Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection

OK, the title is intentionally over-the-top alliteration, but it accurately reflects one of the biggest problems of the apostasy - and, I believe, one of the greatest obstacles in understanding the heart of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The great commandment "in the law" is, in summary, "Love God and everyone else." However, the great culmination of Christ's penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law - and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which art in Heaven is perfect."

Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic meaning ("never make a mistake/commit a sin") and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion - something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. ("Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn't really matter in the long run.") While this sounds fine - and even laudable - to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes "atonement" possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection.

The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction - one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word "perfect", defines it from the Greek thus: "complete, finished, fully developed." This means that the verse can be read as follows:

"Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which art in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed." What an amazing difference!

I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don't want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached - and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many - especially women - guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).

If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your "incomplete, unfinished, partially developed" state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise - saying it can be done - and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.

That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas Wish

My highest wish for all of my kids (including those who were born outside our biological family) is that they remember who they are collectively and learn who they are individually - that they think for themselves - that they be happy with who they are but be willing to let go of who they don't want to be (even if they never accomplish that fully in this life) - that they come to know their Father and His Son - that they come to understand "the grace that so fully He proffers" them - that they see repentance not as a burden of guilt but rather as an exciting process of growth and completion and discovery - that they become truly peculiar treasures, together and alone - that they find that certain someone without whom they will never be perfect (complete and whole) - and that, with that certain someone, they carve out lives that will satisfy and challenge and reward and fulfill and complete.

My wish is that this madhouse we call Hotel DeGraw will be able to accommodate boarders eternally, even if in both the here and now and the hereafter that simply means a moment here and there as we watch our children establish homes (and perhaps hotels) of their own. If I see this wish fulfilled, I will live and die and live again happily - even if nothing else I desire comes to pass. If they can be as happy as I am, living as half of an eternal whole, I will praise God eternally for the love He has allowed me to experience and the joy He has given me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Remember" as a Missionary Principle

As I've said previously, my mind wanders to and fro trying to understand everything a little better as I go about my daily life. What grounds me, however, are my experiences - things that are so vivid and unexplainable that I simply can't let my mind move me away from them. When you have experienced the truly miraculous, everything else is secondary.

For example, I would assert that the core of this experiential conviction is summarized perfectly in the foundational missionary verse we too often overlook while quoting those that follow. We speak constantly of the "challenge" written in Moroni 10:4-5 (read here), but when I attended Seminary so long ago, the verses we memorized included Moroni 10:3 (read here). In that verse, we are told to "remember" *before* we ponder and pray. We aren't told to read, ponder and pray; we are told to read, *remember*, ponder and pray - and we are told explicitly to remember how merciful the Lord has been throughout history. In effect, we are told to "experience" vicariously His grace and mercy toward others - that He has spoken to people for thousands of years - and use their experiences to help us come to believe that we can have a similar experience. Their experiences serve as the foundation for our faith in the possibility of our own.

I think we do a terrible disservice to our religion and its missionary effort when we preach "read, ponder and pray" apart from our collective, experiential memory - when we make gaining a testimony an intellectual, or even strictly prayerful, process void of contemplation and reflection on previous experience (both our own and others'). So, the next time you are sharing a "missionary moment" with someone, please remember to help them "remember" by sharing how merciful the Lord has been to you and others before you ask them to read, ponder and pray - or even attend Church with you. Testify of His grace and mercy first; of the things that He has taught you second; of the fact that He can do the same for them last. Too often we short-circuit that process and deprive both ourselves and others of an amazing experience.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

The following are ALL the verses of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" - followed by the context of why they were written. I will never look at this song the same way again.


Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”


Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864: One year after his son was severely wounded in battle; three years after his wife burned to death in an accident.


This information was posted on Times & Seasons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I Can Trust My Feelings

*****WARNING: This is long.*****

I posted the following as three separate comments on a blog hosted by a member who was an evangelical, anti-Mormon prior to her conversion. One evangelical commenter had asked how we can trust our feelings (especially since he is convinced Mormons have been predestined for damnation).

Here are my responses:

How do you differentiate among emotions (that can be manipulated), spiritual experiences that are NOT from God and interaction with the Holy Ghost? That is one of the greatest dilemmas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and not understanding it has led to some truly abominable creeds. Adding to the difficulty is that the Bible clearly teaches that signs will follow those who believe (including miraculous manifestations), but it also teaches that not all signs and “miracles” come from God.

From everything I have been able to discover in scripture, and from what my heart tells me, there are a few ways I use to tell the difference.

1) Does it help someone else in a very direct, non-self-serving way, or it is essentially nothing more than “a sign” - an attempt to “prove” something?

2) Does it focus on a gift of the Spirit mentioned in scripture, or does it focus on “the spiritual” (palm reading, contacting the dead, communicating with spirits, etc.)?

3) Does it result sometimes in unwanted outcomes (”God’s will, even when it isn’t our will”), or does it always result in what is wanted?

4) Most importantly, does it prompt me to do good, or does it prompt me not to do good?

The problem is that there are exceptions recorded throughout scripture when the Lord has used spiritual experiences for different purposes. Generally, these exceptions have been for prophets in huge, vitally important communal crises (e.g., calling down fire from heaven), but there are enough instances where it becomes almost impossible to tell objectively based on some kind of predetermined matrix.

All I know in the end is that there are very real instances of being able to tap into a very real power, and all I can rely on is what I believe God has given me - a discerning heart.


The BIBLE gives 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.

You ask, at least implicitly, Colin, 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 my 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 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.

These 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 more important - and my faith has brought that relationship. What’s in my head can change as I strive to study and learn; what’s in my heart never will.


I had a bit of an epiphany tonight as I was in the middle of a normal, mundane activity - as often is the case. It hit me completely out of the blue - as often is the case. I’m not sure you will understand fully, but I share it in the hopes that it will explain a bit better why it is hard for me to describe how I am confident in my spiritual impressions.

A common phrase in Protestantism that is unfamiliar to most Mormons is “in-dwelling” - but the concept is central to our faith. Since we never use the phrase, it sounds odd or strange, but it really is an integral part of our doctrine and ordinances.

In Acts 8 there is an account of people who were baptized but had not received the Holy Ghost. Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem, and they gave these people the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying their hands on them. (vs. 16-17, particularly) Simon saw that the Holy Ghost was given through the laying on of hands and tried to buy that authority.

When hands are laid on our own heads after baptism, we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost” - that He may be with us always. My epiphany was that the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost that we experience after baptism is our symbolic version of the “in-dwelling” of which Washer speaks in his video. He speaks of letting God into my heart so that it may be regenerated; we speak of opening a broken heart to the gift of the Holy Ghost so that He may enter it and be our constant companion, making us a new creature in Christ. In this way, we may be born again of water *and* the Spirit.

You asked how I can recognize which of my feelings are of God and which are not. I gave a bit of an intellectual answer about my thoughts and impressions, but I failed to answer your actual question about my *feelings*. For that, I apologize.

I truly believe that I have the companionship of the Holy Ghost in my life. I believe it influences and alters the very way I think and feel. Over the years, since I received that companionship, I have come to recognize how I feel when I am being guided by His light. I feel differently than I do about other things. Some speak of a unique burning sensation (from the baptism of fire), but I rarely feel that burning. For me, occasionally I sense words, but usually there is a certain, unique quality of peace that floods my heart and quickens my mind. I can’t explain it very well, but I recognize it when I feel it. When I wander from the narrow path my ability to feel that type of feeling decreases - and it is just that withdrawal of the Spirit that usually prods me back to the path.

Finally, because I have received this gift, I try hard to follow any feeling or thought that crosses my mind or my heart - as long as it obviously is not a “natural (fallen) man” inclination. I have come to trust that the gift of the Holy Ghost acting within me can prompt me to know and say and do things that I wouldn’t be able to know and say and do otherwise - and that sometimes it would be easy to dismiss or ignore them - or to take credit for them as “good ideas”. I have learned by the working of the Spirit within me to give the glory and credit to God for even those things that appear on the surface to be my own.

In short, I trust my feelings because I truly believe that God has planted His Comforter in my heart - and that I can trust the fruits of that planting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

God Bless the Izas of This World

Sometimes you read something that makes you re-evaluate your assumptions about a particular scriptural account - that slaps you in the face and forces you to re-think the stereotypes you hold without thinking - that makes you LITERALLY cry and rejoice simultaneously. The following link did that for me tonight. Please read it - then tell everyone you know to read it.

We sit in relative comfort, and it is easy to forget or not even recognize the true power of the Gospel and Grace of God. I hope I NEVER forget this story and that, somehow, I can bless the lives of the Izas all around me - even if their individual trials are not the exact same.

Click on this link to read about Iza

Thursday, December 13, 2007

From the Mouths of Babes

I know a man who is a Bishop. The following is from him:

The most moving moment in a tithing settlement came last year when I asked the children in a family why the Lord asks us to pay tithing. Their response was typical - so that missionary work could be done, so chapels and temples could be built. I then asked, "Why doesn’t the Lord simply tell Pres. Hinckley where all the gold in the world is? Then we could use that to build the temples and do missionary work." One of the young men in the family, an eight-year old, put his hands on his hips, looked at me like "Bishop, you should know better," and said, "Bishop, the reason Heavenly Father asks us to pay tithing is that He is trying to turn us into gold."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Those of us whose mortal tears are slight"

Here is one more link - to an incredibly profound and searing post about the meaning of the birth of Jesus. If you read nothing else this holiday season, I hope you read this. (The title of this post is taken from comment #3 - as eloquent a comment as I have ever read about perspective, compassion, service and the underpinnings of truly a Christian view.)

Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus link

True Examples of Faith: Let Us Not Be Complacent

The following link is to a post by someone I admire greatly. I am less concerned with the final paragraph and the comments about it, as I am deeply touched and inspired by the examples described throughout the post. Sometimes, we take SO much for granted that it is easy to become complacent.

Watching Conference link

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Disclosure - Should I or Shouldn't I?

Sorry; nothing provocative here. Just a general observation about what we share and don't share with others.

I want people to get their first impressions of me based on what I say and do - not what they assume about me because of my religious or educational bio. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “No way! You can’t be ______________ ." (Mormon, a Harvard grad, a salesman, a socially liberal Republican, the father of six, etc.) If these specific people had known that particular thing about me, they would have jumped to conclusions that would have changed the way they interpreted what I was saying.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel compelled to do some “calling dropping” when I am about to explain a doctrinal or social perspective to a politically conservative member or Church audience - for the exact same reason. For example, I don’t want to be dismissed out of hand as “faithless” just because I don’t believe the Priesthood ban was God’s will. In that case, unfortunately, disclosing my current calling or some of my past callings helps the hearer grant me a degree of legitimacy that they might not grant otherwise. It’s sad, and I wish it weren't so, but it’s real.

In each case, ironically, I am using my own assumptions in order to attempt to avoid confusion or incorrect assumption by someone else.

As a young man, I heard and internalized the statement, “It is more important to not be misunderstood by anyone than it is to be understood by everyone,” and I disclose or don’t disclose based primarily on that standard. That's also why I tend to be overly long-winded - which, again ironically, often ends up causing me to write complex, multi-faceted sentences that make it more difficult for readers to remember the point I was making at the beginning of the sentence - or the post.

See? :-)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lessons of the Spirit

There was a lady in Sapporo (Japan) who had been meeting with the missionaries for almost two years, while simultaneously attending another church and listening to their lessons. By the time my companion and I started teaching her, just about everyone thought it was hopeless. We would teach her something; she would attend the other church and meet with the other missionaries; we would meet again and do nothing the first hour but go through the scriptures answering the questions they had given her, then have a few minutes left to teach the Gospel; the cycle would repeat over and over again. Each time, we asked her to pray about it, but they kept telling her she couldn’t trust what she might feel - that she could trust only what her mind would tell her, while they kept her mind confused and in turmoil. It was frustrating to see how miserable they made her, and we often wondered if we should move on to someone else - but each time we prayed about it we felt good about continuing to teach her.

My companion had been out only a month, and his Japanese was . . . really, really bad - to be charitable. One day, as we rode our bikes to her apartment, he asked if we just could read from the scriptures with her - not answer any questions or teach anything new, but just read. He said he had felt impressed to do so, and it felt good, so I agreed.

We started in the Bible and ended up in the Book of Mormon reading 2 Nephi 31. After we had alternated verses with her throughout that chapter, she asked us to stop while she read it again (the entire chapter) silently to herself. When she finished, my companion asked me to translate for him as he simply said, “Sister S, would you like to be baptized?” As soon as I had finished translating for him, she burst into tears - and the Spirit was as tangible as I have ever felt in my life. (Given some of the miraculous things I have witnessed, that is saying something.) When she was able to speak, she said something like, “Now I know what the love of God feels like.”

She was a sweet, honest woman, so she told the other church members of her decision. They immediately sent eight members over to her house, forced their way through her door and spent eight hours belittling us and the Church and her witness - refusing to leave as she begged them to stop. When they finally left, she booked a flight to Tokyo for the next morning in order to escape what she knew was coming the next day. She returned two weeks later with the following story:

She had called her aunt and uncle, who were like second parents to her - and whose judgment she respected more than anyone else she knew. She didn’t know how to break the news of her testimony to such devout Buddhists, so she didn’t say anything - until they cautiously told her Sunday morning that they were going to church later that day at the Mormon Church where they had been baptized two months previously - and that she didn’t have to go with them since they didn’t think she would understand their decision. When she told them of her experience, they burst into tears - amazed at what had happened.

Obviously, as soon as she returned to Hokkaido, she was baptized.

That experience taught me so forcefully that it isn’t the missionaries who convert. Of course, we need to know the Gospel as well as we can, but Sister S wasn’t converted because we had been able to answer her questions and “convince” her we were right. We HAD been able to answer her questions through the scriptures, but it hadn’t converted her. That came through a simple meeting where we read scriptures with her, something touched her heart, and a humble, sincere missionary who couldn’t teach the Gospel in Japanese well enough to convince a three-year-old asked her if she wanted to be baptized. He didn’t “challenge” her; he simply asked if that is what she wanted. It literally changed my perspective of missionary work - ironically, by humbling me to be able to accept what my parents and leaders had told me all my life.

I am SO grateful that I was called to serve in a foreign speaking mission, because I’m not sure I could have learned that life-altering lesson teaching in a language where I would have been tempted to impress investigators with my vocabulary and what I thought at the time was a solid understanding of the Gospel. If that had been my only memorable experience during my entire mission, it would have been worth it.