Sunday, December 29, 2013

Family photo circa 1919

From left to right, June Ida Holmes, Ernest Eldredge Holmes, Mary Laurine Holmes, Ida (Eldredge) Holmes, Samuel Lamar Holmes, Ernest Samuel Holmes.

Mary Laurine Holmes, who was about 10 years old when this photo was taken, is my maternal grandmother.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's good and worthy and the answer is no.

I have a young, devout, female friend, who, when she approached the age at which she could apply to serve as a missionary, felt that it was likely that serving a mission would be the best thing that she could do and she was excited at the prospect.

Being devout, she took that decision to the Lord in prayer, and after much seeking, felt that the answer was no, she should not.  She was not particularly happy with that answer.  Friends of hers were departing for missions, it looked like good, praiseworthy, and exciting work to be engaged in.  She would have loved to have received a "yes".

It was also difficult for her because in her circles of friends, serving a mission was considered one of the most devoted and praiseworthy and positive decisions one could take.  Women who did so were admired and respected.  Why, if it were an option, and she was willing, would the Lord tell her no?

We live in a world where it is considered best to do as many good things as possible; that passing up opportunities to do a good thing is something that you will regret; or if you cannot do all the good options at least do the options that are perceived as the most noble and good, if you have to pick and choose.

But Jesus didn't say do as many good things as you can.  And he didn't say that the ones you think are be most noble and good are the ones you should do.  He said, do good, and the standard he held for that for himself in that regard was "doing the will of the Father".

Jesus could have done many good things in his lifetime that he did not do.  He focused on the one thing that the Father had indicated was most important for him to do, which, in his case, was making it possible for us to be "raised up at the last day".

John, chapter 6

That's a much bigger calling than any of us have, but the principle applies to all of his disciples.  Our best task or purpose at any given stage of our lives, in God's eyes, is the one he sets for us.  And that is not necessarily, every time, the one we assume would be the most noble or admirable.  

The goal is not to do the tasks we think are the most noble and good.  Nor is it to take advantage of every opportunity to do good. Rather it is to tackle the tasks He calls us to do.  And to celebrate when our sisters and brothers do theirs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teaching after 40 Days

Jesus' early teaching, as chronicled by Luke, was powerful.
"Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about."
"And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all."
"And all bare him witness and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth."
"And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power."

It's interesting to me that these words fall hard on the heels of Jesus' 40 day fast and his encounter with Satan in the wilderness, in which Satan tried to persuade him to act contrary to the will of God.  Was Jesus reminded of what powerful teaching is and what it is not by that encounter?

Three temptations are chronicled in Luke, chapter 4: the temptation to turn stones into bread to assuage his hunger, the temptation to assume and enjoy worldly power, and the temptation to go careening off the pinnacle of the temple and be caught by angels.  Satan tries to persuade Jesus to his way of thinking by telling him that he won't have to be hungry if he does.  He tries to persuade Jesus to his way of thinking by telling him that he will not only be a powerful influence in the world but also one that others will listen to and obey and praise and give much wealth and prestige to if he does.  And he tries to entice him to his way of thinking by employing the allure of excitement and thrilling experiences.

And as you read Jesus further teaching in the rest of that chapter and over the next three years, he eschews all three methods of presenting his message.

He feeds people when they have traveled far to listen to him are far from food and helps them catch fish, but the only bread he ever promises they will have if they ally themselves to his gospel is "the bread of life."  Though there is work to be done to help feed those who are hungry in his life there is no promise of freedom from hunger in discipleship.

His sermons are clear that discipleship to him is a life of humility, meekness, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, being submissive to those in power, and serving one another.  There is no promise or increase of social, political or economic power or influence or respect coming to those who choose his way.

And there are no thrills.  There is a lot of walking on dusty roads, and stopping to talk and to help and a lot of prayer in his work.  But anything unusual, like a healing, is understated and usually wrapped up with the admonition to "tell no man".   And he expects his disciples to do the same.

And his teaching, accepted by some and soundly rejected by others, was powerful.

As I teach the gospel to young people, I think I should keep this in mind.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What might we aim for?

From Morgan's "Five Goals" (to teach young people) posted over at By Common Consent:

Receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost
Become a faithful home or visiting teacher
Make and keep temple covenants
Get a good education
Give back.

And learn to love like Jesus does.  (Marvin Ashton)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Testimony Meeting

Mennonite church meeting in the Canary Islands

"I sat in many testimony meetings as a child and still occasionally hear our pastor call for words from the congregation.  If I think I should speak, my palms still perspire and my knees tremble.  Will people think my ideas foolish?  Will they trust my experience? Is my life consistent enough that I dare open my mouth publicly?  What I have to say is nothing new anyway!

."..let's look at what a testimony meeting tries to do.  Such a meeting does not report how God acts or how people always respond.  It never assumes common experience--otherwise there would be no point at all in holding it..  A testimony meeting expects that God gives unique skills and experiences to people and communities, and that sharing stories will strengthen everyone who hears.  A testimony meeting believes in 'many gifts, one Spirit'." [1st Corinthians 12]
~Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More With Less, p. 31-32

Longacre was a devout Mennonite.  I have benefited from what she wrote and compiled over the years.  And this passage struck me today.  

I listened to a diverse array of testimonies in my congregation last Sunday.  Did you?

It's easy for me to sit there grading testimonies:  
"Makes sense."  
"Not a chance, Buster". 
"Still has much to learn."  
"Some truth there."   
"Uh oh.  La-la land".  
And then compare what I hear with my own understanding and faith and consider whether or not my testimony, if expressed, would be helpful at all to people who are listening the way I am.

Our testimony meetings are, I realize, better understood and more beneficial if we see them as an opportunity to listen to people talk about experiences and belief that they feel have been touched by the Spirit of God rather than only an opportunity to listen to others confirm, by the Spirit, what we in the congregation already know.  We should not see testimony meetings primarily as an opportunity for people to only talk, when spiritually moved to stand and speak, about aspects of commitment and faith that feel common to our mutual experience.  As I listen to a diversity of experiences I widen my understanding of how God is perceived to work in many different lives, and that gives me much to consider and softens my heart. 

When we listen to testimonies born that reflect experiences different from our own with a kind heart, it is a gift both to the speaker and to ourselves.  Of course we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and so not everyone will listen to you that way when you stand and speak.  I certainly slip into testimony critique mode easily and I assume that others do too.  And not everyone who bears testimony feels free to express, fully, what they feel in their heart.  So I acknowledge that what I am proposing may seem a bit daunting if you look at it from the point of view of a potential testimony bearer.  But I believe that the more of us who understand this way of listening to and bearing testimony, the more edifying our listening experiences will be.

Many Gifts, One Spirit  (a nice song to listen to)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Blessed art thou

"And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb...And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.."

I think about the common use of the word "blessed".  And I think about Mary.

What was she facing? 

The gift of being called to bear and raise God's son.  

The challenge of carrying an unborn child that is God's son while betrothed to Joseph.  How must it have felt to carry that child when probably no one would believe your story of an angelic annunciation and divine conception and at at time when sexual infidelity meant fierce social ostracism at best and stoning at worst?

And the eventual experience of witnessing the crucifixion of her child.

Blessed means more that just things that give us new, glorious tasks, or make life more peaceful or help us solve our problems.  Sometimes being blessed by God means that, along with the peaceful things and hopeful things, our course will take us through experiences that will require absolutely every ounce of faith and courage and trust in God we can muster and will still be grievous to be born.

Blessedness can require much of us.