Thursday, July 31, 2008
I have a feeling that Heaven would be Hell for him if she isn't there with him, since I know it would be Hell for me without Mama.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I have no right nor responsibility to “forgive” someone who has not hurt me. If my brother or sister chooses a life that is different than mine, s/he has not hurt me in any way that is direct and measurable. S/he might offend my sensibilities, but Elder Bednar pretty much destroyed that as an excuse for feeling like I need to forgive him/her.
Since we believe all of us are brothers and sisters in a very real way, where is the need for human "forgiveness" of others whose actions or beliefs naturally would offend us? My stake is full (word chosen intentionally) of sinners who attend church regularly - and I feel no need to “forgive” them for their sins or have them forgive me for mine. I’ll leave that issue in God’s hands - even though I accept the “sinner” label for them and me.
In summary, the many “sins” that are obvious to us are no different in my mind than the sins that so easily beset me and of which I can’t seem to repent fully. If the Lord will grant me mercy in my inability to let go completely of my own pet sins, why should I not grant that same mercy to others whose sins simply are different than mine? I think if we really understood how little we deserve what we receive as we fail to live up to God's ideal, we would be more likely to cut others slack whose lives don't conform to our own perfect ideal.
Monday, July 28, 2008
It's much easier to say we love people whose actions we reject than to show true love for them. Overall, I think the histories of mankind, Christianity and Mormonism all show our difficulty living what we teach as the ideal in that regard.
In "A Time to Kill", the White lawyer tells the Black man he is defending that they are friends. The Black man's response is, essentially, "We're not friends. You've never been to my house. Your daughter doesn't play with mine. You might see me as equal under the law, but you don't treat me as equal outside this courthouse." (OK, the last sentence is my own addition.)
In summary, it's hard to claim love for someone whom you never serve - whose house you never visit and whose children (or friends) don't play / associate with your children (or friends). With respect to this thread, I think it's hard to say you "hate the sin, but love the sinner" if you don't embrace and spend time with the sinner. In my mind, that's a fairly bright line.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
The Bible and Book of Mormon give the way to know the truth of all things - through the gift of the Comforter (the Holy Ghost - the 3rd member of the Godhead - He who was given to us in the Savior’s absence to be our link to Him and His Father). He will reveal the truth of all things to us and give us comfort and peace in this life until we are able to return to the presence of the Lord, fall at His feet and praise Him for His tender mercy that allows us to come nigh unto the throne of God. I rely on Him as I read and ponder and pray, since that is what my Lord and Savior graciously commanded me to do - and since that is the way that He has promised me peace.
I have been asked why I believe what I believe. It is because I have studied just about every religious teaching available and what I have come to accept is what I believe the Holy Ghost has confirmed to my heart as the source of ultimate joy, peace, love and unity with God, my Father, and His Son, Jesus, the Christ. It’s what I feel to the depths of my soul, and it has brought insight and understanding and assurance and miraculous inspiration and joy and peace that I cannot begin to describe adequately here.
I literally have seen the physical elements abated; I have participated in healing the sick and binding up the broken heart; I have seen the wonderful fruit of sweet repentance; I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love; I have experienced a mighty change of heart and a desire to praise my God for His loving grace; I have seen lives change and souls shine forth out of previous darkness - all because of the atoning sacrifice of a God who condescended to give His life for those who accept Him.
Intellectual discussions are important to me, but it is far more important to me to continue the actual ministerial work that I do each day - strengthening the feeble knee and raising the failing spirit and visiting the sick and lonely and widowed in their affliction. I love God and try my hardest to love Him and my neighbor as He has asked me to do. My intellectual understanding of Him is important to me, but my spiritual relationship with Him is much, much more important - and my faith has brought that relationship. What’s in my head has changed, is changing and will change as I strive to study and learn; the peace that is in my heart never will.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
It is enough for me to try and understand the paradoxes of this present life - and the progress I hope to make in it. The future worlds are beyond my comprehension, except in the most general way, so I spend very little time worrying about them.
Of course, my vision of the eternities fuels my faith, but the vast majority of my energy is spent working on the here and now. I believe God will take care of the there and then.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
When I discuss "the Gospel" I always go back to my parsing tendency. The "gospel" is the "good news". It is NOT the "beat one over the head like a hellfire and damnation preacher" news. (There are those who need that type of preaching, and I have delivered that type of sermon at least once, but it is not best for everyone.) It is the "Exercise faith; Repent continually; Be baptized; Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost; repeat ad infinitum as you endure to the end; praise Heavenly Father and Jesus that you will be redeemed despite your inability to live to a standard of perfection that otherwise would damn all to an everlasting separation from God" news. It is the "Do all you can do, and I will make up the difference" news.
In saying this, I am not in the mercy-glorying, cop-out-claiming, all-is-well-in-Zion camp. I just choose to focus on the fact that I can muddle my way through life doing the best I know how to do, struggling to change my imperfect self, without overwhelming guilt and shame - because someone bought me and paid for me and is willing to take me home.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
As I said in a previous post, it fascinates me that the title "The Prince of Peace" comes at the end of a list that appears to be written in ascending order of importance. Why is this?
"Peace" equals a lack of conflict, contention, struggle, strife, etc. Spiritual peace, therefore, is a condition - a calmness and stillness that can be shared with others and change their very existence. Being totally peaceful means acting always in harmony with how one should act - never being in conflict with the standards of what one should be. With this definition, one can be spiritually peaceful even while engaged in a battle - or clearing a temple with a whip - etc. It's a fine line - and it is dependent entirely on being in touch with the Holy Ghost. Being "at peace" is analogous to being "right with God" - of having all impediments to perfection removed and being able to access God's full grace with nothing standing in the way.
"The Prince of Peace" is a perfect description of the one who brings people into a unity with God that is known as "The Atonement" - the making of two otherwise incompatible entities one perfectly united whole. It is not "The mighty God" or even "The everlasting Father" who makes this incomprehensible result a reality; rather, it is "The Prince of Peace".
Friday, July 18, 2008
As I read the scriptures, it appears to me that Christ didn't accept His part of the Atonement because He wanted to get glory; He left the issue of reward in the hands of His father - no strings attached. He did it because He loved us - pure and simple. He showed that love by laying down His own life for us - by becoming a "minister" and a "preacher". He didn't do it for a personal reward; He did it for our reward.Frankly, I don't think we will gain an eternal reward by trying to earn an eternal reward. I think we will receive an eternal reward when we quit trying to earn it and focus instead on helping others in whatever way we can - when we end up forgetting about being rewarded and simply love and serve and obey for the sheer joy of doing so and seeing the results in the lives of others. We won't be "given" anything; rather, we will be changed into a condition acceptable to Him. In other words, we will become something.
I think we will not be complete and whole until we can act for our Savior in the "at-one-ment" of others (individually and as a community) - in the process of relieving their suffering, taking their pain and misery from them, bringing them joy and comfort, caring for them in a real and powerful and practical way, and empowering them to do so for others (individually and as a community).
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Our goal is to become Christ-like - or to become perfect (complete and whole) as He and Heavenly Father are. I read the Gospels and the BofM, and I don't get much "theologizing" from Him; I get examples of service and love - interspersed with challenges to love and serve. ("Come unto me," "Inasmuch as ye have," "As I have loved you," "Mourn with those who mourn," "Comfort those," "Do unto others," etc.)
When we are baptized we promise to take His name upon us and always remember Him. In essence, we promise to be Christ to those around us - to do for them in this realm what He would do for them if He were still here - to do for them physically and emotionally here what he does for them spiritually and emotionally in prayer. I find it instructive that we never covenant to preach to each other in any of the saving ordinances; each and every one of them focuses on what we promise to DO - what we commit to become.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I have considered her advice and decided to craft a bit of a compromise. I don't have time each day to try to think of unique things to post daily, so, at the risk of being narcissistic, I have decided to post something each day or two that I have written as a comment elsewhere and open it up for comment here. Then, each weekend, I will add the type of longer "essay" I have been writing regularly. The first shorter post will appear tomorrow.
I have no grandiose vision of having hundreds (or even dozens) of readers for this blog, since I am not prone to do what it takes to publicize it widely, but I hope this is an inspired decision -that it will help someone, somehow.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
1) Internal (within one's self)
As I mentioned in the last post, while the storm raged across the waters and the disciples feared for their lives, Jesus slept. This physical condition can be seen in cases where someone simply is exhausted, so this event might be explained in those terms by an unbeliever, but this does not explain His reaction when He was awakened. That reaction was measured and controlled - not frantic or worried. He simply stood up and commanded, "Peace, be still."
This command illustrates an important point. There is a difference between being at peace and not moving. Jesus commanded both with His words, "Peace, be still."
2) Interpersonal (shared with others)
I have not addressed this aspect of the event in previous posts, but I see the command quoted above as two separate commands - as illustrated in the last section. The first is the command to be at peace; the second is to be still. I believe this statement not only was two commands, but I believe each command was directed at a different target.
Winds cannot feel; they do not experience emotion or the state of internal balance or equilibrium we call "peace". Only conscious, aware, living entities can experience this condition. Therefore, I believe the command, "Peace," was directed at the disciples. It was His way of saying in a hectic moment of fear and great anxiety, "It will be fine. Calm down. You can be at peace." In other words, He was sharing His internal peace with others. If you have ever held a crying child (or even an adult) as she wailed uncontrollably, whispering or cooing or simply holding her, then watched as she finally calmed down (and perhaps fell asleep), you have shared peace in this way.
There are some people who simply exude peace and calm - who radiate peace and serenity and spread peace almost naturally when they enter a room. That comes more naturally to them, but it is a characteristic that can and should be developed by all who strive to be disciples of the Prince of Peace.
3) External (not internal within humanity)
External peace is exemplified by the calming of the winds - the imposition of a command on forces outside of normal human control. Jesus commanded the wind to "be still" - which simply means to stop moving. This is something that I believe is only available to God and those with whom He shares His power. The classic example is ordination to the Priesthood and the power that such ordination entails that includes the right to command the elements, but (to some degree) such power also is accessible to all who take upon themselves His name and act within that designation - who legitimately can "be called the children of God".
One lesson that is overlooked in how Jesus calmed the storm is a simple yet profound one:
Jesus acted because His disciples approached Him in the midst of their storm. They appealed to Him when they said, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" His answer to that question was, in essence, "Yes, I care. See how much I care." It was to give them peace and calm their storm.
Although many storms are allowed to rage on as we gain peace and strength to endure them well, prayer (approaching God and asking for reassurance of His concern for us) can calm some storms in our lives - and help us understand that we truly can be called the children of God.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
In trying to understand more deeply what it means to be a peacemaker, I was struck by the way that the following account is worded:
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
As I thought about this passage, two things jumped out at me:
1) Jesus' state prior to calming the storm;
2) The actual words used to describe the command and its effect.
Prior to this month, I have never considered something quite simple about this account. When the storm first raged, and the disciples were fearful of their safety and their very lives, Jesus was asleep. That is worth considering more deeply:
Jesus was asleep - personally at peace - as the storm raged around him and terrified those who were with him. I will return to that point at the end of this post.
"Peace, be still."
Jesus' "command", when read strictly in isolation from the actual context, doesn't sound like much of a "command". Like, "Let there be light," it is a rather benign sounding statement. However, in the Japanese translation of Genesis 1:3, the feeling is very different. "Hikari ga are" (pronounced "heekahree gah ahre") literally translates as the strictest of commands - roughly equivalent in English to "There WILL be light (because I WILL be obeyed)." With this same perspective, I can picture Jesus standing in the boat saying either of the following:
1) In a soft, gentle, soothing voice - "Peace, be still."
2) In a stern, commanding, authoritative voice, perhaps with outstretched hand - "There WILL be peace. BE STILL."
I lean toward the second picture (the command), primarily due to the statement in verse 39 that Jesus "rebuked" the wind. "Rebuke" means "sharp, stern disapproval; reproof; reprimand." Either way, the description of the result is enlightening.
Verse 39 says, "the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." In this statement, there is a distinction made between two separate effects:
1) The wind ceased;
2) There was a great calm.
As I read this passage, I conclude that there are two aspects of becoming a peacemaker in its fullest sense.
First, a peacemaker takes an active role in stopping contention or any manifestation of "storms" that threaten safety - or, in a very real sense, others' spiritual lives. Remember, this storm wasn't just a matter of danger in the distance; it was causing the water to fill the boat. In other words, the threat - the danger - was very real and imminent. This is a protective action - rebuking the winds that blow - making those winds cease, even if it takes "sharp, stern disapproval; reproof; reprimand." It is critical that a peacemaker understands meekness and mercy, as this understanding is vital to recognizing when rebuke truly is necessary - rather than simply "natural" or convenient or easy. It also is critical that she show "an increase of love . . ., lest he esteem thee to be his enemy." (D&C 121:43) She creates by her actions "stillness" - a condition where it is possible to "know that I am God". (Psalms 46:10)
Second, a peacemaker ensures that this "stillness" is experienced - is felt - as a "great calm". When true peace has been created, it is accompanied by a calmness that can be distinguished from the simple quietude that we generally associate with stillness. Jesus' rebuke of the storm did more than just establish stillness as silence; it left the disciples feeling calm. Silence is the lack of noise; it is merely a passive condition defined as a void. Silence is understood by what it is not - sound.
Calmness, on the other hand, is defined by what it is - an actual feeling - an emotion - something that fills one's soul rather than simply the absence of something else. Again, calmness is something in and of itself - an empowering gift that allows someone to remain unaffected by the storm even as it rages and even more so when it ceases. This allows one to feel "calm" even amid turmoil, and it provides "great calm" when turmoil stops.
I return now to Jesus sleeping as the storm raged around him - at peace and calm as others panicked. He possessed an internal peace, but it was his rebuking of the wind (and the subsequent removal of others' fright and replacement with stillness and calm that extended his own peace to them) that made Him (in this case) a peacemaker.
It is that condition about which I intend to write next - not what it means to be a peacemaker, but rather how one becomes a peacemaker.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I have been struck for a long time by the different ways that people interpret and speak of praise, honor and glory - particularly how they use these terms to describe our relationship with God. Each has a distinct meaning, separate from the others, but they get conflated and used interchangeably all the time. First, consider the following foundational facts:
1) The word “praise” occurs in our scriptures 188 times. (Interestingly, this word appears in the D&C only three times, in the BofM less than 20 times, and in Psalms nearly half of the other times.) In every instance, it means nothing more than its standard dictionary definition: (n) - “expression of approval or admiration; commendation; laudation.” (v) - “to express approval or admiration of; commend; extol.”
2) “Honor” (”honour” in the Bible) is found 123 times - with 105 of those times being in the Bible and the other 18 times split almost evenly between the D&C and the BofM. The dictionary definitions all focus on “respect” - but the scriptural references add an element of obedience to those verses that deal with honoring God. They carry the distinct implication that those who “respect” God will submit to what he asks of them. (Much like John 14:15 - “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”) There is another fascinating implication - that of “honoring” God by “bringing honor to” Him.
3) “Glory” is far more common, as it is found 352 times throughout our canon, with “glorify” occurring 27 more times. Imo, the most interesting thing about these words is that “glorify” is used EXCLUSIVELY in reference to God and His name, but “glory” is used to describe many things - God, man, and the creations of both.
In the dictionary, “glory” is defined as: “resplendent beauty or magnificence; a state of great splendor, magnificence, or prosperity; a state of absolute happiness, gratification, contentment.” “Glorify”, on the other hand, is defined as: “to elevate or idealize; to cause to be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” The first is understood to be a positive thing, while the second is seen as a negative thing.
Why do I go through this exercise in this way? Simply to illustrate the unique place these words hold within Mormonism - distinctly different than within most, if not all, other religious traditions and the dictionary itself. Mormonism has added something fundamental to the religious lexicon by claiming a distinctly different aspect to glorifying - and it is not a trivial addition.
When praise, honor and glory are used within orthodox Christianity, they are used to mean simply what the dictionary itself states - namely, the utmost admiration, respect, splendor and magnificence. “Giving glory to God” generally can be summarized as expressing thanks to Him and recognizing that He is so far beyond us that it is impossible to make Him “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” Therefore, we “glorify God” by “elevating or idealizing” Him, but we are not to “glorify” others (including ourselves) by making us “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.”
This is the heart of the charge of blasphemy leveled against Mormonism - that in its presentation of the doctrine of exaltation and Celestial Glory, it elevates and idealizes humanity beyond what is actually the case to a state that should be reserved only for God. Since God alone is elevated above us, anything that appears to place us as equals is considered heretical - an act of “glorifying” man and not just God, as they believe the Bible so clearly states should be.
How do Mormons reconcile this dilemma? Ironically, by keeping the basic definition of praise and honor in place but changing radically the overarching (or underpinning, whichever seems more apt) principle of glory to fit more closely the differing degrees or applications in our canon - specifically the Bible.
Mormonism takes the basic concept of “glory” being applied to God and all His creation and focuses on the concept of growing through glories taught most directly in a few NT passages:
1) 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
2) 1 Cor. 15:40-41 says, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
3) John 17 contains some fascinating verses, including the following:
a) verse 4: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
b) verses 10-11: “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
4) Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (This verse is the foundation of a number of previous posts.)
By citing these verses and many others like them, Mormonism places “glorifying God” in a different light. It posits that “this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) - in practical terms, defining the process of glorification as the accomplishment of Matthew 5:48 and John 17:11, among many others. Within all of Christianity (including Mormonism), praising, honoring and glorifying God are used to elevate and separate Him from us, but within Mormonism, His praise and honor and glory is defined as flowing from His grace and mercy in changing us to become like Him and His Son - in truly making us “perfect, even as (He) is perfect” and “one, as (He and His Son) are one”.
What separates Mormonism at the most fundamental level from the rest of Christianity is that we take these and other similar scriptures literally - and that literalness changes the very core of our view of God’s glory. We don’t praise and honor His glory; we praise and honor Him by realizing that we are His glory, unworthy though we are and everlastingly “below Him” though we also ever will be. We give glory to God, our Eternal Father, in the same way that my children give glory to me - by becoming what I hope and pray they become, NOT by telling me how wonderful I am.
I believe the following is a false dichotomy, but if I had to choose between my children praising, honoring or glorifying me (as I believe each is defined and laid out in our scriptures), I would choose glorifying every time. I can live happily without verbal expressions of praise and honor (”admiration and respect”); frankly, I don’t really care what is said nearly as much as what is done. What I really care about is what my children become - that they maximize their glory (”beauty, magnificence, splendor, [spiritual] prosperity, absolute happiness, gratification, contentment.”) If that happens, I truly will be glorified myself; if not, no praise or honor will make up for it - and my Mormon self simply can’t picture God being any different.
At its heart, that is what I believe it means to be called the children of God - and the next few posts will address who being a peacemaker leads to this wonderful designation.
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." I will focus on the first part (the characteristic) in this post and the second part (the reward) in another one.
It is interesting as I begin to focus on this attribute of perfection to point out that the term "peacemaker" is found only twice in our entire scriptural canon - in the two "Sermons on the Mount" we have recorded in Matthew and 3 Nephi. There are 366 instances of "peace", and some of the more instructive ones for this particular resolution include:
Isaiah 9:6 - "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
(It is fascinating that this name - "Prince of Peace" - is the last title listed in a group of names that appears to be in ascending order of importance. Again, I find that fascinating, and I will have to think about that some more.)
Mark 4:39 - "And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."
I really like the way that peace in this verse is followed by a command to be "still" - and that the result is described as "a great calm".
Revelations 12:18 - "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
This verse is intriguing, because it appears to grant that there are some situations where it is not possible to live peaceably with others, but that we should strive to do so "as much as lieth in (us)".
As I begin this month's focus, I immediately think of two places where I need to work on becoming more of a peacemaker: at home, with my wife and children, and on the blogs I frequent. I also am struck by something as I think of this attribute in relation to those that come before it in the Beatitudes. It is worth considering.
To be a peacemaker requires me to step outside of my own life, if you will, and insert myself between others. Of course, part of "making peace" is establishing peace within one's own soul (reaching an internal stillness and a calmness), but to become a "perfect" peacemaker ("complete, whole, fully developed") requires me to step out of myself and mediate peace among and between the non-peaceful. It requires me to step out of a comfort zone and risk rejection by those whom I am trying to help. It means pointing out instances of arguing and fighting and bickering - and the natural man is not prone to enjoy that type of effort, even when done in meekness and mercy.
This means it will be CRITICAL in any effort to be a peacemaker for me to have internalized my earlier efforts to be more meek and more merciful, and it highlights the fact that the Beatitudes were structured on a progressively ascending scale - that one really does lead to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to perfection (completeness, wholeness, full development).