heaving, we are learning heaven."  How can we claim to be learning celestial standards if we deliberately condone or excuse non-Celestial behaviors here?  I understand that some kids can be extremely and deliberately rude and outright abusive to others.  But how often do we consider that likely 99% of the time, kids and teenagers act like that because of some pain they are trying to mask?  I know full well what it's like to turn to bad and/or addictive behaviors because of unaddressed pain, physical, emotional, spiritual or otherwise.

My parents did their best to address my concerns and, yes, they resorted to physical means of resolving issues on occasion (which, according to recent conversations with my mom, it seems they regret doing that now).  However, my wife can tell you that certain social/communication bad habits I picked up as a child are still a big problem for me today, mainly because the most frequent response I received about my bad choices were to the effect of "You did this wrong! How could you be so careless?!  You know better!" and I was either hit (least frequently), dragged to my room, yelled at or (most frequently) lectured.  The worse the offense, the less positive reinforcement there was after the reprimand the longer the duration and/or intensity of punishment.  Don't get me wrong.  My parents were and are great.  Compared to the rest of the world, I was raised in a very good home.  Did they have weaknesses, yes, but who doesn't?  I don't hold any of that against them.  I'm not trying to make this about them.

I'm also not trying to play victim here.  I take full responsibility for my own poor choices.  The reason I bring all that up is because it's easier to prepare a child properly than to repair and adult.  Most people who I see side with the "it's just discipline" side of the argument were spanked as children.  They often resort to statements like "I was smacked as a child and I ended up with a condition called respect for others", or "I was hit on the butt growing up, yes, but do you think I ever [did that bad thing] again? nope."  The problem that many don't see with these kind of statements is that they condone fear as a good motive to get people to do something.  While fear can be a powerful motivator, it is not the motivator we should be reliant upon.

As a Aristotle once said wicked men obey because of fear, good men, from love.  Several of God's servants in His church have reinforced this wisdom.  Elder Brewerton quoted it nearly verbatim in the May 1981 Ensign.  Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles said "Spiritually mature obedience is “the Savior’s obedience.” It is motivated by true love for Heavenly Father and His Son."
Elder Osguthorpe said " There are all kinds of motives out there. And many of them are not pretty. We might be motivated by revenge or envy or greed. Selfish motives are abundant. ...we might be motivated only by grades or by our desire to get into graduate school or to begin a career. These are not necessarily evil motives, but they’re not enough... We can even do good things with less than laudable motives. Quoting his father, Mormon, Moroni wrote that if we give “a gift, [and] doeth it grudgingly; . . . it is counted . . . the same as if [we] had retained the gift; wherefore [we are] counted evil before God". Motives matter. They matter a lot. In the end, why we do things is probably more important than what we do. Evil acts are always motivated by evil motives. But acts that might appear to be good on the surface may not be fueled by pure motives. And one of the purest motives of all is love."

I've not heard of a single instance where, in the exact moment where a parent hits their child, they felt anything but fear or anger.

To makes things as fair as I can, though, I'll also cite this one from President Faust: "Every child is different and unique. What works with one may not work with another. I do not know who is wise enough to say what discipline is too harsh or what is too lenient except the parents of the children themselves, who love them most. It is a matter of prayerful discernment for the parents. Certainly the overarching and undergirding principle is that the discipline of children must be motivated more by love than by punishment."

This being said, I am very well aware that there is such thing a parent abuse, where kids are so defiant that it quite justifiably becomes a legal problem.  This is just as bad if not worse, to me, as physically striking a child.  However, there is a really good story in Dr. Lund's book where he talks about a 14 year old girl who was extremely abusive to her parents and they acted like a door mat, allowing her to walk all over them because they didn't want to "give her more ammo" to misbehave.  Obviously that is ridiculous.  Eventually a counselor was sought for help and a quite rigid solution was proposed.  This young woman was given a few simple rules to follow and the parents reluctantly agreed to set some very firm boundaries which, if violated, would result in her drivers license date being pushed back a week.  Before long she had the date pushed back to after her 18th birthday.  She continued in her belligerence.  On a certain day, to the girl's surprise, a couple of big Samoan guys came to haul her off, kicking and screaming, to a troubled girls facility.  She was given rigid rules and opportunities to earn back her freedom.  Eventually, when she learned that her parents meant business, she turned her life around.  Today, according to Dr. Lund, she enjoys a loving relationship with her parents.

And all that without a any physical aggression from her parents.  Not every situation would work like that of course and different solutions for bad behavior and habits work better for some people than for others, but I believe the message about how the Savior would respond to bad behavior, as outlined by Dr. Lund in this example is clear.  Respond with firmness but with love, and nowhere in the scriptures is love defined as physical aggression.

I know some people try to use Proverbs 13:24 "He that spareth his rod hateth his son."  This was more closely associated with the law of Moses, a law the Savior replaced with a higher law.  Even President Hinckley said "I have never accepted the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I will be forever grateful for a father who never laid a hand in anger upon his children.... Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement."

To wrap things up, I want to re-emphasize what Pres. Faust said "Certainly the overarching and undergirding principle is that the discipline of children must be motivated more by love than by punishment."

No, they're isn't any one size fits all way to raise children or even communicate with every person, adult or child.  Such a thought is ridiculous, but I'm stickin' to my guns by affirming that I completely believe there is always a better solution, whatever it may be, to enforcing good and correcting bad behavior than striking another human in any way. I think the only exception would be if someone's life is in immediate danger and the only way to preserve it is to injure someone in some way.

Love conquers all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Your Word is Your Bond

Let's face it.  2016 is little more than half over and it's already been a horrible year for the world as a whole if you focus on major news sources.  But I write this one in hopes that it will serve as a helpful, even if momentary, means of focusing on something positive.

I took down a quote from The Infinite Atonement in my currently second time studying thought it that goes like this: "It may have been that such a covenant [to atone] helped sustain the Savior in the Garden when all his apparent spiritual and physical energies had been exhausted, when there was “nothing left” to combat the Evil One and sin itself but the pure covenant to atone.  How many such covenants have lifted men to loftier heights, conferred upon them added strength, and generated newfound reservoirs of resistance when all else seemed to collapse around them?  So it may have been that, in some way, this covenant satisfied the laws of justice for those who lived before the Atonement was performed, and, in addition, helped to sustain the Savior in his hour of greatest need."

Why did Savior's promise to atone have such an infinite effect, eternally into the past, currently, and forever into the future?  What made that covenant have such a powerful effect.

I think the answer lies in the principle illustrated in this part of the script from the movie John Q: "And if you say you'll do something, do it, because your word is your bond."

Right there, "your word is your bond."  I don't need to tell someone "I promise I will..." in order to make a promise.  If I tell you I will do something, that I will be somewhere at a certain time, have something done by a certain date or keep something to myself, I have made a promise.  I have given you my word that that's the way it will be.  Even Jesus taught this when He said "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."  While I understand the purpose of signing documents and such - because of course that's not a bad thing - we shouldn't have to do anything more than make a simple statement to consider what we say to be a solid guarantee.

Another part in that chapter in the Infinite Atonement says: "Over long eons of time in the premortal realm He proved faithful and dependable and honorable in every commitment, every responsibility, and every charge. The scriptures tell us that 'from eternity to eternity' he is the same[].  He never deviated from the mark, never slacked in his performance, never shrank from his word... His promises were 'immutable and unchangeable'[].  As a result, his spiritual credit was rapidly escalating until it was pure gold, even infinite in value.  That is why the laws of justice could recognize the benefits of the Atonement before the purchase price was ever paid, because of his promise, his pledge, his credit was "good for it"..."

I know it's easy to think of all the people in the world today who don't live by this standard, but let's focus, instead, on why it's so much better to just be a better example of being honest ourselves.  I use the word honesty because many people think about honesty as just telling the truth, but it goes so much further than that.  According to Marvin J. Ashton, of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles of the LDS church, "any communication given to another with the intent to deceive" is a lie.  You don't need to speak something false to be dishonest.  Breaking a promise, not doing what you say you will do the way you say you will do it, using facial expressions that are inconsistent with what you are really thinking or feeling or anything else that even hints at communicating an idea that is inconsistent with the truth are all form of dishonesty.

Honesty really is the best policy.  I know from personal experience that life becomes much easier if I keep everything completely transparent.  From words to facial expressions to voice inflection and more, the more I make my whole life and character a reflection of honesty, the easier things are for me.

This includes, as mentioned earlier, covenants.  When it comes to my promises to my Heavenly Father at baptism, and each week when I partake of the sacrament, that I would have faith in His Son Jesus Christ and follow His example and His prophets, breaking those covenants is being dishonest.  Having dealt with the struggles that naturally come from breaking those covenants, I learn more every day why keeping them will make us so much happier, independent of anything else going on around us.

As with Christ's atonement for us, the power receive from Him to accomplish the impossible and be happy comes directly from those promises.  Whether that means I forgive more easily, serve with more pure intent, speak with more love or act with more integrity, etc., it will always make my life that much better.  Of course, our natural, impure, mortal inclinations make that difficult from day to day, but King Benjamin put it well when he said "And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it."

I remember days growing up where my dad had promised he would make sure something was done for someone.  No matter what came up in the day that threatened to prevent him from accomplishing something, he made absolutely sure he "stuck to his guns" and got it done.  Sometimes that meant volunteering my siblings and I to help accomplish the task (especially when it was something mom wanted done), but he was a man who always did what he said he would do and was always focused on telling the truth, even if it was inconvenient to him.  I remember many times where I would say something like ", I messed up.  I scheduled [whatever it was] during your [whatever my mom had scheduled for that time]."  Because he was consistent with this, I don't remember a single time where my mom got angry with him.  Slightly frustrated, maybe, but they were always able to work things out with out too much stress because they were both people of their word.

It's also harder to get angry, hurt or too easily offended if we are honest in everything we say and do.  Thomas S. Monson once said, "There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so".  If you know that you have been honest, that you have been totally honest and shown the truth and entirety of your intent, without even a hint of withholding or misrepresenting what is in your heart (in a kind way of course), then you really have no reason to worry about what anyone else but God thinks, do you?

Some things most worth doing in this life are recognized by God alone.  When the Savior went into the Garden of Gethsemane, He didn't hold anything back.  There was no fanfare, no procession, no grand ceremony to call attention to this the single most important and loving act in the history of creation.  Yet He didn't shrink from the suffering at hand.  He faced the painful onslaught of all human weakness, temptation, sin, and other imperfection with only mortal defenses without using His infinite power to shield Himself from the effects of it in any way.  He approached this in all it's rawness with complete candor.  If anything, according to Tad R. Callister, He actually used His Godhood only to put off the twin relief mechanisms of the threshold of human suffering, death and unconsciousness, actually making the suffering that much more poignant.

He did that for all of us.  He did it unapologetically.  He did it with no hesitation, no back-pedaling, second guessing or asking what was in it for Him personally, totally out of love for us.  He is the epitome of complete honesty, in intent, word, deed and character.  And look where and who He is now.

For many reasons, it takes us mortals a while to learn and develop faith in that kind of transparency but I have faith that as I keep trying to become that kind of person that with His grace, through the power of His Atonement, will make that ideal a reality.  I trust Him that it will happen, that what some days appears impossible to me will come to fruition, bringing with it the joys of exaltation in the world to come.

Friday, July 22, 2016

How The Resurrection Works; The How and The Why

To Latter-day Saints, the Resurrection is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a critical element of the Atonement of Christ.
Being raised in the LDS church, I was taught this glorious truth, that every human being, every one of God's children born in mortality on this earth, would eventually receive a perfected, immortal body of flesh and bone. I trusted this truth. I believed in it and taught it as a full time missionary in Canada. However, I began to wonder about certain things as I studied more about it. Exactly how and why does the resurrection happen? And I wanted in depth, specific details. Here's what I found.

Since the resurrection comes as a direct result of the Atonement I went to study about it. I found the first part of the "why" while reading Tad R. Callister's "The Infinite Atonement" as follows:
“Everyone who has had a mortal body will be resurrected – the righteous, the wicked, even the lukewarm – for the resurrection is universal. It is a free gift to all men regardless of their righteousness. But why? Why the disobedient, the scoundrel, the atheist? Is it fair? It is. Adam brought physical death into the world through his transgression and thus transmitted his mortal nature, the seeds of death, to all living creatures without any action on their part. They did nothing to merit death in their earthly sojourn, and so in return, the Savior restored immortal life without any redemptive action on the part of man. The plan is fair and just and merciful."
I was so happy to find this! According to this, nothing we could ever do in this life is deserving of death. No matter how good or bad anyone is, death does not come to us because of anything we did. It is not justified by anything we do, but rather it is simply a naturally resulting effect of the fall and we did nothing to initiate that.

This was so relieving to me because I then realized that since nothing we did or could ever do warranted our death in the first place, it makes the resurrection completely justified and that much more real for everyone! What a beautiful and comforting truth!

The how came next. I was reading one day in 2 Nephi 9:12,
"...wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel."
The phrase in this scripture that I didn't understand at first was at the end: "it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel". My first thought, which was always the same for me, was "what exactly about the Savior's resurrection empowers ours? I believe it does, as the scriptures are full of evidence of that, but how? Are we simply resurrected by virtue of His personal resurrection alone? Is there some kind of spiritual or moral mechanism or virtue of such by which our resurrection is powered or made possible?"

But the the Spirit nudged me to focus on the word "power". What's one of the first things that comes to mind when talking about divine power? For me, it was "priesthood". I had been looking at it from the wrong perspective, thinking of the event of His resurrection as the one and only catalyst for our own. What I was missing was that the key word is power. Specifically, priesthood power.

It was so simple and I had overlooked it by going beyond the mark so many times! The Savior reclaimed His body by the power of His priesthood - also referred to in 2 Nephi 9 as the power of the resurrection - and we reclaim ours as well by that same power.

As Elder Callister teaches, God's "plan is [indeed] fair and just and merciful."

I love my Savior and I am thankful for His loving kindness and the beauty and love of His gospel and His plan for us, that each of us will receive totally perfected, flawless physical bodies, conducive the eternal joys for which we qualify ourselves in this life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

5 More Truths About Christianity Most People Aren't Aware Of

This is a sequel to the first 5 truths about Christianity I wrote about back in October 2015.  The last one was written by pointing out misconceptions and then clarifying the truth about them, so I'll follow the same format here.  This time I hope to go over some issues that seem to be more prevalent in recent events.

Misconception

Christ and His apostles never said anything about same-sex attraction or same-sex "marriage".

Clarification

This was clarified in Mosaic law and in the New Testament.  The Lord declared to Moses: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination...".  For those who actually clicked the link there and saw the "they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them", the law of Moses and was given to the Israelite nation because they couldn't handle the higher law (see Exodus 32-34).  It was much more strict and detailed in both particulars of daily living and penalties for disobedience because they were so unwilling to accept a higher way of living the Lord wanted for them.

Also, Paul declared to the Romans: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet." (Romans 1:26-27).

God's modern prophets have also warned about the dangers of the deception of such practices.  However, they have also quite clearly declared that we are hate the sin, but love the sinner.  Said the modern apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

"There shouldn’t be a perception or an expectation that the Church’s doctrines or position have changed or are changing. It’s simply not true, and we want youth and all people to understand that. The doctrines that relate to human sexuality and gender are really central to our theology. And marriage between a man and a woman, and the families that come from those marriages – that’s all central to God’s plan and to the opportunities that He offers to us, here and hereafter. So homosexual behavior is contrary to those doctrines – has been, always will be – and can never be anything but transgression. It’s something that deprives people of those highest expectations and possibilities that God has for us. That being said, it’s important to remember a few things that people don’t always understand or remember. And that is that homosexual behavior is not the unforgivable sin. The atonement and repentance can bring full forgiveness there, and peace. And secondly, I’d say, though we don’t know everything, we know enough to be able to say that same-sex attraction in and of itself is not a sin. The feeling, the desire is not classified the same as homosexual behavior itself. And the third point I would mention is that when people have those desires and same-sex attractions, our attitude is “stay with us.” I think that’s what God is saying “Stay with me.” And that’s what we want to say in the Church: “Stay with us.” Let’s work together on this and find friendship and commonality and brotherhood and sisterhood, here more than anywhere. It’s important that there be love, and that there be hope. Love is not to say acceptance or endorsement, but it is to say inclusion and not ostracism. We want to be with you and work together."

Misconception

God is three different people in one physical form (trinity).

Clarification

Matt 3:13-17, John 17, John 5:22, John 7:26, Acts 7:55-56, and 1 Tim 2:5 among many others are evidence that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Ghost are three separate, individual beings, one in every way except physical identity.  Any idea to the contrary was never a part of primitive Christianity.  As The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity tells us: "...at Nicea, the term [homoousios] had only a generic meaning, one affirming the full deity of the Son, not a numerical identity of essence.... During the fifth and sixth centuries, a numerical unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was understood as the meaning of homoousios"(pg. 541-42) The concept of all three being the same person was introduced several centuries after any creeds were introduced.  To be totally candid, the idea of the Three as one being mocks the sanctity of the atonement of Jesus Christ.  When He plead in the Garden of Gethsemane "If thou be willing, remove this cup from me" and "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done", if They were the same person it would mean He was pleading with Himself that He could do His own will.  If He was the same person as the Father, there would be no point in differentiating between His will and the Father's because they would have been one and the same with no possible concession of one person to another.  God is a God of logic (not always matching mortal logic) and such a thought is completely illogical.  The whole purpose of Jesus life was to submit to the will of another person, His Father, and offer Himself as payment for our sins and flaws.  That's the whole point of humility and self sacrifice, denying our will for the will of another, in this case, our Father's will.

Misconception

The Atonement of Christ took place solely on the cross at Calvary.

Clarification

I think it's safe for me to say that a large majority of the world's population doesn't even really know what the Atonement of Jesus Christ is actually for entirely.  I know that most, if not all, Christians are aware that He suffered and died for our sins, but for many, that's the end of their understanding what He really did.

When Adam and Even were in the Garden of Eden, the fall that took place because of their transgressions was not just one sided.  God's plan was to have us return to His presence (Alma 40:11and become like Him (Matt 5:48).  Before the fall, Adam and Eve were like God because they were totally clean and innocent of any wrongdoing, but also unlike God because they didn't have an understanding of good vs evil.  After the fall, they were unlike God because of their sin, but a little more like Him because of their increased understanding of good and evil and their ability to procreate.  The goal of the Atonement was not just to save us from our sins, although that is an undeniable part of it.  As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it: "...the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him."

The Atonement of Christ includes His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross and His death and resurrection.  He had to overcome not just our sins, but all other negative effects of the fall, including As the Lord Himself said to the Father: "And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."

Misconception

Christians shouldn't give tell others what to do/give advice on something they aren't doing themselves.

Clarification

There's not one place in all of Christian scripture where perfect adherence to a principle is required before suggesting that others follow it as well.  As President Russell M. Nelson said: "Scriptures have described Noah, Seth, and Job as perfect men. No doubt the same term might apply to a large number of faithful disciples in various dispensations. Alma said that 'there were many, exceedingly great many,' who were pure before the Lord.  This does not mean that these people never made mistakes or never had need of correction. The process of perfection includes challenges to overcome and steps to repentance that may be very painful. There is a proper place for chastisement in the molding of character, for we know that 'whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.'"

Of course there are limits.  Tact and kindness should be applied properly.  But an addict (of pornography, alcohol, gambling, etc.) has every right to encourage someone else to not get involved with those types of things provided they doing so with the intent to say "I'm telling you to not do this because I am currently suffering the horrible effects of it in my own life, so for the sake of your own happiness, don't do what I'm doing now."  If someone is living a principle flawlessly then, of course, they have every right to encourage others to follow it as well.  The message in that case might be, "I've found more happiness and joy following this commandment from God than I ever did when I wasn't, so, (again) for the sake of your own happiness, please follow suit."

In October 1973, Marvin J. Ashton said "a friend is a person who is willing to take me the way I am but who is willing and able to leave me better than he found me."

Misconception

The Bible is the limit of God's word to man.  It is the only definitive word of God we have.

Clarification

To begin, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it well when he said of the following of the argument people use about not adding to the word of God when they cite Revelation 22:18: "...the whole Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume—did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after A.D. 1000.  The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and … my words … never cease.”

God has not stopped speaking through prophets.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever, and if He spoke through prophets then, and He doesn't change, He still speaks through prophets now.  The Bible, is to be sure, the source of some of the core doctrines of our Messiah, but if it was truly sufficient to teach of all of God's word that we would ever need to know, we wouldn't have tens of thousands of Christian denominations all saying something different about how it should be interpreted.  There is a great need to people in the world today to listen to modern prophets because they are the means the Lord has chosen to help us understand the scriptures and not be "carried about by every wind of doctrine".  The Apostle Paul sent multiple letters to members of the primitive church correcting false doctrines and misunderstandings of the scriptures and modern prophets today provide clarification of them and give us continuous counsel from the Lord on a monthly basis.

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There will always be controversy about truth.  As Truman Madsen said about the prophet Joseph Smith: "he learned early that to testify of divine manifestations was to stir up darkness and to call down wrath."  This is not because it is wrong to speak of truth, angels and other divine things, but because anywhere we find righteousness, there will always be something evil close by trying to snuff it out.  Such is the constant nature of our journey on this earth, our pursuit towards everything Godly.  But if this entry helps just one person understand the true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all it's glory and flawless splendor, then my mission in writing it is accomplished.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jesus Christ = Everything

Within the last few years I've done two sets of entries specifically talking about what Christ means to me, each set using one word to describe what He means to me and so far I've used rescue, power, potential, victory, charity, peace, freedom, protection, great, and perfect.

I was going to do five more entries, but, really, there may just be no end to the positive words that can be used to describe Him, who He is, what He stands for, the live He lived, etc. etc. etc.

Even though I may not be able to mention them all, let alone think of them all, I'll do my best to discuss why

Jesus Christ = Everything [good].

There is a quote I love from Tad R. Callister's book The Infinite Atonement that goes as follows:

"Beauty besets [Christ] in every direction.  So it is with the Atonement.  Regardless of our vantage point, it is glorious to behold.  Every principle underlying it, every consequence flowing from it rewards our intellect, animates our emotions, and enlivens our spirit.  It is a doctrine for all seasons."

Similarly, no matter your perspective, the season of your life, your belief system (or lack thereof), your age, your needs, goals, habits or any other factor, there is always a reason to make Christ more of a central figure in your life, whatever your pursuits may be.

Parenting

I'm not a parent yet, but I know what an amazing benefit it was to have the gospel of Jesus Christ taught and enforced the best way my parents knew how.  It wasn't a perfect environment because, of course, none of us mortals know how to be perfect parents, but my parents did the best they knew how to teach Christ centered principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.  None of us ended up perfect, but we all have testimonies of His plan, His love and His church and decent moral standards at minimum, all because my parents placed Him at the center of their efforts to teach us.  Indeed Christ is the most effective role model for parenting.

Prosperity/finances

While looking for prosperity, no matter what your profession, I know from my own first hand experience that building our financial stability on principles the Lord taught is the best way to find success.  Truths like tithing, honesty, fairness, hard work, personal virtue and kindness are all things He taught and exemplified and when they are used in balance in any kind of work opportunity it's the best way to have an exceptional outcome.  One example of this for me what when I was working at Arby's and my boss told everyone there about a mandatory meeting on a Sunday for all employees.  Now, I had told him when I was hired that I would never do anything work related on a Sunday and that that was my condition for taking the job.  I did not attend the meeting and faithfully paid my tithing.  So when I went back on my next work day and people were asking why I wasn't there my boss defended me and told the others to back off, saying that I had every right to exercise my religious beliefs, even if that meant putting God before my job.  This opened up further opportunities for me while working there I may not have had otherwise.

I have many amazing experiences since Lorraine and I got married regarding financial blessings as we have struggled at times to maintain financial stability.  We have made deliberate and conscious decisions to put more than expected towards fast offerings and made absolutely sure tithing is taken out of all we earn as soon as possible.  Because of this, God has provided us with things of which we were in critical need in times where we had no idea how we were going to do it.

My life with my wife has been a non-stop stream of evidence that centering our pursuits of prosperity on the Savior is the best way to achieve it.  It has also changed our definition of prosperity to reflect one of my favorite quotes, "If you have God in your life and nothing else, you have more than if you had everything else without God."

Understanding

Jesus is the only true source of perfect understanding in all of life's difficult times as well.  No matter the nature of our difficulties, He has been there first hand in His atonement for our souls.  Again, from Tad R. Callister's The Infinite Atonement:

"What weight is thrown on the scales of pain when calculating the hurt of innumerable patients in countless hospitals?  Now, add to that the loneliness of the elderly who are forgotten in the rest homes of society, desperately yearning for a card, a visit, a call – just some of the recognition from the outside world.  Keep on adding the hurt of hungry children, the suffering caused by famine, drought, and pestilence.  Pile on the heartache of parents who tearfully plead on a daily basis for a wayward son or daughter to come back home.  Factor in the trauma of every divorce and the tragedy of every abortion.  Add the remorse that comes with each child lost in the dawn of life, each spouse taken in the prime of marriage. Compound that with the misery of overflowing prisons, bulging halfway houses and institutions for the mentally disadvantaged.  Multiply all this by century after century of history, and creation after creation without end.  Such is but an awful glimpse of the Savior's load.  Who can bear such a burden or scale such a mountain as this?  No one, absolutely no one, save Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of us all."

If you ever need someone who understands you completely, even better than you do, to help lift you up, He is your ever constant, fail-proof source of Godly and mortal understanding.

Happiness

Maybe you aren't concerned with any of these perspectives of life right now.  Maybe you are one of those who happens to be in one of the most joyous times of your life at the present.  Well that, too, is an ideal time to turn to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that you have and are.  As the prophet Joseph Smith said "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments."  How would/do you feel if/when you are in any way responsible for the good fortune of a family member, friend, or coworker and they showed little to no thanks for what you have done or even went as far as saying they did it without you, discounting your love and care for them?  The Savior is in control of everything and every time something good happens to you (and remember, some good things come disguised as what we think is a bad thing) He arranged for that/caused it to happen.  Everything you have and are is because He brought you or allowed you to get to that state.  No matter our circumstances, we owe Him our gratitude for everything.  Being happy is one of the reasons we are here on earth, and since the Lord made that possible in the first place, it's never a bad time to redirect that joy back to Him in thanks.

Relationships

Are you in a brand new relationship with a special someone?  Have you been for while now?  Or did a relationship end from which you are recovering?  No matter your relationship status, with your family or anyone else, He is also the perfect person to help in keeping that bond between you and another strong, repairing one that is struggling or damaged, or helping you recover from one that was broken all together.  One of my favorite lines from Bruce Almighty is where he's talking to "God" toward the end and "God" says "Grace. You want her back?" and he says "No.  I want her to be happy no matter what that means.  I want her to find someone that will treat her with all the love that she deserved from me.  I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now, through your eyes."  If you want to have a healthy relationship with someone, romantic or otherwise, focus on making them happy, by making every effort to see them as He does, even when they are frustrated, scared, angry, rude, mean, inconsiderate, dishonest, etc.  I'm not saying you should become a doormat, but that using the Savior's life and teachings as framework of your relationships is your best bet to make them work or heal from those that didn't work.

Trauma

Have you been through traumatic experiences that have been affecting you for years?  The atonement of Christ is still perfect for you.  He has sunk lower than everything you have been through first hand and come out on top.  He can make you greater than your trials and provide you the peace and healing you seek if you turn "with full purpose of heart" to Him (3 Nephi 12:24).  This may sound kind of crazy to some people, but having Aspergers means, for me, that every emotion I feel is so strong that finding a way to express them without overwhelming myself or others feels nearly impossible.  I thank the Lord for helping me with this matter.  He gave me a wife who has been patient enough with me to help me find ways of expressing myself more effectively.  I still struggle with this today.  The other side of it is that being unable to express myself without overwhelming someone, using the wrong words or even expressing myself at all boils up in me like an unquenchable flame.  Many times I end up feeling emotionally violated or destroyed, like I'm trapped in my own mind without an effective method of output and it's very traumatic for me.  This goes for not feeling reciprocated in the love I feel for others as well.  I recognize that this mostly as a result of my own personal weakness in managing thoughts and feelings with how intense they are, so it has caused me to turn to Christ that much more for help in winning the battles "fought within the silent chambers of [my] own soul" (In His Steps, Ezra Taft Benson 1979).

I know there are many more and many worse kinds of trauma, but I also know that Christ, the Savior of us all, is anxiously waiting to help us, looking with earnestness for every possible way and reason to help, protect, perfect and heal us, no matter our pain or the source of it.

Searching

Times of transition, learning, change and searching are also the perfect time to turn to the Lord.  Not sure where to put your trust?  Are you looking for answers, guidance or perspective in making major decisions?  He knows and comprehends everything there is to know or comprehend.  He has complete understanding in every way imaginable of every car part, every computer program, every song or dance that ever was or could be written or choreographed, every possible painting, drawing, illustration, photograph or sculpture, every injury, medicine, treatment or disease, every religion or beliefs system, all possible benefits and flaws of every imaginable business plan, investment, employee and product.  He knows every possible outcome of every possible decision or event.

There is no question He cannot answer, no problem He cannot solve, no concept He cannot explain, no confusion He cannot clear up.  If you are confused or searching for answers, Christ is the one to turn to.

I have made the mistake, innocently, of thinking "is there some cosmic mystery that Christ's doesn't know, something He has yet to learn, something even He doesn't understand?"

However, this is easily answered by another quote by Callister that I can't seem to find as I write this, so I'll do my best to paraphrase it.  If I remember correctly it was either about no twisting of details, minimizing facts or backpedaling about the specific nature of a sin in the confession part of repentance or dispelling any misconception regarding a perceived need to second guess or logically backpedal in discussing the eternal nature and effect of the atonement.  Either way, the concept applies here too.  As Jacob explains in the Book of Mormon, "O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it."  I don't see any clarifying statements or subtleties there.  It's pretty clear.

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I know there are other phases in life and perspective I have missed here, but, as noted earlier, "Regardless of our vantage point, [the atonement] is glorious to behold", as is the Man by whom it was accomplished.

He has and is the solution to every problem, the answer to every question.  He is the Healer for every ailment, the Strength for every struggle, the Source of every blessing, the Inspiration behind every good idea, the Manager behind every success, the Power behind every miracle.  Indeed He is the source of and the reason for every good thing in this world.

He lovingly gave His all, selflessly and deliberately, to allow us to live, progress and have joy eternally.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How To Not Be A Chicken - About A Parable By A Modern Prophet


President Monson wrote an article in the September 2014 where he said the following:

"In the vicinity where I once lived and served, the Church operated a poultry project, staffed primarily by volunteers from the local wards. Most of the time it was an efficiently operated project, supplying to the bishops’ storehouse thousands of fresh eggs and hundreds of pounds of dressed poultry. On a few occasions, however, being volunteer city farmers meant not only blisters on the hands but also frustration of heart and mind.

For instance, I shall ever remember the time we gathered the Aaronic Priesthood young men to give the project a spring-cleaning. Our enthusiastic and energetic throng assembled at the project and in a speedy fashion uprooted, gathered, and burned large quantities of weeds and debris. By the light of the glowing bonfires, we ate hot dogs and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

However, there was just one disastrous problem. The noise and the fires so disturbed the fragile population of 5,000 laying hens that most of them went into a sudden molt and ceased laying. Thereafter we tolerated a few weeds so that we might produce more eggs."

Our prophet, like the Savior whom he represents, teaches many times in parables.  The meaning few saw around this comment was that, as one blogger said, "he is caught between the need to warn us  about preparing for the future, and the sensitivity of the saints to be alarmed that something bad is on the horizon. He could use words of “destruction and fire,” but that would be counterproductive; the “fragile population” of members would stop living their lives in a productive, one-egg-a-day kind of way. Once some chickens get it into their minds that the sky is falling, their lives will become unbalanced and fearful."

Many people, when I share these kinds of thoughts, say I'm paranoid, but that's just a word used by those who are uninformed when they finally see something that has been sitting under their very noses for the first time as it truly is.  So, if you're one of those who hasn't clicked out of this article or dismissed me as just some "nutball conspiracy theorist", feel free to to read on for my perspective of how to not be a molting chicken when poo hits the fan in the next few years.

First, President Benson gave us a powerful reminder of why the Book of Mormon was written for our day: "Now undoubtedly Moroni could have pointed out many factors that led to the destruction of the people, but notice how he singled out the secret combinations, just as the Church today could point out many threats to peace, prosperity, and the spread of God’s work, but it has singled out the greatest threat as the godless conspiracy. There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon —it is a conspiracy fact."  There's no doubt about it, evil men have been conspiring for years to destroy the U.S. from within.  There's nothing else that would have or could have brought what I now call the "Divided States" of America to it's currently dismal and putrid state.  A house divided cannot stand on it's own and it's not a question of if  their government and economy completely collapses, but when.

Next, I repeat what prophets and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have been saying for several millenia: "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness...".  If you want to have peace and joy amid the horrors that are to come, they will be readily and easily available if you make the choice to turn full force to the Savior in everything you do.  No, this does not mean sell everything you have right now, go off grid and hide in a bunker until nuclear warfare destroys the rest of the population (that's not even going to happen).  It also does not mean I support getting overly obsessive and becoming the boy who cried wolf.

What I am saying is that there is a poisonous attitude many, even among the Latter-day Saints, of an apathetic "I have my religious life and my regular life and I need to keep balance between the two." Please don't misunderstand.  Balance is a good thing to be sure, but to mentally separate our commitment to Christ from every day activities is not only missing the whole point of Christ's invitation to follow Him, it is deadly to our spiritual progression.  As Elder Holland said, "Never check your religion at the door."  Discipleship is not something we go should be going about casually, thinking that, because perfection doesn't come overnight, we can just "do things at a comfortable pace" and avoid anything that makes us uncomfortable.  Do you think Christ was comfortable when He was in Gethsemane?  When He was on the cross?  When He was rejected and spit upon and betrayed while totally unwilling to do anything contrary to His Father's will?  Not a chance!

While this doesn't mean that we have to look for hard things or pray for trials (although I do know of at least one person who had the courage to try that), I'm just using that thought to emphasize that becoming Christ-like in an ever increasingly evil world means that staying in our comfort zone is never going to cut it.

The divide between true disciples of Christ and those who aren't is getting ever wider.  If we don't want our faith to break with changes like church's recent policy regarding the LGBT community, we had better make sure we are far enough over on Christ's side of that divide that when such a chasm makes a shift to grow wider we not are so close to the edge that we fall in.  Elder Bednar once suggested that we ask ourselves with each trial "Is the load I'm carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I can get safely home to my Heavenly Father?" Similarly I would suggest that we also ask ourselves regularly, "Am I far enough over on the Savior's side that changes toward perfection in the church will push me toward Christ?"

It's impossible to be too Christian, so don't worry about that, but please, believe me when I say following the prophet and aligning our hearts with that of the Savior which prophets convey to us is the safest way to stay on His side and have His peace with us always.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Savior and #LDSConf

Upon tweeting about #LDSConf on twitter shortly before the event, a certain twitter user retweeted my link about my article encouraging others to watch live that weekend.  I had used the phrase "feast upon the words of Christ".  This guy who retweeted me was claiming that the Savior wouldn't even be mentioned.  Upon looking at his twitter page to possibly deduce a reason why he would say such a ludicrous thing, it became obvious to me that he had once been a member of the LDS church but had defected from it and was now working twice as hard as he possibly ever had to be faithful to the gospel in his efforts to tear down the church.

This is for you, retweeter.  I won't mention who you are because you don't need attention for lambasting someone's faith, but in case you ever read this and remember your retweet of @LattrDayWarrior's link, just so you know there were over 900 references to the Lord Jesus Christ throughout General Conference April 2016.  I counted 100 references in President Eyring's sunday morning talk alone!

Let me clarify something first, then I'll offer you an invitation.

According to Stephen H. Webb (professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College) back in Feb 2012, "...what gives Christianity its identity is its commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And on that ground Mormons are more Christian than many mainstream Christians who do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God. Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait. I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time ... When I actually read this book, however, I was utterly surprised ... There are many characters in this book, but they change as little as the plot. Nobody stands out but him. “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” (2 Nephi 25:26). And not just Jesus: A whole gospel in all of its theological details—right down to debates about baptism, the relationship of law to grace, and the problem of divine foreknowledge—is taught to the people of the New World centuries before Jesus was even born."

He continues later in his article: "Still, the Book of Mormon raises a question for Christians. Can you believe too much about Jesus? Can you go too far in conceiving his glory? Let me answer that question by posing another. Isn’t the whole point of affirming his divinity the idea that one can never say enough about him?"

Perhaps, [Mr. Retweeter], if we were to consider your claim that Christ wouldn't be mentioned from the face value or possibly even just the mood of the word "mentioned", which in the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) defines the noun as "The act of referring to something briefly or casually", I think you'd be right.  Christ is in no way mentioned briefly or casually in LDS General Conference.  Instead, He is glorified, worshiped and revered in ways you won't see in any other church on earth.  Professor Webb seems to agree, "Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him."

Seriously, my friend, Joseph Smith taught faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the very first principle of the gospel.  The prime purpose of the Church's missionaries is to "invite others to come unto Christ...".  The "primary responsibility" of the Church's prophet is "to bear witness of Christ".  Joseph Smith declared "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it".  The LDS author Tad R. Callister wrote about Jesus, "He has mastered each and every law.  He is polylingual; there is no such thing as a foreign language to him.  He knows the cure for every virus, every disease, and every ailment.  He has created worlds without number.  Nothing escapes his grasp."  Of the depth of the Savior's atonement he wrote, "There need be no equivocation, no back-pedaling, no apologizing - the Atonement is infinite in its depth..." of the challenges of mortality he wrote "the scriptures are replete with evidence that the Savior did not exempt himself from any of these but rather faced each of them 'square on.'"  The LDS Church has an entire subdomain of lds.org, jesuschrist.lds.org, dedicated entirely to Him.

Would you like more?  We are so blessed in our day with revelation from God that I have more quantity, depth and quality of evidence of the love and worship of the Savior in the Mormon Church than I even know what do with.  If you actually meant the word "mentioned" to be that He wouldn't even be spoken of in any way, my testimony and personal witness to you is as follows.

You are mistaken.

Go back and read every talk from every General Authority.  You won't find a single talk (possibly excluding  two very brief technical reports) that does anything but teach something about our Lord.

I know from my own personal experience that this is His church.  I have felt the Holy Ghost testify powerfully and unmistakably to me on many occasions that this is where His gospel is preached in it's fullness, where His priesthood power and authority lies, where His atonement can truly be accessed in all it's infinite, joyful, glorious power, and where the souls of mankind can find His way to "happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come." (last paragraph of The Living Christ).  I know from my own personal education from on high that He is the force behind The LDS Church, it's Captain, it's "Chief Corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20).

Lastly, I would like to offer my own thoughts of consolation and hope for you.  The parable of the prodigal son goes a long way here.  You have had the blessings of the gospel in your life.  You have felt the Spirit confirm to you the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  Otherwise you likely never would have joined the church in the first place.  No matter your membership status now, think back to those times when you first felt the Holy Ghost teach you something that only faith could explain, that time(s) when you had a question that no earthly source could help you understand.  Think back to the peace you felt when you got the answer you needed.  Remember the joy you had in your heart, that incomparable, totally consuming and ever satisfying completeness you felt in a moment(s) where you knew the truth of our Savior, not because someone had proved it to you by mortal means (not to say that that's always a bad thing), but by the intelligence and power of God.

I invite you to follow the Lord's counsel, "Return unto me" (Malachi 3:7), to seek for "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding..." (Philippians 4:7)

I promise you that the negativity and resentment you feel in your heart towards any church that even tries to be Christian will be totally dissipated by the light of Christ, should you choose that road.  Besides, the Savior said that contention is of the devil and encouraged us to "revil[e] not against revilers" (Doctrine and Covenants 19:30).

"Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free." (Doctrine and Covenants 128:22)

Come back brother.  Come back and be free again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

#LDSConf - Why You Should Watch: Part 2



About a year ago, I wrote about why General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is such a critical time of year.  I'm doing it again.  There are so many in the world today who let anger, hate, fear, immorality and more dictate their habits and beliefs.  Selfishness and spinelessness are like a cancer infecting the minds of too many, inside and outside of the Lord's church.  I am victim to some of this as well sometimes, but that's why I'm writing this for my sake to.  I need reminders as well.

General Conference is the perfect time for everyone - and I mean every single person on earth with internet connection or access to an LDS chapel - to listen to counsel straight from God through His prophets.  Remember what the Lord said, "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same [emphasis added]."  We are incredibly blessed to have this twice a year and it's a perfect time to have the Savior speak to and, if we let him, change our hearts, minds, beliefs and habits to align more with His so that we can be happier and have peace, no matter what else is going on around us.

But that's the key right there.  If we are not consistently making every effort to completely align ourselves and our lives with Him, our difficulties and heartache will only get worse instead of being healed by Him.  As President Eyring said (when he was Elder Eyring): "As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough.  Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground... You can set your expectations for yourself a little higher and then a little higher, with confidence that a loving Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son will send you the Holy Ghost and lift you higher and higher, toward Them."

Prophets give us counsel during General Conference that we cannot afford to miss.

I know a large number of people, including and in some cases especially Latter-day Saints, will say to themselves, "Oh I can just watch it later online" or "I'll read it when it comes out in the Ensign so I can mark it up."  People who entertain this are feeding a harmful attitude.  Of all weekends of the year where our church attendance and attention to God's prophets should be multiplied many times over, it should be Conference weekend!  Honestly, it's very little Heavenly Father asks of us in the first place to dedicate 3 hours a week to manditory meeting attendance.  Seriously!  That's not even 2% of our week!  So why should it be such a big deal to give not even 3/10ths of a percent of a year to listening to loving counsel from our Savior and our Father in Heaven that, without question, will make our lives better if we listen.  The Holy Ghost can speak to us more answers, give greater means to accomplish what appears impossible and we can have more divine joy in our lives when we take it all in audibly AND visually.

(For any interested, 3 hours / (24 hrs * 7 days a week) is 1.7% and 
20 hrs (8 hrs + Priesthood or Women's session) / 24 hrs * 365 days is 0.228%)

Don't get me wrong.  The Ensign is just as valuable as watching Conference live, but that does not mean it's more valuable.  Please don't just read it.  Watch it.  Watch it live.  And then, yes, read it, no - reading is shallow - prayerfully study it afterwards.  My parents taught me something about Conference and even just Sabbath Day observance in general that has helped to change the way I view Conference today.  Each time Conference came twice a year, we were all required to dress up in our Sunday best, even though we weren't going to the actual church building, sit around the TV as a family, tune in to BYUTV and sit as we would in church, quietly, reverently, with bathroom and drink breaks, if needed, only during the songs.  I will forever be grateful for this example and their persistence with that.  It has helped me to find better answers to prayers, more peace and healing in the Atonement of Christ and greater in faith in God's prophets and their loving pleas to mankind to show unyielding, uncompromising commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you do this already, more people need to be like you during Conference.  If you don't, I'm not here to criticize you or give any kind of message that that somehow means you are less committed to the Lord because of it, but I can tell you that you are missing out on innumerable blessings from God in your life by not watching.  I understand some people have jobs and responsibilities that are totally and completely unavoidable.  Some are kept from watching Conference because their individual circumstances are such that family responsibilities require them to be engaged in other things.  But - and I can't remember or find the source of this - I think it was in a recent General Conference where one of the twelve (I think?) said something like "It's okay to 'pull your ox out of the mire' on the Sabbath except if you spent all Saturday pushing it in!"

Please don't use excuses like "but we've been planning on this sports game all season" or "this is a family outing we've had in the works for a long time" or "I was too afraid to ask my boss for time off."  Missing out on a game, losing it, or even disappointing others on the team is a far better option than disappointing the Lord, family outings could have been planned so that they don't interfere with that weekend, and even as much as religious liberty in America is being attacked left, right and center, it still exists and no employer has the right to deny you that weekend off for jobs that don't involve emergency response to anything.  But heck, even then, you can listen to it on the radio if you are a firefighter or a policeman should you get a few minutes to tune in.

I know I may seem overbearing to some with my approach to this subject, but one of the deepest desires of my heart echoes what Ammon said: " Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."

I want so badly for you to have more of the amazing experiences of Conferences like I have had.  I want you to be so happy that you couldn't possibly be sad, angry, scared or annoyed - at least for some length of time.  That's what General Conference can do for you if you take it seriously enough.

Do you have questions about the church?  Are you struggling to keep your faith strong?  Having trouble overcoming addiction?  Is your marriage in trouble?  Has a loved one or a close friend passed away?  Does mental/emotional illness make life incredibly difficult for you?  Do you need help inviting that friend to learn about the gospel?  Are you struggling financially or fearful about the future?  Has a family member gone down a destructive path in their life?  I've been in all of those situations and I can tell you from first hand experience that you will find guidance that is essential, relieving, comforting and/or healing for your problem if you seek for the Spirit and put all your effort into being receptive to the answers you need.

Do you think you have all the answers?  Does General Conference seem like the 'same old same old' to you?  Do you no longer have interest in the church or even just in watching that weekend?  General Conference is still for you and I give my personal guarantee you will still find something that you would never have dreamed you needed to hear if you watch with an open heart.

So on April 2nd and 3rd this year put on your best dress or your slacks, white shirt and tie, go to church or your TV or computer if you can stream it live in your home, get out some paper and a pen/pencil, turn off your cell phone, close all the other tabs in your browser and "feast upon the words of Christ."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Language: All the "small" things

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matt 5:37, "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

The point that I'm leading into with this, as you might expect, is the subject of communication and our choice of words.  Some might think of me as too picky in my approach to this, especially considering my own glaring weakness in this area for those who know me.  No, this isn't an anti-swearing article, although that ought to never be a part of our conversation (or thought process for that matter) with anyone in any way.  This is about about using words and expressions that feel very common and okay even for those with relatively high moral standards but are still not conducive to the spirit of what Christ taught about the subject.

The reason I start out with that verse about in Matthew is because, in context, the Savior is teaching us to "not swear at all", but to keep our communication stay simple and let plain speech be a powerful enough force to get our ideas and feelings across without unnecessary "additives", if you will.

A good example of things is illustrated in Dead Poets Society when Keating discourages, for example, his students from saying things like "very sad" and replacing it with "morose".  There are many other examples of that kind of idea, but the principle behind it is that swearing and even using words like "freaking" and "crap" aren't even necessary.  Yes I have to work on those two myself a lot as well and I can already hear some people saying to themselves "seriously? 'freaking' and 'crap' aren't even really 'bad' words."  While they won't keep you out of the temple to be sure, someone who really wants to express something with that much adamancy can find another word to use.  With those kinds of expressions you may as well say "that guy was very very very very rude."  Not only does that just sound kind of superfluous, it doesn't do any good for the speaker or the listener.  I can guarantee you there are plenty of ways out there that would get the point across even more forcefully than "freakin" or "crap" and still be more conducive of the Holy Ghost.

"Sexy" and "Hot" are two others that drive me nuts!  According to the dictionary, sexy means "Arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest."  Those who are familiar with the Lord's law of chastity as taught in the LDS church will hopefully see the problem with this when considering that phrases like "he/she is sexy" objectify people.  Sex is the single most sacred act we can do in this life, which is why God put safeguards of total abstinence in all forms before marriage and complete fidelity during marriage.  Those who participate in it become joint creators with the Almighty God, so to just toss that term around like it's no big deal is, to me, wildly disrespectful of such an incredible gift from God.  I have half a mind to re-title this entry "my wife is not sexy or hot" and she would have no problem with that.  She is jaw-droppingly beautiful to me in all ways imaginable, but I know for a fact that she hates those words too and it would repulse her if I ever used those words to describe anyone, especially her.  Even in the health and fitness area, it's just not necessary.  There is always a better way to say it that gets the same point across.  By the way, this also applies to using names of private parts of the body casually, in jokes, or replacing them with slang terms.

This also goes for posting immodest pictures of ourselves for the sake of "health and fitness".  I guarantee you God would never condone any of His daughters putting up pictures of themselves like that.  There is no right way to do the wrong thing.

Name calling, no matter the reason, is also never okay, but I'm not going to say more about that because of how obvious it should be.

At this point, I do apologize if this seems like a nit-picky gripe fest.  I don't intend it to be that.  Fortunately, my plan in writing this was to point out alternatives that we can use that not only communicate ideas just clearly, but more effectively as well.  The following are examples that are meant to not only make the speaker sound more mature, but do so without compromising the desired message and that effect of it.

Ladies, instead of someone calling you sexy, would you not feel more respected, loved and classy if your dream guy said to you "you are hypnotically beautiful" or "you are the most stunningly angelic girl I've ever seen"?  Does that get your heart beating a little faster or make you crave that kind of compliment?  Kind of makes the terms "sexy" and "hot" seem lazy, shallow or even repulsive doesn't it?

Guys, instead of your best friend saying something like "dude, you just kicked the crap out of the other team", wouldn't you feel more accomplished and manly if they said "Now that's what I call total domination!" or "That's how a man's game is won!"  After all, a real manly man can be an example of pure talent without openly defacing the opposing team.

I want to look at this from one more angle before I wrap things up.

One of my most favorite memes is the one I saw from Fight The New Drug which says "We don't see things as they are.  We see them as we are."  This point, I believe, also carries over to our choice of words and communication.  If you see the need to use swearing, including but not limited to those that start with F, S, B, D and A, just for starters; if you see a need to stoop to name-calling, no matter how much you dislike someone or something; if you use consistently use euphemisms just because it's a "better alternative to swearing"; that reveals far more about your ability to communicate effectively than it does about the subject matter at hand.

I will be one of the first to admit that I really need to work on some aspects of this issue myself, especially euphemisms, but when I see the insulting, bashing kinds of conversation that plaster the internet today and personal and sacred topics like sex just thrown around like their a dish rag, it tells me we have a big problem that needs more concern than we are giving it.

This one is titled "Language: All the 'small' things" because this is something to which most of the world would say something like, "Oh, come on, you're making a mountain out of a mole-hill here.  Times have changed and so has communication so stop being so thin-skinned about it."  But the reason I put the words "small" in quotes is because those things that seem small to us now are going to become a much bigger deal as the gap continues to widen between true disciples of Christ and everyone else.  His plan for us, if we let Him, is to refine and perfect us to the point where everything about us will be complete, pure, simple and glorious beyond description, including our language.  Why not get started on that now?  Simple and dignified language are the mark of a great soul.

The Savior taught that things we say and do corrupt us more than things we take in (disclaimer; this does not mean He is giving permission for us to consume things that are wrong).  Mentally allowing/condoning lies, insults and inappropriate language is bad enough, but propagating such things by our own words and actions is straight up destructive.

People will think much more of you if you can keep your language consistent with things the Savior would say.  No one has been more quoted, celebrated, revered or loved than He.

You want to be more respected?  Model your language after the Savior's.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Politics: A Clear Voice In the Face of Chaos

Ah, yes, likely the all around most contentious topic of conversation in existence today aside from religion.  So why the heck am I writing about it?  To be honest, I do my best to avoid this subject matter, but there's something happening in the world right now within politics about which so many are (both innocently and willfully) ignorant that I feel a great need to publish this as a reminder to disciples of Christ and a warning and message of hope to anyone else who will read this.

To the best of my memory, ever since Nixon, people's trust in the U.S. government has been doing a total nose dive with no apparent hope of any kind of recovery in that area.  Every four years since then, the majority of the United States population have allowed themselves to be manipulated by fear mongering, controlled by hate and anger and given into the lie that mortal men can solve all the countries problems.  The whole reason we are in this mess of a country we have is because of mortal men, so more of them sure as heck won't get us out.  If we want to have any voice of clarity in all this chaos we need to be turning to Someone who is always clear no matter what else is going on anywhere in the universe, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Elected politicians may never again give us anything more than unfulfilled promises and bravado.  Yes, there are some who actually do want to do good for us by keeping traditional, biblical family values at the core of society, but there are so many of them who don't that they usually end up snuffing out the voice of the few politicians who have any kind of moral compass.

For a while I was actually considering writing in a name instead of checking off one of nominees for any party but at this point (pre election 2016) I have chosen my candidate.  Part of this is because of the fulfillment of the Book of Mormon, written for our day, where "their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted." (Helaman 5:2)  The other part is because, as I have quoted before, from Elder Maxwell, “If, in the end, you have not chosen Jesus Christ it will not matter what you have chosen.”  Only one the candidates who even tried in the race for nomination have given me any indication that they are basing their campaign enough around principles of Christ and His Plan and Atonement but even with him, I'm nervous that he will, at some point, slip into the same pattern that every other politician does.  Christ is the center my moral code and in order for me to vote for a person to fill the office of president, I need to be convinced that they have, as much as possible, the Savior at the center of their focus.

As Glen Beck said, "If you’ve ever been to Washington, D.C., you know the architecture of the buildings. These guys go to work every day in historic buildings and say, ‘Dig me. Look how important I am.’ And some people in the government actually believe, ‘This is never going away. We’ll never lose this. We’ve been through worse times than this.’ No, we haven’t. Nineteen trillion dollars in debt? No, we haven’t. The public as angry as they are now? No, we haven’t. The only other time it’s been like this was the Civil War. You couple the Civil War with $19 trillion in debt, and it doesn’t last."  There are more divisions and bickering and hardened minds and hearts among all groups of people today than there ever was.  Even among Latter-day Saints, the most religiously united group in the world, the intensity of radical divisions in our political opinions this time around proves what President Kimball said, that we are in a "battle royal with an enemy so powerful, entrenched, and organized that we are likely to be vanquished if we are not strong, well-trained, and watchful."

The United States has now become the Divided States, and not just by a factor of which state is more "blue" or "red" than another.  It is also divided within each state to different extents per state.  Even in states like Texas or New York, where the majority of the population is one political "color", there are sizable areas where large and bitter divisions have taken place recently.  In my home state of Colorado, according to this map, the division has been getting more polar and aggressive than ever in previous elections and it's worse now than it was then.


Is there any hope left for the United States?  Yes!  There is!  It all depends on who we put our faith in as the clear voice in the face of all this chaos.  Christ is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords.  As Isaiah prophesied, the "government shall be upon His shoulder".  It is He who ultimately has all things in His care.  Yes, I'm aware that He has revealed to modern prophets that we need to be appropriately engaged in politics, but our reasons for choosing a candidate to vote for should not be because of which type of person they appeal to or which political party they identify with.  The reason should be because the candidate shows by their actions that they are most likely to promote and enforce as much as possible the doctrines and patterns of living exemplified by Christ.  Changing laws won't decrease the number of criminals.  Changing creating new penalties for crimes won't change the hearts of men.  Putting more policies into the education system will not repair anyone's ignorance.  All of these issues can only be solved by one thing: understanding, in our hearts and minds, the doctrine of Christ; for as President Boyd K. Packer said, "The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."

Every election gets more angry, more contentious, more divided and more destructive than the last and it's everything to do with not enough attention on the Savior's example.  The socio-political tide is changing fast and the divide between true disciples of Christ and those who are not is only going to get more quickly, drastically and obviously wider.

If you don't want to be on the wrong of the side of the eminent chaos looming over the world right now, turn full force toward Jesus Christ and don't let distractions pull you attention away from Him.  Satan is more clever in his manipulation of the media and their portrayal of public opinion than you realize.  That cool new product that will never bring you as much happiness as the time you could spend strengthening relationship with your family.  Knowing the relationship status of Angelina Jolie is nowhere near as important as your relationship status with your family and your Savior.  A presidential candidate that is popular because he "says what everyone else is really thinking" is no match for the One after whom we should be shaping what we are thinking.  In fact, one of the major causes for the turmoil around the world today is the evil and destructive thoughts, especially when they are executed, of mankind.

No matter how this upcoming election turns out, the only thing that will put the U.S. back on the right path is if the general public stops letting anger and selfishness dictate their priorities and allow the love and law of the Lord to permeate their hearts.  No matter which candidate is elected, even if we have the most Christ-like leader possible, it won't make any difference if Americans don't turn their hearts to Christ as well.

The only way to pull America out of the hole it's in is for Americans to uproot the anger out of their hearts and fill it with the pure truth and love of Jesus Christ.