Thursday, August 21, 2014

Deciding How to Calculate and Pay Tithing Is Up to Each Individual

Do I pay tithing on my income before taxes are taken out or on what I receive after taxes?

The First Presidency has answered this question in this way: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970).

In other words, the way you define your income, and consequently your tithing, is a matter between you and the Lord. Prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance on issues like taxes, gifts, scholarships, and other matters to determine what qualifies as a full tithe. 

New Era, February 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Many of God's Children Followed Lucifer?

We are told in scriptures that 1/3 of the host of heaven followed Lucifer in the pre-mortal war in heaven.  That generally is believed to be a literal 33%, but there is another view that resonates more with me.  

There is an interpretation of ancient numerology that believes 1/3 is more accurately translated as "a third part" and means "an unspecified minority" - and 2/3 means "an unspecified majority". Along those lines, "none" and "all" would be written as 0/3 and 3/3 (although they are never stated that way).

That changes the whole math of salvation dramatically - and in a way that is very important and foundational for my view of eternity. In that light, 1/3 can mean a few billion, but it also can mean a dozen or so and anything between - and I FAR prefer that ambiguity to the assumption of a literal 33%.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Be One Who Nutures and Who Builds. Leave People Better than You Found Them.

"Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone's differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn't handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another's weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other. 
Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them."

Marvin J. Ashton (April 1992 General Conference)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: D&C 1:30 - "The Only True and Living Church"

First, here is verse 29:
And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.

Now verse 30:

“And also those to whom these commandments were given”

Joseph was mentioned in v.29 in relation to the translation of the Book of Mormon, but this verse references others – also those to whom “collectively” the commandments within the subsequent D&C were addressed.

“might have power to lay the foundation of this church,”

Lay the foundation does NOT mean or even imply the entire construction, only the setting of the foundation; thus, there is a solid implication that others “to whom these commandments were [NOT] given [yet]” would continue the construction upon the foundation built by these first people.

“and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness

I think “obscurity” is self-explanatory – and the Church certainly was obscured back then. In many ways, that only recently has been completed; in many ways, it still is being accomplished. I read “darkness” as describing the spiritual darkness of an apostate world – a light shining from the darkness to be set on a hill outside of that darkness, if you will. The fascinating aspect is that those who would “bring it forth out of obscurity and darkness” aren’t limited necessarily to the first group but appears to include those who later would build on the original foundation. I wonder how much of that removal process was figurative and how much was fulfilled by the literal exodus to Utah.


I always have read this verse as if it had a dash instead of a comma. It simply makes more linguistic and grammatical sense that way.

“the only true AND living church upon the face of the whole earth,”

of all the possible meanings for “true”, I like the following – as it relates to an organization: of the right kind; such as it should be; proper: to arrange things in their true order.” That changes the concept in very real and, I believe, important ways from what generally is assumed. In that light, I like the following definition for “living”: pertaining to, suitable for, or sufficient for existence or subsistence – which implies feeding in such a way that life can continue – meaning life-giving or regenerating – as in “living” water. Therefore, an altered translation might be something like, the only proper, correctly arranged/ordered and eternal-life-giving church . . .”

Also, the use of true “and” living can imply that there are other churches that are either true “or” living, but none that are both. I don’t know for sure, but I do think there is a powerful possibility of an implicit suggestion that some other churches might be partly true (not fully false) and lack, more than anything else, the grander vision that would make them “come alive”. I’m not sure that is what was meant, but it is a conclusion with which I agree – and which can be supported by the text.

“with which I, the Lord, am well pleased,” 

From a scriptural basis, this simply means “very pleased” – as opposed to merely pleased. It draws an implicit distinction between being “well” pleased and simply being pleased. More on that later.

“speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” 

The Church as an organization is well-pleasing unto the Lord, even though any number of individuals, with no respect to position [even the Prophet himself], may not be “well-pleasing” at any given moment.  I think this is supported by the number of times Joseph Smith was chastised and called to repentance in the Doctrine & Covenants. 

I favor a period at the end of this verse. The dash, in context, makes vs.20-30 a parenthetical comment and ties v.31 to v.19 – and I simply don’t see that as the proper connection. It just doesn’t make sense.

When we look at this verse, there are three separate and distinct classifications used to describe the “church” – which, taken together, appear to constitute the full meaning of the word “church” in God’s eyes. “The foundation of this church” and “the true church” appear to refer to the basic organizational structure and essential offices (which are properly ordered and arranged), while “the living church” appears to refer to the Restored Gospel it teaches (especially the concept of eternal life that follows faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost). On the other hand, “the church collectively and not individually” appears to refer to the membership. It’s fascinating for me to think of this as one more example of the use of a “trinity” construct to describe perfection.

Shifting gears a little, when I look at what I think the verse actually says, I am left to discount what I believe it does not say – even what has been assumed by many but simply isn’t there. The following are a few of the things I believe are incorrect assumptions – things the verse simply does NOT say:

False Assumption #1) The Church’s structure was restored exactly as existed in the time of the ancient apostles. Any deviation from the ancient structure invalidates its “true” structure, and every part of the current organization was in place in the ancient Church.

Hogwash. It just doesn’t say that. We do believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, but it clearly was only the foundation that was laid at the time of the Restoration. Furthermore, the relevant Article of Faith (#6) follows the “same organization” statement with a listing of essential responsibilities/offices, not the entire structure. Also, architecturally, since we are dealing with a “foundation” upon which a structure will be built, similar or equivalent structures can contain radically different internal components and still be the same shape or structure. This idea is bolstered by the increasing complexity of the organizational Church as it grows numerically and geographically – changing the outward appearance and internal structure, but not affecting the foundation in the slightest – as well as the differences that appear to have existed among the various congregations within the ancient Church.

False Assumption #2) All other Churches are bad or abominable.

That simply not said – here or in JSH 1:19, which I analyzed a couple of weeks ago. They might not be “of the right kind; such as [they] should be; proper: [arranged] in their true order,” but it does not say they are evil or bad. They might not make the Lord “well pleased”, but there is nothing that says the Lord isn’t “pleased” with them in some or many ways. In fact, the usage of a qualifier ["well"] generally implies that the same term without the qualifier ["pleased"] applies to the entities being compared. I know it is a radically different interpretation than the standard one, but I believe the words of the verse itself state that the Lord is not displeased with all religions other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – that at least some others do please Him to some degree.

False Assumption #3) Other churches (and members of those other churches) are spiritually dead.

That assumption is stupid, in my opinion. Their churches might not be living in the sense that they provide eternal growth [“eternal life giving"] – since they don’t even teach life eternal, as we understand it – but there is no statement saying the other churches cause their members to be separated from godliness, which is the orthodox definition of spiritual death within Mormonism. At worst, if other Christians accept their churches’ teachings fully and reject Mormonism completely, the vast majority of them still will live immortally in the presence of The God they worship – Jesus, the Christ. Nothing in verse 30 says otherwise.

False Assumption #4) Our leaders are “true” (infallible) and will never teach things that are not 100% true.

The verse itself says the Lord is NOT well-pleased with individuals in the Church, and it is followed by the numerous rebukes of Joseph, Oliver and others in the “commandments” it prefaces. The Church as a whole is well-pleasing and will continue to provide life to its members, but individual members, no matter their standing, still can incur the Lord’s displeasure.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

We Can't Preach the Gospel in Antagonistic Ways and Truly Love Others

We have two competing commandments - or at least it appears that way on the surface. 

The greatest one is, “Love God and love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Love one another,” or any number of ways to phrase it. The other one is, “Preach the Gospel.” Christ said that the world would hate those who represent him, but he didn’t say that meant we should preach in such a way as to alienate automatically by our own words and actions. He generally didn’t do that (except when condemning hypocrites and the Pharisees, primarily), and neither should we. 

We can fulfill the command to preach the Gospel as well as the command to love others, but we can't do both if we approach preaching with an antagonistic spirit.  In that light, I believe strongly that we need to stop framing so much of our discourse in battle terms - us vs. others, generally, and, more specifically, us vs. "the world".  We need to stop blaming others for issues for which they are not responsible (like, for example, blaming the homosexual population for the deterioration of traditional marriage, which is the fault of the heterosexual population). 

We need to preach what we believe (including real repentance), but we need to do so from a position of love - and we can't say we "love the sinner" while using language that is not conducive to love (or in language that, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, essentially judges others for sinning differently than we do).  We can't preach repentance exclusively to others, particularly in detail; we need to preach the Gospel (including the correct principle of repentance) to ALL, including and especially to ourselves. 

At the most basic level, it's not us vs. them; rather, it's me vs. me - and us WITH them.  We can work to build up the kingdom of God on Earth, but it won't happen (won't really be the kingdom of God) if we aren't working in such a way that we simultaneously are establishing Zion - and Zion is based on a foundation of real charity. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Very Short Thought about the Language of Prayer

Public prayers are for the public, so it is reasonable to use what the listening public considers to be "formal" language if that's what the group is expecting. Otherwise, they are thinking about the pronouns used in the prayer, rather than its content - and that never should be the focus of attention during a prayer.

However, behind closed doors, so long as the prayer is honest and the attempt to connect to God is sincere, I don't believe the pronouns matter much.

Frankly, I use both the "you" and the "thee" pronouns fluently, so I say whatever comes out when I pray privately.  Sometimes, I don't even bother addressing Heavenly Father, since I believe he knows I'm praying to him. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Even Prophets Interpret God's Word and Will through the Languages and Expressions with which They are Familiar

What if Hebrew prophets, conversant with only a small fraction of the surface of the earth, thinking and writing in terms of their own limited geography and tribal relations did interpret Him in terms of a tribal king and so limit His personality and the laws of the universe under His control to the dominion with which they were familiar? Can any interpreter even though he be inspired present his interpretation and conception in terms other than those with which he has had experience and acquaintance? Even under the assumption that Divinity may manifest to the prophet higher and more exalted truths than he has ever before known and unfold to his spiritual eyes visions of the past, forecasts of the future and circumstances of the utmost novelty, how will the inspired man interpret? Manifestly, I think, in the language he knows and in the terms of expression with which his knowledge and experience have made him familiar. So is it not therefore ungenerous, unfair and unreasonable to impugn the validity and the whole worth of the Bible merely because of the limited knowledge of astronomy and geography that its writers possessed.

Elder Stephen L. Richards (Improvement Era 36:451-453, 484-485, June 1933)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Wish We Talked about Faith More and Knowledge Less

Faith, simply defined, is the decision to continue to act in the face of uncertainty. Faith exists as an element of humility; it dies as arrogance solidifies. Therefore, faith never changes in nature; it just ebbs and flows in degree.

I believe that is vitally important to understand. It's not faith that changes; it's uncertainty and certainty that change - through the acquisition of knowledge (facts). Facts move faith from its original focus to a new focus on something else believed but not seen.

Faith is empowering. Faith drives inquiry. Faith drives discovery. Faith drives innovation. Faith drives charity. Faith drives courtship. Faith drives revelation. Faith drives experimentation. Faith drives progress. Faith drives growth.

The lack of faith (the surety of absolute certainty) drives closed minds. It also drives fanaticism. It drives oppression. It drives arrogance. It drives stagnation. 

It's interesting that Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . meek . . . merciful . . ." - NOT "Blessed are those who know everything." It's interesting that he said, "Seek (an action undertaken ONLY by those who understand they don't know everything) and ye shall find." It's interesting that Moroni didn't say, "He will manifest it unto you . . . Ye may know all things." Rather, he said, "He will manifest THE TRUTH OF IT unto you . . . Ye many know THE TRUTH OF all things."

In focusing on faith, I am not dismissing knowledge, but I am saying that knowledge is only the eternal end goal for me. For me, in the here and now, it's much more the journey - the pursuit - the seeking than it is a final, completed acquisition in mortality.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Short Post about Depression and Robin Williams' Death

I've been thinking about how to write about my feelings regarding Robin Williams' death. 

First, I loathe it when stats concerning the legal use of anti-depressants are used as criticism of any kind.  I am so glad such use is becoming more acceptable, and criticism of any kind only furthers the stigmatization of depression and discourages people from getting the help they need. 

Second, I love so much of Robin Williams' work, but my favorite scene of any of his movies was near the end of "What Dreams May Come" - when he apologizes to his wife for leaving her when she was institutionalized and promises not to leave her again, even if that means he will spend eternity in Hell with her. It hit me hard, because that's how I feel about my wife: I would rather live with her in Hell than be alone in Heaven. Life would be too dark without her, even in Heaven.

The world just got a little darker, but Heaven just got a little lighter. May we each, in our own way, make Earth a little lighter – and may we NEVER add to the darkness of those who fight the dragon of depression. 

Development of the Intellect IS a Part of the Gospel of Christ

The scientific spirit acknowledges without reserve the laws of God, but discriminates between such and the rules made by man. It abhors bigotry, denounces the extravagances of the blind zealot, religious or otherwise, and seeks to perfect the faith of its possessor as a purified, sanctified power, pleasing alike mind and heart, reason and soul. In the charges that have been preferred by the theologians against science, and the counter accusations by the scientists against theology, it is evident that in each case the accuser is not fully informed as to what he is attacking. Irrational zeal is not to be commended; and the substitution of theory for fact, though often declared to be the prevailing weakness of the scientist, is wholly unscientific.

But it is easy to denounce; so to do is a favorite pastime of ignorance. That scientific theories have been and are being discarded as unworthy because untrue is well known; but no one is more ready to so renounce than the scientist himself. To him a theory is but a scaffolding whereon he stands while placing the facts which are his building blocks; and from these he rears the tower from which a wider horizon of truth is opened to his eye. When the structure is made, the scaffold,- unsightly, shaky, and unsafe, as it is likely to be, is removed. Tis not always possible to judge of the building from the rough poles and planks which serve the temporary purpose of him who builds. Yet how often may we hear from our pulpits, usually however when they are occupied by the little-great men, scathing denunciations of science, which is represented as a bundle of vagaries, and of scientific men, who are but Will-o-the-wisps enticing the traveler into quagmires of spiritual ruin. Would it not be better for those who so inveigh to acquaint themselves with at least the first principles of the doctrines of science? So general has this practice become amongst us, that the most inexperienced speaker feels justified in thus indulging himself, and in the minds of many the conclusion is reached, none the less pernicious in its present effects because unfounded, that the higher development of the intellect is not a part of the Gospel of Christ.

James E. Talmage ("The Methods and Motives of Science") This address was delivered in the Logan Temple about 12 years before he became an apostle.  It also was published in The Improvement Era 1900, Volume 3.