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 is 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.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

"...but that the world, through him, might be saved"

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world, through him might be saved."   John 3:17

"To condemn the world gives to the English reader a stronger impression than that of the original Greek. The word (κρίνω, krino, the Latin c(k)erno, and the English dis-cern) means originally to separate, and in the moral sense to separate good from evil. "  ~ Charles John Ellicott, English theologian, 1819-1905,  Elllicott's Commentary for English Readers

God did not send his son to separate the world, but to save the world.  Spiritual death is separation from God.  Spiritual life is being fully with Him.  

Jesus came to connect us with God, totally, completely, freely.  He came to open the way for our return, for our ability to not only choose to be and change into a fully good, honest, wise, love and light-filled individual, but also to open the door for our healing, and to fully undo the damage we have caused, since none of us would otherwise be able to stand in God's presence for long, so fully aware of the difference between us and how far from what God is we are in Goodness, Truth, Love and Light.

None of us are there yet.  But He he came to open that door, and shepherd us through if we are willing, whether we recognize His hand in it or not.

Saving is what he offers.  Salvation is a word that means many different things to different people, all of them dealing with good things.  And it is a word that incorporates amazing principles and realities.

I like this attempt at defining it, from The Pulpit Commentary, first published in 1909:

"Through him the world may be saved from its ruin, by reason of individuals accepting his grace. The saving of humanity as a whole issues from the believing and living of men. God's love of the world and his sending of his Son aim at the saving of the world as their Divine end. Salvation (σωτηρία) is the largest of all the famous biblical terms which denote the restoration and blessedness of man. It means all that is elsewhere denoted by "justification," but much more than that. It connotes all that is included in "regeneration" and "sanctification," but more than these terms taken by themselves. It includes all that is involved in "redemption" and "adoption" and the "full assurance," and also the conditions of "appropriation" - the subjective states which are the human antecedents of grace received, such as "faith" and "repentance," with all the "fruits of the Spirit." These Divine blessings originated in the bosom of the Father, where the only begotten Son forevermore abides, and they are all poured forth through the Son upon the world in the coming of the Christ. He was sent to save."

God rest ye merry, gentlmen.
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember, Christ, our Savior, 
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's power 
When we have gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

3 Nephi 20:8

John chapter 4 is the chapter were Jesus tells the woman at the well
Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again:
But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.

John, chapter 6 is the chapter where Jesus tells his followers
He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.
As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eats of this bread shall live forever.

And those statements in chapter 6 sounded so unusual that many people thought he was just too weird, and 
From that time on, many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him.…

So what is this never being thirsty or this receiving enough sustenance to be able to live by eating and drinking him?

3 Nephi 20:8
And he said unto them: He that eateth of this bread [he had just administered bread and wine to them in sacramental form] eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.

I think that the message is this:

That it is the spiritual hunger of the soul that He fills and satisfies.

That the living of the laws he taught may make your life better and your sense of accomplishment increase.  They may cause you to do more good in the world and be more dedicated to good causes.  They may help keep you out of trouble and make you more energized and help you feel more enlightened and on track.  They may keep you busily occupied all your life long.

But that living those laws. though extremely worthy and important and good, will not eliminate spiritual hunger.  Only when we make Him part of ourselves, taking into our very souls who and what he is and what he taught, do our souls cease their sense of insufficency and, instead, begin to feel brim-full.

Or, as he said later, at the passover supper:

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect (complete and whole) in one.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Doctrine and Covenants 105. After slogging your way to Missouri.

Today our Sunday school class spent some time in Doctrine and Covenants 105.  It was recorded in 1834, after the Zion's Camp group had trudged the long, difficult journey to Missouri and, in spite of their efforts, were completely unable to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the problem of bigotry and violent expulsion of people from Jackson County.

Before He lays out the instructions as to how they should proceed (stay a while and see if you can help, but do not resort to violence) the Lord explains why their efforts to effectuate political redress or righteous action on the part of governing officials have not been successful.

I was struck by how it may well apply to us today as well and perhaps even why some do not see how they may have contributed to where we find ourselves now, or the fallout in the near future.

"They [members of the church in general] have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

"And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

"And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law if the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

"And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience [to celestial law], if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer....

"Behold [they say that God] will deliver [the poor and the afflicted] in time if trouble, [so] we will not go up into Zion, and will keep our moneys.

"Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine leaders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion, that they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly their duty, and the things which I require at their hands."

Larry Barkdull has an interesting article on what "the law of the celestial kingdom" means HERE.  In a nutshell it is love of God and fellow men, a belief that all things belong to God and that we are stewards thereof, a willingness to create unity by esteeming others as ourselves, exercising agency wisely, setting aside selfishness and seeking equality according to wants, needs and family situations, being accountable to God for the responsibilities to which he has entrusted us, exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting of our sins, embracing the teachings of Jesus, seeking to end poverty in our communities, and the use of priesthood power to bless and assist those who are physically or mentally or emotionally ill or in need.  (The last one is what they were counseled specifically as a first step to while they spent the last bit of time in Missouri).

So, as my country heads into a political situation where my people, including many of those who profess to know Christ, find themselves faced with (and in many cases actually having voted for) newly appointed or elected politicians who apparently do not listen and are not interested in listening to or responding to the afflictions of people who are victims of violence and bigotry ( in the 1834 situation, one of them was my great, great grandmother, along with her parents and siblings, and another was Lewis's great, great grandfather, with his wife and their two little children--now it is others), I see parallels.

Though there are many, many leaders and members of my faith who do understand what living a celestial law means, I think that by and large there are far, far too many of us who "have not learned to be obedient to the things which [He has] required" of us, that many of us harden our hearts to imparting of our substance to the poor and afflicted as becometh saints. And we are certainly not united in a Celestial manner, but are constantly having to be reminded over the pulpit to stop judging or resenting each other and be more charitably inclined and to step up our wise use of priesthood power to bless and help others, and consecrate our lives more fully to a celestial law level.  And so, it seems we are in for some chastening, learning things the hard way "by the things which we suffer".

I hope we believers,  learn quickly as we are "taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly [our] duty, and the things which [God] require[s] at [our] hands".  If I were a church leader, having figuratively slogged my way to Missouri with my very human cohorts, and feeling the intransigence of those members who refused to leave their comfort zone and help, I certainly would feel my patience being tried as I "wait for a season...that [I] may be prepared".  I suspect that many of them do.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Alabastar box of very precious ointment Matthew 26:7-8

Thriftiness is often good.  It's even emotionally satisfying.  There's something very gratifying about having made do with less, or creating something good with little financial outlay, or finding a great deal, or wearing a piece of clothing you like and that you found for a song at a second hand shop.  But it is not always what is best.  Sometimes spending more is worthwhile.  Which thing I had not thought about much

"Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon, the leper, There came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head, as He was eating {at food {meat}}. But when His disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, He said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon MeFor ye have the poor always with you; but Me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on My body, she did it for My burial. Verily I say unto you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."

This verse has often given me pause, because I recognize myself  in the disciples' response.  This time through I looked at the situation more closely.

The scenario:

Jesus knows he will be betrayed and crucified.  His disciples have been told, but they desperately hope it is not true, except for one who has decided to act treacherously anyway.  He is living with what he knows is imminent and, rather than seeking reassurance or empathy or emotional support from others, he spends that time giving of himself; washing feet, offering the first sacrament, teaching what they will need to know to be able to carry on without him.  They see him as their teacher and Savior. They are in the student and follower mode.  They are receiver mode.  They see what he does for them and respect and love him for it, they try to be good stewards, but they do not minister to him in return.

But she does.  

She does not do so thriftily, counting the cost and trying to spend as little as possible, but she kindly and abundantly gives as she ministers to him.

Amidst all of the difficult anticipation of what was coming and the giving of himself that he was doing in spite of that, what a solace that gift of ministry may well have been to him.

What I learn:  That thrift is a good practice, but it is not always the best virtue. It is not an independent measure of our rightness. We must also be freely willing to give and spend according to and beyond what is thrifty when it is good to do so.  "Good measure, pressed downshaken together and running over" is the way Christ describes some of the giving from our Father in Heaven.  (Luke 6:38)  We must learn to feel free to do that kind of giving as well when it is needed and we have the means.

The disciples' response is indignation.  "To what purpose is this waste?  For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor." 

Thrift is good.  Giving to the poor is good.  But they are not to be used as an excuse for scrimping on ministering when it is needed here and now and I am not to judge or find fault with others who feel called to spend abundantly as they minister.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Plans for the future

“My plans for the future are to serve more and better, to worry less about the things that are unimportant, to let my wife and children know how much I love them, to openly support whatever I can see is good, to appreciate and to encourage everyone in the best way possible, and, in short, to do more of what makes life meaningful.” 
― Norris B. FinlaysonTree Farm Days

Friday, November 11, 2016

When light-hearted laughter actually makes things worse.

Our branch builders here are, as far as I can tell, really good about treating the culture here with respect. I am grateful for that.

 A recent day spent with some people from away reminded me how much I do not like conversations or even brief comments that discuss things in a culture that are different from mine and that involve laughter, even if it is just cheerful laughter due to surprise.  I REALLY, REALLY  don’t like those.  They create separation between “us” and “them”.  They reduce comprehension to differences in the outward appearance instead of appreciation for the values and ingenuity or good principles that are behind them.  They alienate people from that culture who overhear you.  I think I not only don’t like those kinds of conversation, I despise them.  They are destructive in subtle ways that are not seen, but are potent.

I understand that they are often an  unconscious and spontaneous response and that those who respond that way generally have no clue about the effect that they have and usually would consider themselves people of goodwill, but I still really, really don't like those laughing conversations and comments.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Election results (pun intended)

I have long believed that, in the scriptures, "the elect" refers to people who have been taught light and truth; who have been blessed to hear it and have, at least in form, declared that they embrace it.   I know and deeply love so many of them.

This morning I woke up with these phrases from Jesus' words and Isaiah's warnings ringing through my mind:  "even the very elect shall be deceived" and "woe unto those who call good evil and evil good, who put darkness for light and light for darkness".  I will be studying these passages.

I believe that this is happening now in ways that far too many of "the elect", are tragically blind to. I believe that Jesus understood that it would happen, many, many times in the centuries that would follow, and knowing that he knew, I will turn to his counsel as I navigate this time.

I mourn, but I do not abandon hope in Christ.  I will continue to stand firm in what he has taught, continue to be a voice for it, support those who comprehend it, and pray to be able to ever fight against hate, fear, disdain, dismissiveness or pride that may threaten to invade my own heart and mind as I do so.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

And whosoever: Anger, Raca and Fool, Matthew 5

I woke up this morning thinking about the state of discourse in my own country, both in the realm of politics and in the realm of religious and social dialogue, with these verses ultimately ringing through my head:

But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: and whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

“Raca.—As far as the dictionary sense of the word goes, it is the same as that of the “vain fellows” of Judges 9:4, Jdg_11:3; Proverbs 12:11; but all words of abuse depend for their full force on popular association, and raca, like words of kindred meaning among ourselves, was in common use as expressing not anger only but insolent contempt. The temper condemned is that in which anger has so far gained the mastery that we no longer recognize a ‘brother’ in the man who has offended us, but look on him with malignant scorn.” -- Charles John Ellicott (1819–1905)

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.;

“Because men are very apt to fall into rash anger, and to express their anger by contemptuous speeches and abusive names, fancying that there is no sin in these things, or but little, and that the compensation may easily be made for them by acts of devotion, Jesus declares that atonement is not to be made for these offenses by any offerings, how costly soever, and therefore prescribes immediate repentance and reparation as the only remedies of them. He insisted particularly on reparation, assuring us that, unless it be made, God will not accept the worship of such offenders, being infinitely better pleased with repentance than with sacrifices, or external worship of any kind, how specious soever those duties may appear in the eye of vulgar understandings. Vain, therefore, is their presumption, who fancy they can make amends for yet more gross acts of injustice, by acts of devotion.” —  Rev James MacKnight DD (1721-1800)

Have we, as individuals,  indulged in the sin of dismissive speech and scorn?  Are we, as a nation, involved in this sin that Jesus so fully condemns?  Absolutely: in the realm of politics, in the realm of civil discourse, in the realm of social and moral discussion and debate, in our media and in our conversations in our homes, with our neighbors, in our workplaces, in our schools and even, heaven help us, in our Sunday School classes.  And so we must honestly answer the question; in what ways have we also embraced and excused this sin in ourselves, for we cannot escape being lulled into complacent acceptance of hell-worthy thinking and speaking when we are so fully immersed in it in our society.  We easily recognize it in the people with whose ideas we fully disagree.  But we excuse it in ourselves.

Some versions of the Bible add the phrase “without a cause” to this injunction against being scornful or dismissive of another.  However, the  earliest extant manuscripts of these verses do not include this phrase, neither does the version (JST) I often refer to.  (See also 3 Ne. 12)  Perhaps they were added to manuscripts  later as a thoughtful individual contemplated the very human response of righteous indignation.  But in its earliest form of these verses  Jesus condemns scorn for, or the angry dismissing as foolishness of, the ideas and actions of others, period, no excuses.   It is a call to each of us, me, you, all of us, to  repentance of even our own most self-justified sins of scorn and self-righteous dismissiveness of others with whom we disagree.

Only when we are able to make those changes in ourselves, speaking and thinking of others with whom we passionately disagree with human dignity regardless of how completely or thoroughly we disagree with them, and regardless of whether or not they make those changes in themselves, will we have any logical hope to be able to move towards iterations of  the various lasting changes in our society that we each, variously,  so desperately want and then make them last.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The blessing of hearing and turning away. Acts 3:26

"to you first, God, having raised up His child Jesus, did send him, blessing you, in the turning away of each one from your evil ways."
Acts 3:26

The lessons we teach here often focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, speaking reverently and gratefully for his gift of taking the punishment for our sins, paying the price for them, so that we may repent and stand, redeemed and "justified", before God at the last day. 

There is another profound blessing that comes as we learn the teachings Jesus taught when God sent him to earth and he lived here and as, a result of that learning, repent,  turning away from our evil ways.  And that blessing is every day, not just at the last day.

I realize how much freer and meaningful and profound our daily lives are when we turn from "evil ways" and follow the teachings of Christ (whether or not we realize they are the things he taught). And also, I am aware of how many unhappy natural and logical consequences we avoid that would otherwise arise from our own personal choices to indulge in "evil ways".  

We do not usually speak of this because doing so causes us to sound too much like the pharisee praying in the temple "Oh Lord, I am grateful that I am not like so and so...."  (Luke 18:10-12) And that's a pit to avoid like the plague.

But this verse at the end of Peter's remarks to the crowd at the temple reminds me that it is good to stop and recognize privately, to God, the daily, freeing, blessing it is to have been made aware of the wise principles and practices that Jesus taught while on earth, and the blessing of being able to choose them, and that I should be humbly grateful for the logical and natural consequences that result when we incorporate them daily into our lives.

"We thank thee for every blessing, bestowed by thy bounteous hand".

Monday, October 17, 2016

On politics and elections and Matthew 16

My current work makes it foolish for me to comment in public forums on current American politics.  But I can post a comment here to articulate what has been going on in my head after reading JST Matthew 16.  And I think that's okay considering how few read this blog.

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  And now for a man to take up his cross is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments….Break not [abandon not] my commandments for to save your [political or physical or social or any other kind of] lives; for whosoever will  to save his [political or physical or social etc.] life in this world, will lose it in the life to come.  And whosoever will lose his [political, physical or social life], for my sake, shall find it in the world to come."

It is always a bad idea to vote for a candidate who directly advocates and personally embraces ungodliness and lust simply because you believe the hate speech directed at his or her opponent or fear the opposing political party or potential  future legislation.  Fear and hate are never good reasons for voting and they are definitely never good reasons for compromising one’s commitment to Christ and his prescription for godly behavior.

 A politician who revels in his or her ungodly behavior daily  in his interaction  with others, denigrating other human beings, will never listen to you as a constituent unless you excuse and justify or minimize his wickedness and actively or passively support it.  And I, as a follower of Christ, have made a personal commitment that I will not do that.

I have lived long enough to have learned that it is not the party platform that makes a political candidate reliable and responsible.  It is not his or her foreign policy proposals or his or her domestic agenda.  It is not how much I disagree with the platform of the opposing party or how much I am bothered by his or her opponent.  It is the candidate’s personal commitment to basic godly principles of civility, decency, and willingness to sacrifice for the good of others, his or her moral compass, that makes a candidate reliable and responsible.  That personal commitment to basic principles may not have led that candidate to the same political conclusions that I have made.  It may sometimes even lead him or her to sponsor  legislation that I think is short-sighted, or wrong, or downright stupid.  But that moral compass must be there if I am to have any hope at all that he or she will listen to constituents or work with opponents to craft legislation that supports the vision of his constituents, including me.

No political candidate is without sin.  None  of us are.  All them have done stupid things.  All of them have bought into some of the world’s lies. But some have developed moral compasses and others simply have not.

Never vote out of fear.  Always vote for people who show evidence of civility, respect, goodwill, and a moral compass in spite of their stupid mistakes and their political ideas that do not mesh with yours.   (I have never met a politician that I did not seriously disagree with on some point or other.)  People who show evidence of those qualities can be persuaded to look at truth and work with opponents and listen to their honest hearted, civil, engaged constituents who see things differently than they do.  People who don’t, will never be.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ I hope that I would not ever support, embrace, or even justify or excuse ungodliness and lust or reveling in breaking basic commandments of God in any situation in order to save my own life.  And certainly never, ever, in order to save the life of a political party.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

You can't ask someone to....

"I think one of the most important traits a leader can have is knowing as a leader you can’t ask someone to do something you yourself wouldn’t do.
"I think this starts with the simple things and still applies with the large things; from things like a dress code to things like expecting employees to stay late at the office. If you ask something of someone you aren’t willing to do yourself it makes your credibility and respect factor decrease"

HS:  "Knowest thou the 'condescension' of God?"  The 'coming down to experience with you' of God?

N:  "I know that he loveth his children".

1 Nephi 11:16-17

God is our model of leadership.  He is love, expressed in His coming to be and work with us, not just directing the work, but coming here and living the work, and the circumstances, and the limitations, and the requirements, and the struggles too.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Paul on Self-Deception

Thanks to the Scriptorium Blogorium, part of which is posted below, that made me chuckle because it hit so closely to something that Lewis and I had just been fussing over that morning.  Touché.

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galatians 6:3-4)

"When we think we’re something when we’re nothing, of course we lie to ourselves. And if we persist, we will also deceive other people.  But eventually we will be put to the test, and it will reveal our nothingness and disappoint both ourselves and others.

"Also, it is easy to get a cock-eyed notion of what we’re capable of when we judge others or mentally charge them with neglect or pride or some other deficiency.  So often we think, “I could do better than that.”  But so often we are ignorant of what is involved—of the challenges to be overcome, of the opposing forces to be balanced, of the negotiations to be made, of considerations to be taken into account, of the skills required. The only way to find out how good you are at something is to test yourself, to prove your own work.  That will turn into a humbling process.  Ultimately, you’ll know more about yourself and you’re less likely to deceive yourself that way again.

"We can be tested by the Lord through circumstances, and we can also test ourselves.

"The one time I remember saying, “I could do better than that,” I then tested myself and over the process of a year or so discovered that I had indeed been deceiving myself.  It was a painful experience, but I’m still grateful for having done it because of what it taught me about myself. It also taught me much greater respect for the person I had previously looked down on."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Use and Discard. Exactly.

The Deseret News nailed it:

"Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot."

In my opinion it is this objectification and complete disregard for the dignity and value of not only women but any person or group of people who is not himself that is at the heart of one of the most horrendously concerning examples of narcissist and sociopathic behavior by a political figure in our country's history.

Link to the newspaper's editorial:  HERE

Friday, September 30, 2016

Two things that I appreciate

There are a couple of things that I always appreciate here.

One is the swirl of water vapor in the cabin of airplanes.  We fly to Ho Chi Minh monthly, so we have logged a lot of flying miles.  And usually, as the plane begins to taxi to the runway, the vents are opened to start air circulating in the cabin, and the humid air from outside comes swirling into the cooler cabin and we suddenly have lovely twirling clouds inside the plane.  I enjoy watching the patterns they create in the air.  Science is a lovely thing.

Another thing I appreciate is the flexibility and power demonstrate in the Asian squat.  Here is a photo of a man, who with his young teenage son, was working at his car and motorbike washing station.

Note the amazing flexibility demonstrated by the angle of his ankle joint. That looks like a 60 degree angle to me with the heel firmly on the ground .  That means wonderfully flexible hamstrings.  He subsequently made that angle even smaller when he leaned forward, putting his shoulders forward of his knees.  Wow.  You try it.

And people go from this position to standing up in one smooth movement, totally powered by leg muscles.  That's amazing leg strength.

I am always impressed by that flexibility and strength that seems so every-day to them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Con = "Together" or "With", Sacrare = "To Make Holy"

Consecrate, Consecration

Fron the Latin "consecratus" past participle of the verb, "consecrare";
"Con", meaning together or with + "sacrare", meaning to sanctify, or to make holy

 Another way of thinking about practicing the concept of "consecration" as a way of life.

"I noticed how focused I was on each act, I sought to make every nail just right, and every cut straight and true. I wasn’t so much focused on trying to make everything perfect per se, but to do everything in a manner that made it sacred."   ~ Steve Reed

The difference between focusing on trying to do something "right", and focusing on trying to do something in manner that makes it sacred; dedicated to God.

It is no just giving up what you have to God, or just using what God has given you to further His work.  It is the process of you humbly seeking to make yourself, and all you have, and all the work you do, become an element of holiness and oneness with Him.

Steve Reed's writing on the subject:  "What if Everything Became Sacred"

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Teaching Real Faith and Discipleship

 “At their best, youth ministries attract and at least temporarily retain teenagers who might otherwise leave the church. But the relentless attention to teenage tastes ends up communicating that God exists to make us feel good.  [And so] Christianity operates as a lifestyle enhancement…And increasingly, Americans of all generations take it for granted that emotional fulfillment is one of the main purposes of religious faith…"

~ Thomas Bergler "The Juvenilization of American Christianity"

Some of our young volunteers have not been fooled, but some still struggle because they have not seen beyond "how it makes me feel", or "personal performance of church standards makes me feel good about myself" as the measure of faith, light, truth and discipleship. 

So today I am contemplating ways we can help them catch the vision of living a life of profound strength in Christ amidst the foundation shaking challenges of life; to see faith and discipleship as deeply personally transforming both our hearts and our actions; a force for strength and peace and love that makes us His committed and holy servants who are finding strength in Him through all things life brings, rather than seeing faith as a form of hoping for and expecting and depending upon divinely bestowed, indulgent and random, (or, alternatively, performance based)  gifts of happiness boosts amidst the vagaries of our lives.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Materialism and "Self-Reliance"

This week the phrase "enough and to spare" has been rolling around my mind as we evaluate the monthly allotments  that our branch builders work with each month.  A conversation with a young elder about dealing with roommates who want to eat your food, that evolved into a discussion of seeing one's funds as not only an opportunity to support yourself, but also the empowerment to plan acts of thought-out generosity within one's budget has made me think about our own attitudes about the income we have.

"Self-Reliance" is, in my opinion, an inaccurate term used in the church to denote the state of being careful and knowledgeable and wise and humble and hardworking enough to work hand in hand with God as you seek to support yourself and your family.  It's not really just reliance on yourself.  It's working with God.

The principles taught in the "Self-Reliance" course here are very helpful in all of the above qualities of "self-reliance".

There is, however, as we consider the notion of "self-reliance",  a way of viewing our financial situation that we are all susceptible to falling into and that can lead to 1) very foolish decisions and 2) pride and selfishness, and seeking increasing acquisition as the measure of our competency.  It is the sin of materialism.

This quote by Dallin H. Oaks, from his book "Pure in Heart" is one I wish to refer to as I re-evaluate my own stewardship of my abundance.

"Men and women who have heard and taken to heart the scriptural warnings against materialism should not be vulnerable to the deceitfulness of riches and the extravagant blandishments of its promoters . . . 

"If Latter-day Saints are specially susceptible to materialism, this may be because materialism is a corruption of a virtue in which Latter-day Saints take special pride. Materialism is a seductive distortion of self-reliance. The corruption occurs through carrying the virture of 'providing for our own' to the point of excess concern with accumulating treasures of the earth."

And, frankly, I have accumulated more stuff than I need.  As I said...good for me to refer to.

Friday, August 05, 2016

What Ellie Wrote about Married Love

"And who knew: staying in love is actually the same thing as growing up. To stay married means to shed the illusions of romantic love and replace them with the reality of two damaged (as we all are in some way or another) human beings trying to care for each other and to learn to love, rather than seek to recapture the early childhood paradise of being completely cared for and accepted unconditionally. Love involves two people constantly stepping on each other's emotional toes and finding a way to forgive each other, continually, year after year. It means learning to tolerate failure in oneself and the other, to be disappointed, to realize that a life can be merely ordinary and yet take great courage to live...

"[And] along with tolerating a lot of frustration, maturity [growing up] means embracing those moments of happiness wholeheartedly, recognizing how precious they are. Happiness is not a goal but when it comes,...allow it its sway. "

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Parsing John 6: King? Food? They don't get it.

 Jesus feeds the five thousand and then goes off to be alone when some of the crowd, all excited about the wonder of getting free food, wants to take him by force to make him the “king” Messiah that they anticipate.  

His disciples take a ship to go to Capernaum and He joins them later by walking on the water.  

Those he fed discover his departure and follow him to Capernaum, looking for Him.  And then there is this conversation:

The Crowd of Followers (TCOF): When did you come here?  (We can’t figure out how you got here.)

Jesus: You have not followed me here because of the miracles you saw me do that helped others.  You are here because you were hungry yesterday and, to your surprise, I gave you enough bread to eat that you were not hungry anymore.  But that should not be the reason why you are here.  Your motive should not be the fact that you received temporary solution to an ongoing, physical need; that I gave you food.  Your motive for being here should be a hunger for that which gives light and life to the soul sufficient to qualify you for life with God.  The Son of Man (I) can give that to you.

TCOF:  So, what do we need to do to have life with God and do his work?

Jesus:  If you wish to live a godly life, one that involves doing His work, you must believe the one He sent.

TCOF: Okay.  You're saying that's you, right?  Show us a sign so that we may believe.  Show us what you do.   (Ironic…they recently saw a him heal the sick numerous times, see John 6:2.  It seems they are mostly interested in another show.  Miracles for personal entertainment?  Miracles for generating enthusiasm?  They seem to have missed the whole purpose of those healing miracles—compassionate healing for others).  How about manna? “Bread from Heaven”. Moses did that for our ancestors.  That would be a good sign. (Back to the notion of “feed us food” again).

Jesus: Moses did not give you “bread from heaven”.  Manna was a miracle, but it was to meet a physical, earthly need. It was a physical, earthly substance for a physical, earthly need.  Heavenly bread fills a spiritual, heavenly need and comes from God.  Heavenly bread is the person who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.

TCOF: Great!  Give us some of this bread!

Jesus:  I am that bread.  A person who comes to me will never be spiritually hungry.  A person who believes me and trusts what I have said will never be spiritually thirsty.    You have seen me, but you do not believe me.  You will need to believe first.  Every good blessing that God promises, He will give to me.  And if you come to me, I will share it abundantly.  You see, I came from heaven, not with my own agenda, but with the full intent to do what God wants.  And do you know what He wants?  He wants everyone who comes to me, and understands and embraces this new way of life of loving God and fellowmen, to be raised up to everlasting life.  With me that is possible.  I will do that.

TCOF:  Good grief.  The gall of calling himself “the bread that came down from heaven”.  Everyone knows he’s Joseph and Mary’s son.  “Bread from heaven”, indeed!

Jesus: Don’t murmur.  The fact is this:  The only way to come to me is for you to do what the Father wants.  What does he want?  He wants you to accept me for who I really am: the Son.  The Father testifies that that is who I am.  And if you understand and accept that testimony from the Father, and you live a life committed to doing what the Father hopes and wants you to do, then the result will be that I will raise you up in the resurrection of the just.  Every man, woman and child will have the opportunity to be taught this.  And those who learn this from the Father (recognize its truth from personal revelation) and live a life attempting to do the will of the Father are those who “come to me”.  And that believing—the kind that transforms your life—is what everlasting life is all about.  The fact is, I am the bread of life.  That’s different from the manna.  It’s also different from the bread you ate yesterday. Those were helpful, but they did not bring everlasting life.

At this point Jesus then launches into an analogy which refers to his atoning sacrifice, his crucifixion and the ordinance of communion/sacrament which is a renewing of our covenant to come to Him and which he will revisit in his teaching at the time of the Last Supper.  And it is way over the heads of his listeners.

TCOF:  This is just too weird.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Birthday Visit

Look who dropped by to wish L. a happy birthday (and bring him brownies).  We love these fine, young people.  Such courage and goodwill.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Goodman's Home: the site of the last supper and the first Communion/Sacrament

“And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare [the passover meal]?
"And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. 
(I know he's not carrying a pitcher...but I really like the expression on this water-carrier's face.)
"And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.”  
Luke 22: 9-12
What we know:
In this household, a man or manservant was not above doing service in the form of unconventional work or traditional women's work in order to maintain the well-being of the people living there. There is an indication here of a household that is more interested in working for the benefit of the group as a whole than it is in maintaining appearances or maintaining traditional hierarchical patterns that designated some tasks as "beneath one's dignity".
Jesus did not name the goodman (head of the household) of the house when he gave his disciples the information they needed to locate him.. It was a man that the disciples did not know by name, though likely Jesus did.
The goodman was a man who recognized Christ as “the Master” and was readily willing to welcome other of his disciples, whom he did not know personally, to use a room in his home for worship.
And it was in this house, where a goodman readily welcomed others to worship, and where household members were humbly willing to serve, regardless of the opinions of others or traditional views of who is supposed to do what, that Jesus, washing his disciples' feet,  again taught his most powerful lesson on servanthood and leadership.
He had taught it earlier: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”  Matthew 23:11
They had not yet understood this fully. Peter's strong, initial objection when Jesus started to wash his feet indicates that he was still too aware of conventional ideas about leadership to fully accept the idea that true leaders engaged in activities that were considered “beneath them”.

And therefore, Jesus' words:
“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
There is a correlation, perhaps, between the master who washed his disciples feet, and the man who worked in the house where He did so and who carried the woman's water jug to the well and back. Both were undertaking humble service that was considered beneath them by those who embraced what followers of traditional rules of hierarchy expected of them.
And I find it telling that this household, where a man was not too proud to serve others by doing work that others would consider “beneath him”, and where unknown believers were welcomed, was the place where the first recorded ordinance of the Sacrament was performed. Those qualities of humility, service and welcome that seem to have been part of the culture of the household where the first breaking of bread in remembrance of Him occurred are what I think Jesus hopes and expects in the culture of those of us who are part of a any congregation that partakes of communion/sacrament in remembrance of Him.
The goodman and his servant created and maintained that culture in their sphere.   Do we?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Matthew 4: What I learned this time.

I see three erroneous assumptions being teased out in the devil's temptation of Christ.

a.  That meeting one's physical needs, including food, is of primary importance, ahead of doing that which may be the will of God, or our spiritual needs at any particular moment.

b. That one of God's primary purposes is to prevent us or others from having to suffer; that safety, health and well-being are not only things we can pray for, but also are things we should expect. from God if we are good.

c. That the praise of the world, or power in it, is so desirable, for whatever purpose, that we should have no compunction about indulging in ignoble activities, or embracing evil, in order to attain them. For certainly, we rationalize, think of all the good we could accomplish from such positions!

So, what do I learn this time around?

a) To think soberly about how often I let my appetites for food or other enjoyable aspects of life entice me to avoid spending time and effort doing something else the Lord would wish me to be doing at that time. Certainly supplying what my body needs is good stewardship, but focusing on satisfying cravings to the extent that it gets in the way of my being open and responsive to the will of God, or indulging in them to the extent that it causes me to physically be unable to work well with Him is unwise.

b) Certainly it is reasonable to want the charitable desires of our hearts, including safety from harm for ourselves and those we love, and to pray to God for those. But to expect it when I know about the suffering of the Son of God himself during his lifetime, seems foolish. I should be extremely grateful for those safe and healthy times in my life, certainly. But if maintaining my health and safety and that of those I love is my measure of navigating life successfully, I am misguided in my choice of measuring stick. Praying for health and safety is good. It is best when coupled by understanding that I must expect to be called upon to unselfishly navigate sometimes, with God, situations or periods of time when that is definitely not the case.

c.) Jesus lived in a world not unlike ours. He lived in a country governed by a dictatorship, where many local power brokers were not afraid to wheel, deal, trample and kill in order to maintain their positions, and where the result was frequent abuses of power, and injustice delivered to the poor and oppressed. No wonder many Jews hoped he would be the Messiah they hoped for. Just think what a relief it would be if a person of charity, honesty and vision were the one in power instead! 
 And so we likewise are tempted to “play the political game” or fudge a bit in regards to an annoying law, or galvanize the troops, in order to get ourselves or someone else into a position where we or they will have the power to do enact the good we want to happen in society.

What Jesus chose:
Prioritizing godliness over gratification. 
Appreciating health and safety but not making it a defining definition of a blessed life. 
Never compromising principles in order to secure anticipated opportunities to do good.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Empty Centers and the Fire of the Lord

Thoughtful presentation on why being able to say "I know it is true" is not that which truly fulfills our search for profound spiritual enlightenment and connection with God.

Thank you, Sister James. Thank you, Sister Columba.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Iron Rod may be more than you knew. Looking at Lehi’s experience with his dream and Nephi’s understanding of it.

  The Iron Rod may be more than we traditionally think it to be.

In chapter 15 of 1st Nephi, Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, quiz him about the meaning of various elements of the dream that Lehi described to them.  “What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?”

And Nephi answered that “it was the word of God; and whoso should hearken to the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations of the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.  Wherefore..give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, …give heed unto the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things.”

The use of the phrase “the word of God” is one that has its genesis outside of our particular religious faith.  It shows up in both the book of Hebrews and in the book of John.  It is traditionally used by many religious traditions to signify holy scripture. (Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Koran are all referred to by that title by their religious adherents.) 
It is also used to refer to the divine revelation sent through holy prophets as exemplified in the words of Jeremiah and Elisha in the Old Testament who were wont to proclaim “Hear ye the word of the Lord…” as they delivered messages to the people.

As latter-day saints, I think we tend to read these two definitions of “the word of the Lord” into Nephi’s dream: hold fast the teachings of the scriptures and the words of prophets—that is the iron rod, we think, that will “safely guide us through”.

But those are not the only definitions of “the word of God”.   That phrase is also used to refer to personal revelation, as in God’s personal message to Abraham in Genesis 15:1, “the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and they exceeding great reward.’”

And it is also used in an interesting way in the Book of Psalms; to describe the power of God, or
the means by which God creates all things and also effectuates his will.  (examples: Psalms 33, 107, 119, 147).

Some astute theologians also point out that it is exactly this last definition, “the means by which God effectuates his will”, that is behind the apostle John’s reference to Jesus as “the Word”.  For a very interesting treatment on that subject try this article:

So now, knowing that “the word of God” can refer to a number of different things, let’s look at Lehi’s journey to the Tree of Life, which represents “the Love of God”.

The story elements are as follows      
1)      Lehi follows a man in a white robe who bades him to follow him (divinely inspired messenger)
2)      As he does so he finds himself in a dark and dreary waste that he traverses for many hours
3)      He begins to pray to God for mercy (prayer which leads to…)
4)      He sees the large and spacious field and the tree.  (….personal revelation) 
5)      He goes forth and partakes of the fruit.

The process is one of following a divine messenger, praying for guidance and mercy, seeing the tree and walking to it.  Here we see elements of following divine messages from others, communicating personally with God which results in him being able to see clearly (revelation), and then making the effort to move forward towards what he sees (agency) and ultimately partake of it—make it a part of himself.

Later his wife and two of his sons also come to the tree, but their journey is different.  They are first aware of the tree when Lehi calls out to them, and they simply walk to where he is.  They use elements 1 and 5.  (Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, are not interested in making the journey.)

Next there is large group of people who also are making the journey.  They start out with being able to see the tree as they start the journey, but soon discover that they must take advantage of the opportunity to catch “hold of the rod” as the “mists of darkness” swirl around them (not unlike the dark waste Lehi experienced).  There is a parallel here as both they and Lehi encounter darkness on the journey and need help knowing how to proceed.  It would make sense therefore, that the iron rod that they hold onto in order to continue the journey to the tree represents the same kinds of things that helped Lehi through the journey:  personal revelation and increased vision and understanding that comes from personal communication with God.

So one could make a case that the iron rod represents entering into communication with God and receiving personal revelation.  And since personal revelation is also a scriptural definition of “the word of God”, that should not be surprising.

Since, as I have noted above, there are multiple definitions of “the word of God” I am inclined to believe that there are also elements of those definitions of the meaning of iron rod which Lehi saw.  I believe that is a reasonable assumption, given the way God tends to use symbolism.

But this post is already long enough.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Parsing Hebrews 2 Our reconciliation with God through the suffering and death of Jesus

Paul says:

It has long been established (by words of angels) that for every transgression and disobedience you commit you will have to receive the decreed (logical, natural, divine) consequence.

There is no way around that except through the power of salvation offered by God.

He then quotes Psalm 8:4-6 to point out that mankind, who is lower than the angels, may be crowned by God with glory and honor and set over the works of His hands.  He sees this truth manifested in Jesus who, as a man, "lower than the angels"-mortal, was crowned with glory and honor so that he would be able to experience and overcome both physical death and the pain of spiritual death (the above named consequence) on behalf of each of us.

He says that the Father wishes to bring many of his children to a state of holiness (sanctification) and the way to do that was through making the captain of their salvation (Jesus) perfect through that suffering on their behalf, thus receiving, on their behalf, the decreed consequences, leaving us justified (all consequences received and experienced) in God's eyes, and open to holiness.

Both those who turn to Christ, seeking oneness of purpose with him and sanctification (holiness with no unpaid sins) made possible by Christ's gift to us and also Christ himself, who did make possible our sanctification, become one in this process.  He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.  We become a package deal with him.

Paul quotes Psalm 18:2 and 22:22 to express what he envisions Jesus saying to us (a),
and what he says about the Father (b).
      a.  I will claim you as my family, and speak of that which is good about you, vouch for you, to the Father
      b. I put my trust in God, trusting Him in His salvation for all who have come unto to me and who have changed, are living repentance, have been born again, into my (Christ's ) family

We are mortal.  So was Jesus, who took on mortality that, through his death and the glory God gave him, he might destroy the post-death plans that the devil had for us.  (The devil counts on our eternal spiritual death--separation from God because of our sins.)  And so we do not have to fear death and the hellish bondage of separation from God, harrowed up by our sins.

Christ came to earth as a man so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest (the high priests in the temple had the responsibility for offering sacrifices as payment for sins)-- offering a sacrifice for sin that reconciles us to God instead of being eternally separated (spiritual death) from him.

And, says Paul, Jesus fully understands what it is like to be tempted to sin, and so he is fully able to help us as we struggle with temptation.  He understands.

And then chapter 3 is an exhortation to remain in that family of Christ, continuing in our repentance and in our confidence in him, and not hardening our hearts.