Tuesday, January 10, 2017

God's Love.

"No mistake, sin, or choice will change God’s love for us. That does not mean sinful conduct is condoned, nor does it remove our obligation to repent when sins are committed. But do not forget, Heavenly Father knows and loves each of you, and He is always ready to help."
Ronald Rasband, "Lest Thou Forget", October 2016

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A New Year. Renewed Life? Day 5

Day 5: A reflection on the good that what we  have omitted rather than the not so good we have committed.

This is the last of the 5 days of reflection.  And I find it particularly hopeful because it requires that I look carefully at what moral principles I am already converted to and use those as the basis for reflection.  It is easier it be asked to recommit to things that you already wish to do, but just haven't made the time or preparations for instead of being asked to stop doing stuff that you are indulging in and aren't sure you really want to give up.

So today’s piece focuses on actions that are the results of our decisions based upon our own internal priorites and moral compasses rather than prescribed external requirements of avoidance of evil: Things like Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. When smitten, turn the other cheek. When asked for a coat, give your cloak also. Forgive, not just once but seventy times seven,  all of which require an inner commitment and a personal moral evaluation. This was the essence of the new gospel. There is, if you look at it carefully,  more emphasis on perceive, choose and do in the gospel than on do not.

Moral agency has been given to each of us to make choices as to things to do and ways to respond.  And it is good to reflect on and recommit ourselves and our resources to the actions and understandings that we believe are good, but to which we neglect to commit sufficient time or resources in our busy pursuit of other demands or interests in our lives.

What are the moral priorities in your life to which you would be wise to recommit your time, talents and resource and make plans to incorporate better in your life?  What actions and responses would increase in your life if you did so?

For each person the answer will be different.  Here are some questions to ask yourself, or to get you thinking about other questions that would apply to you.

After each of the following questions, pause and listen for God's impressions.

Questions for reflection: (a) Am I  neglecting regular time in thoughtful study of scripture and meditation thereon? ___ (b)  Have I recognized certain sins in my life but failed to fully repent and make restitution? ___ (c) Do I neglect to speak truth? ___ (d) Have I neglected to use my gifts and talents to bless others? ___   (e) Have I failed to treat others with whom I disagree with wise forbearance? ___ (f) Am I daily forgetting to seek to reflect God’s grace in my interactions and choices? ___ (g) Am I failing to donate resources to help those who are less fortunate than I?  (h) Have I neglected to work at improving my marriage and family life? ___ (i) Do I fail to regularly communicate with God?

It’s a new year, and a new time, with time for reflection, increased understanding and thoughtful change.  Writing what you wish to implement anew in your life will help.

All this for some enlightening and hopeful understanding and course correction that will increase the peace in your heart,  the wise, accurate hope in your perceptions, and an increased ability to recognize and find greater comprehension in the resultant good changes in your life and in the lives of others.  Enjoy.

A blessed New Year to you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

New Year. Renewed Life? Day 4

Day 3 gave me some good food for thought about how well or not I forgive others' failures in my heart.  Unlike God, who chooses and decides with infinite comprehension to forgive or not, we are called to hand up our sinned-against anguish to Him to deal with in infinite justice or mercy, as is best.  Wise handing up is hard.  And forgiveness is not always easy.  But it is, I believe, infinitely liberating. 

(note: Forgiveness does not mean that we cease to work for justice in this life or excuse sin, but it does enable us so that we may be liberated to work for justice without rancor or hatred or fear, working instead out of compassion for those wronged and a focus on repairing and healing, not retribution.)

So perhaps its appropriate that the hope in today's reflection hinges upon understanding better the process of God's gift of forgiveness to me as I seek Him and seek to change who I am.  I sense that that may also ultimately be similarly infinitely liberating as is our forgiveness of others.

Day 4: Victory Over Sins of Commission

...will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?”
3 Nephi 9:

Repentance, if you look at the Greek and Hebrew words used in the New and Old Testament, refers to a change of heart; changing what you love and who you want to be and the resultant change of direction in your life.

And sins of commission are the times when we do, say or think anything God has forbidden or warned against. Repentance, therefore, in a religious sense, is becoming a person whose change of heart reflects a change of what you love; turning you into a person who, in spite of the attraction of various actions forbidden by God, loves and is committed to God and goodness and finds light and peace enough in that commitment to enable him or her to choose God and goodness instead of choosing indulgence in that which God has warned against.

The things warned against can be anything from actions and words to thoughts or relationships. The trick is to be brave enough to see them for what they are and address them, seeking to change so that we love and to act in goodness, rather than excusing our forays into indulging in wrong things, or hoping that maybe God will act like an indulgent, unconcerned babysitter towards us and our sins, rather than a loving and concerned father.

There are a myriad of questions we can ask ourselves as we reflect. Below are a few. You may find that there are others that better address the areas in which a change of heart will be wise repentance for you. So, if it's helpful, write them instead. The key is to be honest with yourself about which questions will help you make that change in what and who you love so that your actions will reflect that.

Some possible questions for reflection: (a) Am I engaged in any form of physical, mental, online or phone immorality or unethical behavior? ___ (b) Do the things I read or watch for entertainment celebrate or embody glorifying violence against or the objectification of others? ___ (c) Do I have habits that abuse or neglect my body? ___ (d) Are there things or people that I trust more than I trust God?___ (e) Am I a thoughtful, wise steward with my financial resources? ___ (f) Am I in any way harsh or unkind to others? ___ (g) Which sins do I confess but still have trouble fully forsaking? ___ (h) Have I abused God's grace by taking sin lightly? ___

Repentance is hard because it involves change. Trying to do it by simply gritting your teeth, listing what you will do and won't do, and exercising self-mastery may help you change your actions and is very helpful in this process. But we are also seeking a step beyond that; not just a change in what we do, but also in who and what (God and mankind and goodness) we love more than we love our own self-indulgence in less-worthy actions. And we can pray for that.  It is charity.

Charity ...seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth...
Cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all... 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

Moroni 7:45-48

Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year. Renewed Life? Day 3

Day 2 gave me one more reminder of my need to be slow to wrath and to leaps into intense speech.

Here is Day 3.

Right Relationships and Wise Reconciliation

"So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  
Matthew 5:23-24  

 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 
John 13:34-35  

"Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves."
 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

With God, everything is about relationships. At its heart, spirituality is about loving God and one another and listening to God and to each other. We place ourselves far from God when we fail to love and fail to listen.

Questions for reflection: (a) Is there anyone (past or present) that I realize I have offended but to whom have not apologized? ___ (b) Have I failed to seek full reconciliation and make restitution to anyone I have harmed? ___ (c) Do I harbor the slightest unforgiveness and anger toward anyone? ___ (d) Do I privately rehearse angry things I would like to say to certain people? ___ (e) Have I become less able to respond with love because of disappointments with God or with others? ___ (f) As a parent, am I serving and guiding my family both temporally and spiritually? ___ (g) Have I in any way failed to treat my parents kindly and patiently? ___ (h) Have I spoken or e-mailed destructively about anyone? ___ (i) Have I publicly criticized or maligned someone I personally know who is trying to do good but is doing so imperfectly? ___ (j) Have I forwarded criticism that fosters nothing but hate, despising or great fear? (k) Am I involved in any form of gossip or fear-mongering? ___ (l) Do I tend to hurt and offend people with my words or e-mails? ___ (m) Is there any pattern of failing to forgive others, including spiritual leaders, whose imperfections disappoint me? ___

Relationships are tricky. Some people are extremely hard to love. Sometimes our efforts at reconciliation are tossed back in our faces with rejection and vitriol. Sometimes people are destructive and dangerous. Sometimes our sense of hurt or fear makes the thought of loving terrifying. 

 But loving and is not embracing. And loving is not excusing.   Loving is seeing others with God's eyes, which are full of grace and truth. 

Forgiving is not embracing.  It is letting go of the hardness in our hearts, handing the hurt up to God to heal and moving forward in peace and goodwill and wisdom.

 When we turn to God for clear revelation of specific steps we may need to take to repair our hearts and make relationships better there are answers. Resolve to be utterly honest with yourself and resist the human tendency to rationalize the sin of failing to love.

For prayer and repentance, determine now to put off sins of relationship. These hurts can be handed up to God as we move forward towards increased ability to love and listen.

Are there certain people to whom I should apologize? ___ Do I need to take specific steps of restitution? ____ (Restitution means repaying something I have taken or publicly seeking to restore a reputation I have damaged.) Is there some offense or bitterness I need to finally release? ___

Be completely honest with God and yourself. If people are coming to mind with whom you need to make a contact for reconciliation, or patterns in your responses to others that need to be changed, that is likely God speaking to your heart. Take time to write out specific steps you may feel guided to take.

Praying to be able to see another the way God sees him or her, and how to respond and move forward with both love and wisdom, really does work.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A New Year. Renewed Life? Day 2

Day 1 has given me 4 things I plan to change about myself and the beginnings of how to put that change into action. That's good.

Here is Day 2.

Day 2: Holy Speech and Godly Communication

(After 2016, does this seem to you to be particularly appropriate?)

A fool does not delight in understanding,
but only wants to show off his opinions.
Proverbs 18:2

No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God....Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ.
Ephesians 4:29-32

Sins of speech are epidemic among us all. The current generation has witnessed a virtual explosion in everything from gossip and slander to angry outbursts and nasty cyber trash talk. Few things affect our ability to create a good community or be open to wiser  spiritual power more than the way thoughtless tongues and reckless keypads do. Fully confess and forsake all sins of speech. Trust God to fill and empower you by His Spirit. After each of the following questions, pause and give God time to speak.

Questions for reflection: (a) Have I uttered any crude or demeaning speech? ___ (b) Do I have patterns of cursing or off-color words? ___ (c) Am I prone to exaggeration or lying? ___ (d) Do I have patterns of complaining and griping? ___ (e) Am I guilty of any form of divisive speech? ___ (f) Do I only talk about the faults of others who are trying to serve, never their strengths or desires to help in spite of their faults? ___ (g) Do I have any patterns of critical, judgmental speech? ___ (h) Have I blogged, e-mailed or forwarded anything that grieved the holy Spirit of God? ___ (i) Have I blogged or forwarded material without taking the time to verify  its accuracy or appropriateness? ___ (j) Do I have a tendency to hurt and offend others by what I say? ___ (k) Have I said things in private that would cause great shame if made public? ___

For prayer and repentance, resolve now to put off all ungodly speech and wholly yield your tongue to Christ's lordship. Be very specific in your confession and repentance. List your key steps for change. Trust Jesus to fill your heart and empower your speech. Believe Him for the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year. Renewed life? Day 1

Today is December 31. (Yes, I know the date above says December 30, but my blog is set to the day it is in my hometown, but right now I am on the other side of the world.)  So here, tomorrow starts a new year.  Impressed by the thoughts I encountered as part of one church’s formal commitment to 5 days of repentance and renewal I am borrowing and adapting from their thoughts and writing on that topic and hope to spend time over the next 5 days starting my New Year with new focus.  Since I am looking forward to finding it helpful, I am sharing it.  

The following is adapted from their plans for  Day 1: Integrity in Attitude and Focus

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns. 
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24

Prayerfully work through the following reflective questions. After each of the following questions, pause and allow God to speak to you.

Questions for reflection: (a) Do I tend to think more about worldly things than spiritual? ___ (b) Does the focus of my thoughts often indicate a lack of remembering and loving others and loving to do good? ___ (c)What is the ratio of the amount of time I spend on hobbies, sports or recreation to the amount of time I spend in study of scripture and in prayer? ___ (d) Do I have any patterns of unclean or lustful thoughts? ___ (e) Have I opened the door to destructive self-indulgence or objectification of others by anything I view online or in other media? ___ (f) Do I frequently have thoughts that are envious or jealous? ___ (g) Am I overly competitive and self-exalting? ___ (h) Am I interested in serving God only if I can have a preeminent role? ___ (i) Am I determined to get my way? ___ (j) Am I overly interested in being noticed? ___ (k) Do I often have thoughts that are angry or resentful? ___ (l) Am I frequently dominated by thoughts of doubt in God’s power  instead of trust in his love and power? ___ (m) Do I consistently harbor thoughts of bitterness and unforgiveness of others?  Of myself? ___ (n) Do I  brood about harsh things I would like to say to certain people or groups? 

Helaman 3:35:  The process of moving towards joy and consolation through  yielding your heart to God and embracing light and goodness.

Suggested course of action:   For prayer and repentance, review what you know about repentance.  Seek to learn more. Resolve now to put off sinful thoughts and ally yourself with Christ by faith. Be willing to be specific in what you confess and forsake. Place strong focus on identifying the specific righteous thoughts that will replace those that are wrong. List some of your key points for change.

Pause in prayer and trust God to empower you to, with the Holy Spirit, to change.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

To Be Trusted and Also to Love

I hear a quote cited every once in a while.  David O. McKay once cited it in a talk he gave.  It was written by the theologian George MacDonald and appears in his book, The Marquis of Lossie.

I think it is often misunderstood.  I'll have to read the book in order to be sure, but from the writings of his that I have read, I think that MacDonald is thinking about reassurance to those who have made decisions that have been based upon their commitment to love of God and to their covenants with  Him (including love of neighbor) and who, when they made those decision, have been condemned by others who are important to them.   And I think he was also writing to those who are facing the dilemma of having to choose between keeping their covenants, with love, and pleasing or having their actions understood someone whose love in conditioned upon their choosing to be or do something different.

Unfortunately, I hear this quote sometimes used to justify hard-hearted covenant keeping; the kind that causes one to think, consciously or unconsciously, "I will do A, being trustworthy to what I think God requires, and everyone who wants me do differently than A be damned.  I will choose to do this noble thing and who cares about those who do not agree."

And they miss the whole point that the first two things that God trusts us to do are his first two commandments; love God and love others.

I think it is human nature, when one is condemned or grossly misunderstood for doing what one thinks is right, to harden your heart towards the person who objects in order to lesson the pain of that condemnation and accusation.  But that is not what Christ expects of us.

And so one of the ways I can watch over my own discipleship is by watching not only whether God can trust me to keep my covenants of ministry, charity, repentance, faith, fidelity, sacrifice, diligence and consecration, but also, at the same time, whether He can trust me to keep my heart loving wisely with to patience, non-judgmentalism, love and forgiveness in my interactions with others, particularly those who disagree with, misunderstand or condemn me for my ideas, opinions or choices.

Not perfect at it.  But that's what I hope.