Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Heart hurts

One of the very difficult things:

When someone you love immensely is in pain and needs love and reassurance and to be scooped up and loved, and you are on the other side of the world.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Berating ourselves. Finding fault with others

Berating ourselves over our failures or constantly stressing over our imperfections may stir us to increase our efforts to improve, but they do so at a great cost, not only to our anxiety levels, but also to our relationships with others.
Learning to be at peace with our imperfections and failings (understanding the ongoing nature of repentance or the limits of our physical lives) along our journey to become wiser and better is key to our ability to avoid being judgmental or annoyed at the imperfections and failings of those around us who are basically trying to do good. That peace with self allows us to work with them with appreciation for their efforts rather than distress at their failures and imperfections; their inability to rise to our hoped for standard of behavior.
Certainly there are some people whose judgmentalism is founded in arrogance. But most of us who hope to become good and kind but who instead, are judgmental, are so not due to a sense of superiority, but from a habit that started with mentally berating and harshly judging ourselves.
I believe that one key to discipleship and avoiding the sin and distress of judgmentalism is gentleness towards both yourself and others as you seek to do good.
"Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, ...By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned..". 2 Corinthians 6:4,6

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Grace

From a letter to Elder V. after a conversation about grace.  He asked me to write and send to him my memories of what that conversation entailed.  I didn't remember all of it.  But the conversation caused me to spend some time researching grace in the scriptures in order to understand grace better.  And that is what I ended up writing.

It's here to help me remember what I learned.

Dear Elder V,
Thanks for the good question on Saturday. It has caused me to spend some more time in the scriptures and I have learned from that study.
The first thing I should correct is my statement that grace could be defined as the power of God. Actually, 2 Nephi 11:5 indicates that it is not “the power of God”, but something unique in itself.
So, the first question is, what is it? And the second is, how does it play out in your life?

Grace it seems, is an attribute of God's very nature.
Genesis 33:5 and Exodus 34:8-9 and Ruth 2:1-3... it is an attitude of being kindly disposed towards someone, welcoming and desiring to help that person when they need help.
So God the Father and His Son, Jesus, are full of grace. They are kindly disposed towards us, have a full desire to welcome us, and assist us.
And, Ephesians 4:7, James 4:6-10, and 1 Peter 5:5.....God's grace, his kindly disposition towards us and his desire to assist, is not earned. It is a gift.
So we don't earn it. It is almost always offered. (There is one time in the Book of Mormon when the people have been so horribly awful that God tells them that the time of grace is passed for them and he's not going to get them out of the horrible situation that they created...they are just too far in and they will have to deal with the awful consequences themselves).
The question is, do we recognize this grace on the part of God? Do we receive the help that he graciously offers? Or do we fail to notice that he is offering it and try to do everything on our own?

Next question: What are these things that God does or offers to us because he is full of grace? Any person can be “gracious” if they wish to. You can be full of grace towards the people you encounter every day, being kindly disposed, welcoming and assisting. But when a being as amazing as God is gracious, that grace, combined with his knowledge, wisdom and power can result in some amazing things.
Here's a list of things that have been listed in the scriptures as being the sorts of divine assistance that God wants to give us because he has this divine attribute of grace. Some of these are HUGE.
I think you might enjoy looking up these scriptures sometime.
  • Reassurance in times of trouble 1 Samuel 1:17-18
  • Escape from oppression, a place that feels like home, enlightenment, reprieve Ezra 9:7-9
  • Rest, love, loving kindness, restoration Jeremiah 31:1-17
  • Salvation from death and sin Acts 15:1
  • Assistance in our efforts to be believing Acts 18:25-27
  • Ability to rejoice with hope and gain eternal perspective Romans 5
  • Finding and speaking inspired words Romans 15:14-17
  • Enabling you to do the work specifically He calls you to do and to abound in good works generally 1 Corinthians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 9:8-15 Doctrine and Covenants 18: 30-31
  • Renewing your spirit, giving you much to be thankful for 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
  • Receiving redemption and divine forgiveness, and developing patience, prudence, divine understanding Epehesians 1:6-8
  • Everlasting consolation and hope 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17,
  • Moral and spiritual strength 2 Timothy 2:1
  • Teaching you to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and instead live soberly, righteously, a godly life, looking forward with hope and anticipating Christ's return Titus 2:11-13
  • The Atonement of Jesus Christ Hebrews 2:9
  • Help in time of need Hebrews 4:14-16
  • Help for you to become “perfect” (complete, able to love as God loves), established, strengthened and settled 1 Peter 5:1-11
  • Avoiding getting taken advantage of by mocking individuals Ether 12:26-27
  • Ability to rejoice in hope, bear tribulations and feel the love of God “shed abroad in our hearts” Romans 5:1-5
  • Opportunity, when needed, to receive angelic visitations Testimony of the three witnesses
  • Sanctification (being made holy) Moroni 10:33
  • Callings to serve as His servants Doctrine and Covenants 20:1-4
  • Divine help while serving in those callings Doctrine and Covenants102:4
  • Resurrection Doctrine and Covenants 138:150

(All of the above are things, and more that are not listed here, are things that we could not do nearly as well on our own or absolutely not even start...which is why God's grace is often cited as “ being divine power to do be able to do things we cannot do on our own”. But it is not the grace is the power. Grace is the attribute that God has that makes him want to do those incredible, gracious acts and helps.

The apostle Paul, in many of his letters, says the phrase “grace be unto you” or a similar phrase. It means, open your mind and heart to understand how much love God has for you and how much He wants to help, and open yourself to receive that help.
So, the next question is, how do we receive the the gifts that God offers us because of his amazing grace; the above sorts of help that are so AMAZINGLY helpful in this life and that God the Father and the Son offer us because they are full of grace?
Just as grace is an attribute, so we should seek and pray to be able to develop not only graciousness, but also other divine attributes in our own lives that will, by their nature, strengthen our ability to recognize and receive the divine help that the Father and the Son graciously offer us.
The following are things that the scriptures teach will help us to be able to recognize and receive their gracious help..
  • Faith in God and seeing the gospel as more than just a bunch of commandments to obey Romans 4 and 5
  • Respecting the God's grace as it plays out in the life of your spouse 1 Peter 3:7
  • Developing charity and hospitality, ministering to others and treating them with as your equals, and working with God 1 Peter 4:8-11
  • Believing in Christ and being reconciled with God 2 Nephi 22-24
  • Recognizing our weaknesses and seeking His grace in order to be able do good works Jacob 4:6-10
  • Never persecuting others, always treating others as equals, avoiding pride and haughtiness, esteeming your neighbor as yourself an laboring for your own economic support (unless you are physically unable or otherwise prevented) Mosiah 27:3-5
  • Never using the blessings that come to you or others by grace in order to entice others to do or excuse wickedness Jude1:4-5
  • Acting towards others with grace (“grace for grace”) Helaman 12:23-24
  • Knowing our weaknesses and humbling ourselves before the Lord Ether 12:27
  • Coming unto Christ, denying yourself all ungodliness, loving God with all your might, mind and strength Moroni 10:32
  • Teaching truth diligently (not carelessly) Doctrine and Covenants 88:78
  • Following the personal divine direction we receive Doctrine and Covenants 17

So, in a nutshell:
Grace is a divine attribute of God the Father and Jesus Christ. It is their kindly disposition towards us, and their desire to help and welcome us.
Because their power to help and bless is divine, that loving help that they give us because they are full of grace, which help includes salvation, is manifested in AMAZING ways. (Which is why grace is often called “amazing”) I mean really, what could be more amazing than the blessings and helps on that first list?
The divine help that can come to us because of God's grace is something we can choose to receive at any time on our path through life (unless we are so very horrible that we hate the idea of it) and it is a gift that will help us become far, far, far better than we could ever become by ourselves and do far more good than we could ever do by ourselves and understand far more than we could ever understand by ourselves.
There are divine attributes and gospel principles that, if we incorporate them into our lives, help us to recognize and choose to receive that divine, gracious help. Because that gracious help is a gift, we should never assume that we must earn it. The key is not to earn it, it is to turn our hearts and lives towards Him so that we can recognize and receive it.
Thanks for asking the question. I learned quite a bit.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The wrath of God, Jacob 2:25-35

There are good things here.

There are tragic and painful and awful things here too.

This week we found ourselves, one morning, going down in an elevator in a nice hotel. The elevator stopped and two people got on, a middle aged man and a pretty, younger woman. He was not her father. He was not her brother.  He was not her husband.  He is not from here. As the stepped off the elevator he briefly patted her shoulder and made a comment, but did not look at her, and then headed towards the breakfast room while she turned and walked out the front door.

She walked. Back straight, across the entry, across the street, looking straight ahead, tiny dress, big platform shoes, small purse, lovely long brown hair. Solo. Looking neither left or right. Straight ahead. Contained. Contained. Contained. Disconnected.          Alone.

I HATE what this does to my sisters. I hate that I do not have the resources or the language or whatever else is needed to help them get free. I hate how it isolates them and how they must close themselves and stop feeling in order to survive. This is, in a word, destruction.

I currently live in a country and society where sex outside of marriage is anathema to most. College students I talk to are opposed to the idea of sex without marriage. And this is also a society where a family has to sell something in order to live, where if you have no healthy family support or no way to get to where that is, you definitely have to sell something. And if you have no special skills to market or no healthy connections to assist you, and there are not enough community or government resources to address that, then, even if you don't use substances, have no addictions, and do want to be able to make your way, your options can become bleakness personified. And the choices available are overwhelmingly difficult.

Every once in a while our branch builders find someone in this young woman's situation, and things start looking better, and then the “handler” steps up his control, and blackmails, and threatens to destroy people she cares about, and she is overwhelmed with it all again. Sometimes the community of saints can find resources or far away family that is needed over the long term and help her connect with those. Sometimes they can only love and pray and hope.

Jacob spoke of the effect of this using of women for personal gratification and the indignation of God when it happens. He spoke of the effect on the women and children in the men's families, and also the effect upon the young  women, "the daughters of my people", that those men used. 

He spoke to those men of how “the cries of my fair daughters...and the sobbings of [wives and children's] hearts ascend up to God against you.”

He spoke of God visiting those perpetrators with a sore curse "even unto destruction".

The tears on the face of the pretty, young woman I briefly saw that morning had dried a long time ago. But the straight ahead, self-regulated, emotional control in her walk and carriage spoke volumes about what she has had to do to her heart during her lifetime in order to survive. You can cry and your heart can sob only so long before you start to die. And if there is no balm or escape, the only way to be able to continue to live is to stop feeling anything except being alone.


That's my brother who used my sister as a commodity as she faced bleakness in her future. 

 I understand the wrath of God.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Talk, nurture, encourage, bless. Loyalty, deference, courtesy. Self-control, unselfishness and concern.

But they have each other to talk with, to depend on, to nurture, to encourage, and to bless. There comes the autumn of life and a looking back with satisfaction and gladness. Through all of the years there has been loyalty, one to the other. There has been deference and courtesy. Now there is a certain mellowness, a softening, an effect that partakes of a hallowed relationship....

...[T]his is the way our Father in Heaven would have it. This is the Lord’s way. He has so indicated. His prophets have spoken of it.
It takes effort. It takes self-control. It takes unselfishness. It requires the true essence of love, which is an anxious concern for the well-being and happiness of one’s companion. I could wish nothing better for all of you than this, and I pray that this may be your individual blessing.
Gordon B Hinckley, "Our Solemn Responsibility",  October 1991

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

You are not special. Your children are not either. And that's actually a good thing.

“Special”

1. having a specific or particular function, purpose,etc.:
a special messenger.

2. distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual:
a special occasion; to fix something special.

3. extraordinary; exceptional, as in amount or degree; especial:
special importance.

4. being such in an exceptional degree; particularly valued:
a special friend.

We are each of us, certainly unique, with our own sets of gifts, weaknesses, strengths, foibles, struggles and accomplishments, but none of us is special.  How do I know?  Because “all are alike unto God”.

He loves us each individually.  He has the exact same salvation available to each of us.  None of us can gain it by ourselves; we are all of us, totally dependent upon his grace and mercy.  And no one gets extra credit for needing less mercy or grace than someone else.  As a matter of fact there is plenty of evidence that needing more mercy is actually very helpful in our developing appreciation for Jesus’ atonement on our behalf.  (“Which of these, loved him most.”)  which appreciation is vital to salvation.

If you are trying to be a disciple of Christ and you are told you are special and you believe it, you are faced with numerous possible pitfalls.  Here are three of them.

  A.  If you are susceptible to pride you are a prime candidate for not only failing to be humble, but also for believing that you are an exception to the rules that all are required to follow, both on earth and in heaven.

  B.  If you are susceptible to being judgmental, you are a prime candidate for holding yourself to a higher standard than others and being constantly stymied and blocked by your own inability to forgive yourself when you are average, leaving you living a life battling an irrational discouraging sense of despair that you are not performing at a different level of competence than you are.

  C. If you are susceptible to being self-analyzing, you will be less able to relax in the company of others when you are not performing exceptionally well. And that will affect your ability to show forth love.

And of course, most of us indulge in pride, judgmentalism and self-analysis during our lives.  So why would we want to make ourselves more vulnerable to more negative courses of  action or thought when we do?

All of those courses of action or thought will make your discipleship path harder (and less pleasant).

So, keep being a disciple.  But drop the “special” (person, mission, calling, what-have-you) designation for yourself or those you love and wish to encourage.  Individual?  Yes.  Known? Yes. Loved? Yes.  Special?  Nope.

My observation and experience is that knowing that we are not special frees us to progress more consistently and to open our hearts more to others in love and confidence, and makes it easier for us to repent and forgive both others and themselves.  And that’s all very helpful in discipleship.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Romans 5:1-8, Paul on justification, atonement and faith, hope and love

Background: In chapter 4, Paul lays out the understanding that Abraham’s commitment to God and his faith and hope that God would fulfill his seemingly impossible promise (that he, and Sariah, at their advanced ages, would have a son together) and his determination to continue to work and live his life based on that, was sufficient to “justify” him.  

Justification is the state in which the things you have done wrong have been fully undone, or rectified, or satisfactorily explained well enough that you are exonerated by one responsible for judging you.  Previously, many Jews believed that you could only be justified by strictly keeping the law, which included offering sacrifices to try to atone for the times you had not kept it.  Followers of Christ began to understand that it was not strict law-following and sacrifices that would keep them justified before God, it was committing their lives to FAITH in Christ’s seemingly impossible offer of salvation and giving their hearts and lives to working with and serving him while living a continuously repentant life, depending upon his atoning sacrifice to exonerate them (justify them) in regards their sins .

So, onto the verses in chapter 5.

1. So we, living a life full of FAITH in God’s promises, are therefore, like Abraham, able to receive God’s justification.  What a relief being justified is to our souls.  And it is through Jesus and his atonement that this justification is possible for us.  What peace with God that creates in us!
2. It is also through Jesus and our faith in him that we have access to his empowering grace, and, having received personal experiences that grace, we are able to rejoice in HOPE of the glory of God.
3. Not only that, it also changes how we see tribulations: We are able to glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation helps us develop patience,
4. And patience helps us to develop experience.  And experience helps us to develop HOPE. [see verse 2]
5. HOPE makes us not feel so horribly ashamed of ourselves that we despair because, instead of despair filling our hearts, blessedly, as we open our hearts to HOPE, God’s LOVE is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which he has gifted to us.
6. We have realized that we do not have the power to undo or rectify or explain away our sins and stand justified before God, but Christ, in due time, atoned for the sins of all of us.
7.- 8. Being willing to die to save a righteous man is pretty rare.  Being willing to die to save a simply good man is even rarer.  But Christ died and atoned for us while were worse than that.  What an amazing manifestation of God’s LOVE for us that is.