Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Luke 22:20 repentance, forgiveness, sacrament, reconciliation, friendship, atonement

I was thinking today about the process of repentance, which generally consists of coming to understand that there's a better way and learning to love that better way and wanting to live that better way, and loving the author of that better way.  And I was thinking about how discouraging it can feel when you are at the point where you understand the better way and appreciate that better way and are struggling through the process of coming to want to live it more than you want to give in to the allure of the alternative, which also has its attractions.

There's that long part of struggle as your better self seeks to override your indulgent self.  The battle swings back and forth and you are unhappy with your setbacks that inevitably come as that struggle continues. It's easy at that point to feel like a hypocrite approaching God, knowing what you know about your heart's struggles between the earthly and the heavenly.  And it's tempting to fear approaching Him honestly about your mistakes.  I find that at such times I unrealistically hope in my heart of hearts that He has been too busy to notice them, and my  disgust with how long the battle's been going on inclines me to feel like He must be disgusted too.

But the news of the gospel is that God is totally approachable and that admission of failure by a child who honestly wishes she had done better and is willing to keep trying to do so, is welcomed with love.

"This cup is the new covenant made at the price of my blood, which is shed for you."

A covenant is a sacred promise between God and me.  He never breaks his promises.  I, being human, in spite of my efforts, break that new covenant that I made at baptism, consistently, with sin.  And usually it's with a sin that I've committed many times before, in spite of my desires to abandon it.

In Old Testament times the sacrificial traditions were meant to mend that break between God and his children, offering sacrifices to atone for the sins of those offerers, making them feel worthy again to approach God and be welcomed.   God was to be revered, honored and feared, and reviewing one's status with God in the times between sacrifices when the sins would accumulate before expiation had been given was sobering to a God-fearing individual. .

But Jesus' sacrifice was one, over-arching, universal one which "wrought out [the] perfect (complete) atonement through the shedding of his blood" (Doc & Cov 76:69).  And in the verse in Luke he explains that his life and his death is a new sacrifice which signals a new covenant between God and man.

 "'By my life and my death [He says] I have made possible a new relationship [covenant] between you and God.  You are sinners. It is true.  But because I died for you God is no longer your enemy, but your friend.'  ~William Barclay

As I struggle with my own recurring sins I need to move out of the Old Testament way of thinking (okay, once I get these sins better taken care of then I'll feel better about discussing my sins with God) to a New Testament way of thinking (okay, I'm still working on these sins, but my desire and my covenant is to ally myself with Jesus who's atoning sacrifice can be brought to bear in my life now, making God much less scary to approach).

When I approach God on my own my predominant feelings are a sense of failure and a wish that my sins could be unmentioned. Approaching God wrapped in the covering, love-soaked, atoning cloak of a Savior I've covenanted to follow who is God's beloved Son and who pleads the cause of those who seek to do and be good (Doc & Cov 38: 4) is an opportunity to realize that I can be received with compassion by a Father who not only sees all my sins that I struggle with, but also desires, above all, to assist my further alliance with his Son.

I still feel badly about my sins, either way.  Neither path will allow me to ignore them.  And both require that I continue the struggle.  But the latter path is the one Jesus offers us.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Luke 21: 36-37

And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.
And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him.

"Jesus spent the day amidst the crowds of the Temple; he spent the night beneath the stars with God. He won his strength to meet the crowds through his quiet time alone; he could face men because he came to men from God's presence." 
~ William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 261

Need to remember to make time to spend nights beneath the stars with Him.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Saints Differ

Recently a decision was made in a stake in my state not to participate in a particular service opportunity. I am not privy to the reasons why, but my best, most understanding guess is that the stake president felt that the nature of the service, though it was compassionate, was too closely related to a topic that is currently warmly debated by the two major political parties, and that, though members of the stake could freely volunteer to serve on their own, having that service sponsored by the stake would create antipathy and division among church members who held opposing political positions. Basically the stake president had a good finger on the spiritual pulse of his stake.
In other words, they, like many of us, had not, as a group, learned the lesson of the people of Ammon and the Nephites.

We often discuss the heroic nature of the “sons of Helaman”, young sons of Ammon's people, who, not bound by their parents' oath of non-violence and full of faith in God, went to war alongside their Nephite brothers to defend their homes and families from annihilation. We don't often stop to consider the geopolitical state of the place where they and the Nephites were living. Basically, there were two groups of people living in proximity under one government there, one group convinced that they should lay down their lives rather than take up weapons to fight, the other, convinced that they had a moral obligation to fight against aggressors.

When the Lamanites began to attack and kill Ammon's people some of them were, naturally, sorely tempted to set aside their moral convictions and religious commitment to non-violence. It would have been easy for their neighbors, the Nephites, to encourage them to do so and to resent their position of non-violence when they were all threatened by the Lamanite armies. And those of Ammon's people who were not inclined to pick up their weapons of war, but were determined to maintain their standard of non-violence could easily have looked down upon the Nephites who chose to fight back, seeing the Nephite belief as less noble or inspired than theirs.

However, remarkably, these two groups, ones we might consider political opposites in their positions when it came to matters of military aggression, did not despise, argue with or contest with each other. Instead of becoming divided by their differing political opinions, they supported each other in their respective rights to act according to their moral positions. The people of Ammon were supportive (and likely also grateful) for the protection of the Nephites who volunteered to fight off the Lamanites who were attacking them. It would have been a natural human response to be, instead, simultaneously dismissive of the Nephites' position that military might is a necessary skill to learn, perfect and use. It would have been easy for them to insist, therefore, that their sons choose non-violent response as well. But they did not. They allowed their sons to make their own choices.   Remarkably, the Nephite position was similarly respectful. They actually encouraged the people of Ammon who had made a sacred commitment to non-violence to maintain that commitment while, at the same time, intending to do whatever was necessary to fight of the Lamanites who sought to destroy them both. They respected the people of Ammon's moral response to a terrifying situation even while they felt a moral responsibility to respond in a way that was directly the opposite.

Here were two politically opposing views in a desperate time, each held by people who understood that they were divinely tied to each other by their faith in God. The result of that understanding was not only eventual victory over the aggressors (at a terrible cost, as is often the case), but even, perhaps more profound, a sense of unity of brotherhood and respect for freedom to respond according to conscience had played out between those two groups and had transcended their widely differing and opposite personal responses to a political crisis. What could have created division, resentment and discord, instead created mutual respect for differing positions and willingness to honestly respect and coordinate with each other's choices of how to respond.

It is interesting to contemplate just how much that amazing phenomenon may have played into the successes in the chapters that followed both during the subsequent war, and also in the peace between them in the years that followed.

I whole heartedly believe that “If ye are not one, ye are not mine”. And I believe that that doesn't mean that we must all see eye to eye or agree on issues. I believe that the story of the people of Ammon and their neighboring Nephites teaches that  we can love and respect each other enough to work respectfully, unitedly and for the common good, each in a way that he or she feels called by God to do, in spite of how different our calls to action may be, or how widely our political and social positions differ.

It is hard to do, but I believe that peaceable, mutual respect in spite of glaring, seemingly insurmountable differences of deeply held opinions about what course of action to personally take is one of the keys to Zion.

Friday, August 01, 2014


This week, before leaving on her next adventure, B asked me an interesting question which brought up the topic of the period of peace described in 4th Nephi.

We read that
there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift....and there still continued to be peace in the land. And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.”

Here is described a cessation of disputes between neighbors, a sense of common stewardship and sharing, diminishment of class distinctions, no war, and miracles of healing in the name of Christ.

But knowing life, and having an idea of what life was like 2000 years ago, I sense that there was still physical, emotional and mental illness as well as injuries and death. Widows were still left to raise children, parents suffered the loss of a child, children grew up without mothers, spouses still had to learn how to live and communicate and forgive, children still worried their parents who had to learn, in their own ways, how to and not to rear them, political and religious leaders had to figure out how to respond to new dilemmas, crops still sometimes failed or houses burned down, and people still made stupid mistakes that they needed to repair.

Knowing Jesus and embracing his teachings, even in the most cohesive group of disciples, will not, in this life, prevent sorrow, pain, concern, struggles, trials or deep grief.

So, I'd change the Primary song.

There's a right way to live and be peaceful.

The gospel doesn't promise happiness in this life. But it does promise peace. Not the peace we usually think of: no worries, no troubles, no sorrow, no anxiousness. But the kind that Christ promised he would leave with his disciples: the kind that, in the midst of the hardest things, reduces our sense of troubledness and fear.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I believe He is describing a deep undercurrent that, in spite of waves of staggering grief or frightening danger, or deep frustration that we may also feel, settles in our core and carries us as we walk or stumble or struggle through.

It is choosing God's love everyday.

Moroni's admonition, chapter 7: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.”

Like Him. Steady. Peaceful. Moving forward. Loving wisely.

For me Moroni's words mean actually praying and specifcally seeking to love both wisely and well the way that Jesus did in our interactions with each individual. It is a lifelong journey. I can't just pray for it in general. I need to also pray for it specifically in regards to specific circumstances, challenges, individuals, groups, locations, times. And when it comes it brings that clarity and calm at the core of my soul as I move forward in those relationships, whether or not my efforts to create goodness are reciprocated. It is peace in spite of the turmoil that may be there. It is vision of the other as God sees him. It is guidance as I figure out how to proceed in a way that loves and helps and serves as He does.

I am learning the teachings of Jesus.

The scriptures. Oh the scriptures. Four whole gospels of watching Him interact. Four whole gospels of his words. And then piles of letters written to people who were struggling through the challenges of trying to figure out how to follow him wisely and well in the midst of all the demands and assumptions of life and culture. And words of prophets trying to explain the glory, joy, equality and power of a divinely lived life and the power and reality of repentance, atonement and the Love of God. Time spent there is important for me on this journey. It is here that I learn the principles by which to live my life and which are at the core of that peace Jesus offers.

They will help me and show me the way...

to find that “peace which passeth all understanding”. I think it's called that because it seems, off the bat, so illogical. Peace that lives on inside not only when circumstances are pleasant, but also lives inside us when we are, at the same time, rocked by waves of grief, fear, worry, loneliness, persecution, frustration, inability, anxiety, loss or want.

I think this was what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Philippians: every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

Thank you, B., for asking the question. We will miss you and J. 

 God, and his peace, be with you both.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Have Mercy On One Another

"The power and glory of godliness is spread out on a broad principle to throw out the mantle of charity. God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them.

"All the religious world is boasting of righteousness: it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another...

"We are full of selfishness; the devil flatters us that we are very righteous, when we are feeding on the faults of others. We can only live by worshiping our God; all must do it for themselves; none can do it for another. How mild the Savior dealt with Peter, saying, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." At another time, He said to him, "Lovest thou me?" and having received Peter's reply, He said, "Feed my sheep." If the sisters loved the Lord, let them feed the sheep, and not destroy them. How oft have wise men and women sought to dictate [to...] by saying, "O, if I were [...], I would do this and that;" but if they were in [...]'s shoes they would find that men or women could not be compelled into the kingdom of God, but must be dealt with in long-suffering, and at last we shall save them. The way to keep all the Saints together, and keep the work rolling, is to wait with all long-suffering, till God shall bring such characters to justice. There should be no license for sin, but mercy should go hand in hand with reproof."

~Joseph Smith in an address to the Relief Society, The History of the Church, Vol 5, pp 23-24

(I think you can put anyone's name in those ellipses.)

"Self-righteousness is a form of egotism that breeds intolerance and impatience. Lack of empathy is its major symptom. Since self-righteousness is an unhealthy inner pride, the cure for it is honest humility. Jesus, the most righteous of all, was the perfect example of humility. He said, 'I am meek and lowly in heart.' (Matt. 11:29.)"

~Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Parables of Mercy"

I believe this is something it is vital that I be aware of, whichever side of whatever religious or ecclesiastical issue I am on.  And I believe that we all tend to quickly recognize failure to do this on the part of those who disagree with us or who fail to do what we hope they will do, but that most of us, including me, have a harder time seeing it in ourselves or in those with whom we agree.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: Joseph Smith History 1:19 - "They Were All Wrong"

Today I found this at a blog I follow.

I think it's an excellent parsing of the verse and worth the read.

Perhaps the most reviled verse among non-Mormon Christians in the entire Mormon scriptural canon is Joseph Smith History 1:19 – the words of Jesus to Joseph Smith at the beginning of the First Vision regarding why he should not join any church. This single verse encapsulates the reason why many call Mormonism arrogant and offensive and blind – and the misinterpretations of this verse by Mormons themselves only add fuel to this fire. So, in this post I am breaking out my parser’s pen and dissecting what Jesus actually said and did not say: word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, concept-by-concept. It was a fascinating endeavor when I first undertook it, and it changed my perspective on The Restoration greatly.

First, the actual question Joesph asked (in verse 18) is:
I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join.

The entire passage (in verse 19) says:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

Now, let’s break this down concept-by-concept and focus on the key words in each concept, focusing on what the words themselves actually mean AT THEIR MOST BASIC LEVEL – rather than secondary definitions and other interpretations that have been postulated (both within and without the LDS Church):

“I was answered that I (Joseph) must join none of them,”

Joseph prayed explicitly about the Protestant sects of his area and which one HE should join. Perhaps this appears to be a minor point, but I believe it is important to put the prayer in context. Joseph was working from the core assumption that he should join a Protestant sect, and, looking back, it is clear from a faithful Mormon perspective that Joseph had a specific mission to perform in mortality within Christianity. Other religions weren’t a part of the equation, at all – and neither was Catholicism, according to his own writings. I wonder what response a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would get with that exact same prayer – or if others might have specific missions to perform in mortality and receive different answers that will help them fulfill those missions, perhaps like Mother Teresa performing a wonderful work among the poor of Calcutta that would have been impossible as a Mormon. I don’t know, but parsing the text leads to interesting questions like these.

“for they were all wrong;”

At its most basic level, “wrong” simply means “not right” / “not correct” – or “out of order; awry; amiss”. Also, like with school tests, it often applies to answers that contain one or more elements that are not correct – even when most elements are correct. Thus “wrong” can mean 100% wrong or 1% wrong – or everything between those extremes. What “wrong” DOES NOT mean is “bad, evil, terrible, worthy of scorn, useless, etc.”

“and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds”

A “creed” is “an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief.” The most common creeds referenced by those discussing this verse are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, but these creeds essentially were the Catholic Creeds of the early centuries. The Athanasian Creed had a strong impact on much of the Protestant theology that existed in Joseph Smith’s time, but there were other “Protestant creeds” (like the Westminster Confession of Faith) that rarely are considered in the context of this verse – and those Protestant creeds are every bit as relevant as the early Catholic Creeds. (I believe, more so) [The closest thing in Mormonism to "creeds" are The Articles of Faith.] What “creeds” DOES NOT mean is “general teachings, statements, beliefs, general principles, etc.” This means that much of what actually is taught in other sects is not addressed in this verse, only “their creeds”.

“were an abomination in his sight”

Abomination means “anything greatly disliked, abhorred or loathed”. It is this word that is most “abominable, abhorred or loathed” by other Christians. However, when focused on the “creeds” [particularly in statements like the Westminster Confession], it is much easier to understand. Just a few examples are: hardcore Calvinist pre-destination that eliminates agency in all practical ways, the complete elimination of the Father as a separate being from Jesus, the incorporeal nature of God that led to a real and harmful loathing of the body and all things physical, the loss of all concept of eternal progression and exaltation, etc. There are more examples of creeds that truly would be abominable when viewed by Jesus ["in his sight"]. What this DOES NOT say is that everything taught by the other sects was an abomination. It leaves the door wide open for truth and beauty and goodness to be taught.

[Just as an aside, I find it fascinating to watch mainstream Protestantism move inexorably away from many of these creeds that were so strongly taught in Joseph's day toward what is taught in Mormonism - and the natural tendency of some Mormons to want creedal certainty.]

“that THOSE professors”

“Professors” means “those who profess” – nothing more and nothing less. “Profess” means “claim, allege, purport, avow” – and there is a strong association with making claims as part of a “profession” from a position of authority. The critical distinction in this verse, however, is that “professors” is tied directly to the “creeds” – NOT even implicitly to other teachings that are not creedal. What this means is that “those professors” DOES NOT mean ALL “ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, members, believers, etc.” Rather, it means anyone who “professes those creeds” – who teaches the creeds from a position of authority – who teaches things that are abominations in Jesus’ sight – who teaches them as “creeds” [as unalterable, immutable, unquestionable]. It places as much weight on the intractability of the profession as it does on what is being professed – meaning it focuses on those who are closed to continuing revelation and stuck on abominable creeds of the past.

[In a very real way, but not exactly analogous due to not being "creeds", it is like those who continue to espouse views from past Mormon leaders that have been abandoned or refuted by current leaders - like the justifications for the Priesthood ban that were repudiated by Elder McConkie shortly after the 1978 revelation lifting the ban or the continued practice of polygamy in the 21st Century.]

“were all corrupt;”

At its most basic level, corrupt simply means “tainted; not pure”. If someone professes abominable creeds, those creeds inevitably will taint those who profess them. To me, this is perhaps the most logical assertion of all the statements in this verse. What this DOES NOT say is that these people are “evil, bad, insincere, conniving, manipulative, worthy of scorn, etc.” It actually says nothing about their motivation or desires; it only addresses the inherent stain of abominable creeds.


The following statements are the only ones that are attributed as a quote directly to Jesus – rather than Joseph’s summary in the first part of the verse.

“they draw near to me with their lips,”

“They” refers back to the “professors of the creeds”, who speak of Jesus. There is no other implication and no insult, condemnation or criticism inherent in this phrase.

“but their hearts are far from me,”

This is a painful statement for many, but “heart” in this case does not mean the actual physical organ – and it does not have to mean “intent or desire”. The “heart” in this context is defined as the “vital or essential part” of something – what lies at the very core. In other words, the “essential part” of the “professors of the creeds” is far from Jesus. For example, the essential parts of the creeds melds Jesus into the Father, prays to Jesus (instead of to the Father in the name of the Son), refuses to accept His oft-repeated request to show their love through their acceptance of His commandments (“by their fruits”) and rejects individual agency and will by preaching predestination, etc. In summary, they use and preach his name but don’t promulgate his teachings. What this DOES NOT say is that ALL Christians fit this description. It is pointed ONLY at those who profess the creeds, and it is pointed only at their “hearts” [what they believe deep down as bedrock doctrine], not their lips [much of what they say and teach].

“they teach for doctrines the commandments of men,”

This phrase equates those who profess the creeds with those who substitute human commands for doctrine. It DOES NOT apply to regular members of other sects, at all – OR to ministers, preachers, pastors or priests who teach doctrine from the scriptures themselves and don’t preach the creeds.

“having a form of godliness,”

“Form” means “structure, appearance, shape, etc.” Thus, those who profess the creeds teach something that is shaped like and appears to be godly.

“but they deny the power thereof.”

This is the clinching argument against the creeds – that they reject the power of godliness. That phrase alone deserves its own post, but suffice it to say here that the creed professors are not accused of denying Jesus; rather, they are accused of denying His power – what He, through his Atonement, is capable of doing. They are accused of claiming that He can’t do what He has said He will do, which is the most basic abomination of all.

In summary, JSH 1:19 is a direct attack on the creeds of Joseph’s day (more so the newer Protestant ones than the older Catholic ones), defining the primary reason why he was told not to join any of them as being their profession of those creeds. The only people who are mentioned directly in any way are those who profess those creeds, and even these people are only described in terms of their acceptance of those creeds by which they are tainted. It says absolutely nothing about anyone or anything else, and it says nothing about the salvation of even the professors whose creeds it condemns.

At the most basic level, this verse has one message and only one message:

“The Protestant CREEDS are an abomination, and they taint all those who profess them.”

That certainly is harsh to those who profess the creeds, but it also says much, much, less than too many Mormons (and others) assume.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Planning With a Purpose

The How Report,” an independent study that LRN conducted with the Boston Research Group and Research Data Technology found that CEOs are six times more likely than "average workers" to believe they work in a company where people are inspired.  Employees said they were primarily coerced (84%) or motivated (12%) by carrots and stickes at work rather than inspired by values and a commitment to a mission and purpose (4%).

I remember how challenging it was, as a YW leader, to help our YW presidency and our class presidencies to get out of the "carrot" mode and into the "principle based purpose" mode.  It was also a challenge to move to thinking about principles beyond the handy color-coded YW values (though they are a fine in and of themselves).

On there is a series of short-lesson resources for YW leaders to use to help young women catch the vision of their calling.  It's described as a tool to help class presidencies figure out their responsibilities and how to carry them out, but they are excellent for every young woman to know and it is easier to include them in a regular Sunday discussion than it is to try to incorporate them into class presidency meetings.  And by teaching them to all young women you prepare those who will be called to leadership in the future (in other words, all of them).

There's a link to those short lesson resources HERE

The second lesson listed, "Planning Activities with Gospel Purposes in Mind"  is the lesson resource that introduces the idea of planning with a purpose.

THIS web page as some good explanations of how to plan with a purpose and some excellent worksheets to facilitate that.

The author, who learned these methods as a student at BYU, uses the worksheets as she works with 8-11 year old girls, but they can be used with good results for any group effort.  You can look at those worksheets and print them off from that page.

I personally found that a vital part of this process of planning with a purpose is the final step of reviewing the activity after it had happened.  Actually taking time on the Sunday following the activity to discuss what worked and what didn't and what they'd do differently next time was empowering and instructive.  And, true to the truth that "I remember most what I have said", articulating what they'd do differently next time helped them to remember to actually do that the next time.