Friday, December 29, 2017

One thing I know.

This one thing I know: Great love or respect in a marriage or in a family is not anchored in seeking to create a standard of high performance in a mutually agreed upon worthy endeavor. That is not what ultimately makes that relationship become all that it can be. Rather great love is fostered and grows when there is “an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion”* combined with a deep, true and unwavering mutual appreciation and gratitude for all that is good in the other, regardless of challenges, or weakness, or “level of performance” as we seek, as individuals or as a couple, to simply do the good we can. 
A love thus fostered is the kind of love that will endure, with peace, to the end, long past the time when we are “performing at peak capacity” and far beyond the time in life when an elusive ideal of perfect seamlesss synchronization seemed mentally or physcially possible. It is a love that frees us to become, together, a union that is far beyond the measure of performance and rests simply and wholly in the realm of pure and heaven orchestrated charity. I choose that kind of love. I choose a love that simply is. I do not do it perfectly. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I fail. But it is what I choose. That is one wall upon which I choose to lean my life’s ladder.
“Great beyond comprehension is the love of God. He is our loving Eternal Father. Out of His love for us, He has given an eternal plan which, when followed, leads to exaltation in His kingdom. Out of His love for us, He sent His Firstborn into the world, who, out of His own divine love, gave Himself as a sacrifice for each of us. His was an incomparable gift of love to a world that largely spurned Him. He is our great exemplar. We should let love become the lodestar of our lives…Let that divine love, shed on us, be reflected from our lives onto others of our Father’s children.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley, April 1989
*G. B. Hinckley, “What God Hath Joined Together”, April 1991

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The basics: The Sermon on the Mount

Sermon the Mount. Making it more accessible. Here's the first draft for the first chapter, Matthew 5, starting with verse 16:
When you know a good and right way to live, live that way. That helps other people to see goodness and recognize the goodness of God.
You may get angry sometimes and that anger may make you want to do stupid or bad things. Anger can cause you to make very bad choices Be very wise. Be sure your reasons for anger are good ones. And no matter how much anger you feel, do good things because of it, not bad things. And certainly do not ever let your anger cause you to put down other people, no matter who they are.
Just don't make fun of other people, period.
So...instead....when you have a disagreement with someone or you are mad at them, work hard to find a solution that works for both of you. Working on that will make it much easier for you to hear and understand God's words when you worship at church.
Keep your thoughts focused on what is good, not on what feels exciting and pleasurable, because your thoughts are important as well as your actions.
Speak the truth plainly.
Don't swear.
Don't try to make things right by getting even.
When someone makes you give away something or to do extra work, be nice about it and generous too.
Love your neighbor.
Love your enemy.
Be good to people even if they are nasty to you.
Pray for people who are mean.
Do your good deeds quietly. Don't feel like you need to get other people to praise you for doing good things.
Pray privately.
When you pray, say what you think and be respectful.
Be thankful.
Ask Heavenly Father for help and for forgiveness and for the things you need.
Forgive others.
When you fast, don't complain and groan about it.
Be focused on being and doing good, not on getting stuff.
See life clearly and recognize goodness.
Put God ahead of money in your heart.
Be merciful.
Don't judge unkindly.
Worry about your own sins, not other people's sins.
Treat sacred things with respect and share them wisely and with wise restraint.
When you need God's help, ask for it, seek it. You will find it.
Treat others the way you like to be treated.
Seek to live the way God wants you to live and to do what he wants you to do. Doing that leads to eternal life.
Watch what happens when other people make choices and do stuff. That will help you to tell whether or not they are honest and true and good and whether or not their ideas can be trusted.
Be sure that when you are doing something in Jesus' name that it really is what he wants you to be doing.
When you learn Jesus' teachings don't just listen to them, actually do what he teaches.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

So, what brings miracles to pass?

Miracles are things that happen when God's power creates a good event that we could not have created by ourselves with our current knowledge and understanding.  Some are big and some are small.  Each one is good.

So, is exact obedience really the thing that brings miracles?

I studied in order to find out what the scriptures say are the things that make a miracle possible.

This is what I found.

Real miracles are possible 
  • When God commands them to happen.  (1 Nephi 17:50-51, Mormon 9:16-31))
  • According to our faith in Christ (2 Nephi 26:13 and Mosiah 8:18, Alma 57:26, Helaman 4:25, Mormon 9:16-31, Ether 12:8-22, Morni 7:33-42)
  • By the power of God (Alma 23:6, Alma 57:26, Helaman 4:25, Mormon 9:16-31)
  • When the one who performs the miracle is repentant (3 Nephi 8:1)
  • When our hearts are open to understand the Lord's words and we desire to communicate with Him (3 Nephi 19:24-35, Mormon 9:16-31)
  • When they are done in the name of Jesus, among a group of peaceful, just, and generous people (4 Nephi 1:25)
And finally (and I think this is important) being able to perform miracles is a gift.  We do not earn the ability to do them.  They are a divine gift.  (Moroni 10:12)

So, no, it seems that exact obedience does not earn or bring miracles.   But God can command them to happen.  And our faith in Christ and his teachings, and our willingness to work with him with a repentant heart helps.

So, once again, we are back to the basics: 
God's divine power 
Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ (not faith in a specific wished for miracle), 
Continuing repentance, 
Honest and willing hearts engaged in communication with God
Continuing to learn about, and live, a Christlike life 

Those bring miracles: events (both large and small) where you see the help or influence of God creating good situations or events that you cannot do yourself.  

Actually, that makes a lot of sense to me. 

3 days ago

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Obedience brings what?

So what do the scriptures say are, in reality, the anticipated results of obedience to the commandments of God?

It’s interesting how catchy sentences are so easy to remember.  But there is one problem with catchy phrases in the gospel.  They can oversimplify things.  

I have been thinking about this sentence that was put together by a young missionary several years ago.  So I went to the scriptures to find out what the scriptures really say can be the blessings that come from obedience.

Of course, none of us are perfect in obeying commandments of God, but happily, He does not require perfection before we start seeing some of the results. He freely gives to his children who are trying to do good.  And I think you are. 

Here are a few things I found:

Obedience is sometimes referred to as being “faithful and diligent”. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:3)

Obedience (being faithful and diligent) to God’s commandments helps us
to know whether or not the commandments are from God (John 7:17)
to abide in Jesus’ love (John 15:10)
to love our brothers and sisters with true charity (1st Peter 1:22)
to become worthy to enter heaven (Matthew 7:21)
to be unshakeable in times of trouble (Mathew 7:24-25)
to be prepared for celestial glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88)
to experience "blessedness" (the happiness that comes to those who find their purpose and fulfillment in God. (Luke 11:28)
to receive the good things of the earth, good harvest, blessings from above, and more commandments and revelations (Doctrine and Covenants 59:3-4)

That’s an interesting list of specific blessings to consider.

So, being obedient, if it’s done wisely, doesn’t necessarily result in you getting what you want, or being “successful” in your current work.  Instead, it can result in some different distinct blessings that are pretty amazing.

Something to consider: As we look at that list, do we recognize some of those blessings and results unfolding in our lives as we are faithful and diligent? Or are we so focused on other blessings that we want, and that we think we can “earn” with obedience, that we miss the blessings that he so freely gives?

They are amazing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Where the couplet "Obedience brings success; exact obedience brings miracles" came from

According to Tanner Skousen, the phrase in question was spoken at an MTC talk given by Wendy Watson Nelson (not Elder) in May of 2011.

Elder Nelson’s use of the same phrase shows up in a talk there four months later and then again in an MTC talk given in 2013.

But it seems that the phrase did not originate with them.

Sister Nelson used it a second time in a Boulder Colorado Stake Fireside on Feb. 3, 2013. 

According to an article written about that talk Sister Nelson said that the phrase came out of a conversation between a mission president and a missionary. And it was the young missionary who coined the couplet.

So why is this couplet still being bandied about in regards to the gospel?

I think this is another case of a catchy phrase being picked up because it’s catchy and arresting and then getting out of hand.

Moral of the story: think very carefully before you use a catchy phrase in a talk.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Father's love, justice and mercy. Doing the best we can with what we have been given.

“…the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.” (Alma 29:8)

“We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; our God and your God are one and the same” (29:46) “We have assigned a law and a path to each of you [Muslims, Jews, and Christians]. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about” (Qur'an  5:48)

“But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, “according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,” or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 218)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Great and abominable What? 1st Nephi 13:6-9

 “group”, “organization”, “assembly”, “church”, “cohort”, “network”, “support group”, “circle”, “band”, “clique”, “opinion leaders”, “insiders”, “movers and shakers” .... whatever term is used...their designation as “great and abominable” is manifested in their desires and motivations, conscious or unconscious:

“And the angel spake unto me saying [these] are the desires of this great and abominable...”

expensive fashion, 
objectification of others, 
sexual pleasure,
a deep emotional appetite for praise that overrules any sense of compassion

Sobering.  Very sobering.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“Church” in the New Testament

In the New Testament there are two words that early translators encountered that have an interesting history.  The two words are kuriakos and ecclesia.  The vast majority of those encounters were with  the word “ecclesia”.  A handful of other times, it was the word “kuriakos” or “kuriakon”.

The two words in Greek have different meanings.

 The meaning of "Ku-ri-a-kos" is understood by its root: "Ku- ri-os," which means "lord." Thus, "kuriakos"  means "pertaining to the lord." It refers to something that pertains to, or belongs to, a lord. The Greek "kuriakos" eventually came to be used in Old English form as "cirice" , then "churche" (kerke), and eventually "church" in its traditional pronunciation.

You can see that etymological history in this common this etymological notation:
Church [Old English cirice, circe; Middle English chereche, chiriche, chirche; whence churche, cherche, etc.: -Greek Kuriakon...]

However, “kuriakos” only turns up twice in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 11:20
Revelation 1:10

In both cases it is translated as “the Lord’s”

The vast majority of times that the word “church” shows up in the New Testament, the Greek word translated is not “kuriakos”,the word that developed into our modern English “church”, it’s “ecclesia”.  For example, when Jesus told Peter “upon this rock I will build my church”, the word used was “ecclesia”.

"Ecclesia" appears in the New Testament approximately 115 times. That's just in this one grammatical form. It appears also in other forms. And in every instance, except three, it is translated as "church” in the King James Version. Those three exceptions are found in Acts 19:32, 39, 41. In these instances the translators rendered it "assembly" instead of "church." But, the Greek word there is exactly the same as the other 112 entries where it was translated as "church”.

It turns out that the Acts 19 translation is closest to the actual Greek meaning.  It means a civil body or other organized group of what, in public affairs parlience, is called “opinion leaders”; people whose personal convictions sway that of others.

In Acts 19, "ecclesia" is a rather like a mondern town council: a civil body in Ephesus. Thus, the translators chose to use the word “assembly”.  However, the other 112 times they translated this word, that means “an assembly of people with convictions and power to change people’s opinions and decisions” they translated it as  "church."

Interestingly, The Greek word "ecclesia" is when disected is defined as: "The called-out (ones)" [ECC = out; KALEO = call]. Thus, you can see how this word was used to indicate a civil body of select (called) people.  And could also be used to indicate a group of believers “called” to the work and organized and meeting to do so.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
In the New Testament, "ecclesia" (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens,duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.

Quoting from the Oxford Universal English Dictionary on the word "ecclesia":
Ecclesia [mediaeval Latin, and Greek - from : SUMMONED] -A regularly convoked assembly, especially the general assembly of Athenians. Later, the regular word for church.

So, it seems, there is a broader meaning to the word “church” when it is found in the New Testament.  It does not just mean an organized, christian religion, or the building in which they meet, or a particular denomination or organanized group of Christian believers.  It means a group of people with a common purpose, any common purpose, that meets to discuss and works to further that purpose.  An “ecclesia”.

Try using that definition when you find that word in the New Testament.  I think you will find it enlightening and sensible.
“Upon this rock I will build my people who are gathered together with a common purpose.”  Matthew 16
“And great fear fell upon all the assembled people at that gathering, and upon as many as heard these things.”  Acts 5
“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the assembly of people called and gathered together.”  1 Corinthians 14
Etc. Etc.

The Book of Mormon uses the word “church” as well.  It is generally used the same way there.   And if you understand it there the way it is understood above in the New Testament, it also elucidates the nature of “the great and abominable church” that is discussed in 1 Nephi 13.  With this understanding, this phrase is not restricted to meaning a religious organization, but to any organization or assembly of people who are united in a common focus.   Which actually makes more sense.

(Side note: in the first half of the 19th century, the word “organization” did not yet carry the definition of “a group of people organized to do something”. — see Websters Dictionsary 1828 edition.  That came much later.  Therefore the English words used for such in the Book of Mormon translated in that era are “church”, “band”, "assembly", “combination” etc.)

The above is interesting to me (which of course, is why I wrote what I had learned), and perhaps a bit of additional support to the generally accepted notion that   when we restrict our definition of “the great and abominable church" to entities or people gathered within a religious structure we are missing quite a bit of the whole.

Friday, October 06, 2017

1 Nephi 12 War really IS hell

”And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the people of my seed gathered together in multitudes against the seed of my brethren; and they were gathered together in battle.  And the angel spake unto me, saying, ‘Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are hell.”  (vs. 15-16)

The battles he saw in vision were nearly 1000 years in the future.   And like every war before and since, they met the description of  “the seed of one brother gathered against the seed of another brother”,  “filthy water”, and the depths thereof were hellish.  Every. Single. Tragic one.  

Why does that description fit?  Because we are all brothers and sisters.  Children of God.   And because warring requires “hard hearts”, which are created when we succumb to “the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men...” (vs. 17).  The devil deals in distrust coupled with fear that hardens hearts, which hearts, because of that distrust and fear, become prone to lash out in hatred or violence in words as well as deeds.

As Dieter Uchtorf said, when he described a study made of  two different combinations of groups of people in conflict, “They discovered that “each side felt their own group [was] motivated by love more than hate, but when asked why their rival group [was] involved in the conflict, [they] pointed to hate as [the other] group’s motivating factor. *

“In other words, each group thought of themselves as the “good guys”—fair, kind, and truthful. By contrast, they saw their rivals as the “bad guys”—uninformed, dishonest, even evil.  They silenced those they did not like. They shamed and demonized them. They considered them inferior—even less than human. Once you degrade a group of people, you are more likely to justify words and acts of violence against them.“ **

So, I must be watchful of my heart, to turn it to the Lord and to charity, and not to overpowering fear, nor hate, nor worry, nor anxiety, nor indulgence in disdain or disregard for “the seed of my brother” no matter how horribly he is behaving, both in my daily interactions as well as in large scale conflicts in society.  Turning to charity and the Lord frees me to act wisely, and taste the fruit, and share it, and not drown in hellish depths.  Hopefully even when they swirl around me.

“...and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”

~ Exodus 14:21-22

Towering waters on either side, and yet passing to safety on dry land.

Boston College, “Study Finds Intractable Conflicts Stem from Misunderstanding of Motivation,” ScienceDaily, Nov. 4, 2014,

** Dieter Uchtdorf, “Three Sisters”, October 2017

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


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.


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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Have you the slightest idea what it is?

"Through his long experience of sorrow and loss Martin has learned how to give the one all-important thing that is necessary to a woman's happiness.  Have you the slightest idea what it is?  You will smile at the sentiment of women, and say 'Love, of course,' but it isn't love, at least it is not necessarily included in that term.  Many a man honestly loves his wife, and yet succeeds in making her miserable.  No! It is just a simple, homely quality without which the grandest of passions is incomplete!  Tenderness!  Tenderness means kindness and understanding and sympathy, and imagination, and patience--above all,  patience! When a man is in love he thinks a woman perfect, but she isn't, she is an irrational creature, inconsequent creature, whose mate will have need of patience every day of his life, and sometimes many times a day.  Of course there do exist paragons, calm, correct creatures, with smooth hair and chiseled features, who are always serene and self-contained, but then they are also independent of tenderness.  This grows complicated!  I'd better drop pretense and confess at once that when I talk generalities I really mean You and Me, the two people who are at the back of all generalities!"

Letter from Katrine Beverley to Jim Blair in An Unknown Lover, by Jessie de Horne Vaizey, 1913

P.S. Don't get tripped up by the "irrational...inconsequent" bit.  Please just allow this articulate fictional character to speak without foisting 21st century judgmentalism on her.  Annoyed judgmentalism just closes up and messes with your mind.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Being not of this world" John 8

John, chapter 8, starts out with the story of the woman taken in adultery, dragged before Jesus,  and asked what should be done with her.  It is in this story it is that he utters the famous words, “let he who is without sin first cast a stone at her”, and they all, convicted in their hearts, depart, leaving her with him.

When Jesus asks her where her accusers are; whether or not there is anyone left who condemns her, she she indicates that she knows that there are none there anymore.  And he says, “Neither do I condemn thee.   Go thy way and sin no more.”

So, first in this chapter we see Jesus withstanding the temptation to condemn a woman who has committed a very serious sin or even enjoy the thrill of listening to the lurid accusations, and instead, makes it clear that he is not condemning her, though he does kindly encourage her to change her both her heart and her actions.

As his disciples, we should take note.  And certainly, that is what he discusses in the next verses:  “I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.  It seems that there is a real connection between choosing not to condemn and walking in life giving light instead of darkness.

My personal experience is that this  is so; that when  I condemn another’s behavior, my spiritual life is darker and more fraught with irritablility and  lack of progress, and that when I cease to indulge in condemnation, there is much more spiritual light in my life.

Next Jesus ties this sin of judging/condemning to the sin of failing to repent.  That makes sense.  Generally when we are focusing on another’s sins we are simultaneously minimizing or even totally ignoring our own.  And when  we minimize our sins or ignore them, there is no way we can turn our hearts to believe in Christ and his teachings, turn to God, and, repenting, change our ways.

As an aside, almost all of us have lots of practice in condemning others.   We lived in world full of the practice when we were in middle school, where the most common way of trying to deal with one’s own insecurity was to find  real or imaginary flaws in others so that you could feel better about yourself.  Most of us need decades of practice to fully repent and leave that sinful habit behind.  So if you recognize this sin in yourself, you have lots of company.

Next, Jesus explains that if we choose to live in the way that he is warning us against, “Ye shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am he [who was sent from heaven], ye shall die in your sins…whither I go ye cannot come.”

In other words,if we are spending our time condemning the sins of others, which inclines us to spend little time turning to Jesus and repenting of our own sins, we cannot expect to be spending much time with him.  He couches it this way, “Ye are from beneath, I am from above.  I am not of this world.

It is really quite interesting to me that John then ties these two ideas, a) NOT condemning and judging others and  instead b) following Christ, as a consistently repentant and believing disciple,  to the definition of  “being not of this world.”

“Being not of this world” includes, in a very big way, avoiding the sin of condemning others and instead, leading a humble and repentant life; replacing condemnation with considerate, thoughtful and kindly invitations to others to also turn to and change.

So, the next time I hear the adage, “Be in the world but not of the world”, I hope I will remember that.

Sometimes people think that they must loudly and clearly condemn a person they know who sins, that if they don’t, the person will never change, and worse, others will follow them.

But Jesus’ pattern flies in the face of that belief.  Instead he speaks a thoughtful, simple, response to the ones indulging in condemnation, refusing to engage them in debate, but speaking truth briefly and then keeping his peace while choosing to remain.  Next he makes it clear  to the woman that he does not condemn her.

We sometimes hear the non-scriptural adage, “love the sinner but hate the sin”.  But He does not indulge in “hating the sin”.  Instead, finally,  having established himself to her as a true source of safety and help, he invites her to change; to repent, to, ultimately, turn towards God and to leave the sin behind.

So, what happened to the woman in this case?  What did she do?  The King James Version doesn’t say.  But the Inspired version states, “And the woman glorified God from that hour and believed on his name.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Psalm 146 Whose priorities we embrace, what His work is, and what we are called to do too as we work with Him.

    Praise the Lord, my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live,

    singing praises to my God while I exist.

Do not look to nobles,
    nor to mere human beings who cannot save.
 When they stop breathing,
    they return to the ground;
        on that very day their plans evaporate!
Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
maker of heaven and earth,
  the seas and everything in them,
       forever the guardian of truth.
who brings justice for the oppressed,
    and who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord frees the prisoners; 
     the Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
    The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord stands guard over the stranger;
   he supports both widows and orphans,
       but makes the path of the wicked slippery.
The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, Zion, for all generations!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Judge righteous judgment, John 7:24

I have been thinking about the difference between appreciation and approval. I believe that approval is generally a favorable judgment about someone, or about something that has been proposed or done, due to the merits of that someone or something. Appreciation, on the other hand, involves gratitude for that person or thing, and does not have to include an analysis of the quality of that person or thing, but simply an understanding of the good motives, principles and vision, etc. in the effort, individual, undertaking or thing that is being appreciated.
I believe that all of us are a mixed bag of imperfections and so are not prone to approve of ourselves very often if at all. And we are correspondingly constantly tempted to disapprove of and therefore be disppointed by others or by the outcomes of their efforts. However, we live a far healthier life if we allow ourselves to appreciate ourselves and our efforts, and others and their efforts without, every single time, also encumbering our appreciation with grim shades of disapproval about the things that are less than perfect.
"Judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24) Righteousness involves the virtue of gratitude. And, if you think about the situation referred to in John 7:23: the healing of a man on the Sabbath,  appreciation and gratitude are exactly what the people mentioned in John, chapter 7, got called out on failing incorporate into their response to another's efforts to do good In a way that they deemed imperfect.
A life that has appreciation towards self and others, and gratitude towards others and God, woven throughout it is a sweeter, heathier life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You came with a unique gift

Each person comes to earth with a unique gift.  As your life unfolds and you take on the work of this life, the task is to put that unique gift at the service of the good work you do.

Your gift doesn't dictate what kind of work you do, but it does play mightily into how you personally do it.

Therefore, resist the temptation to compare the nature of your performance in your good work with the nature of another's performance of a similar good work.   Instead, appreciate the opportunity you have been given to incorporate your unique gift into your good work,  appreciate the diversity around you as others do their good work around you, and enjoy the process

Friday, April 07, 2017

3 Nephi 27:13-14

“I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that i had been lifted up upon tbe cross, that I mighy draw all men unto me."

"As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants.
"It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
"Under the Father’s great eternal plan, it is the Savior who suffered. It is the Savior who broke the bands of death. It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance. It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.
"There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him"

Russell Nelson, April 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Paul explaining the Atonement of Christ and, as we embrace it, the effect of that upon our relationship with the Father and with each other, Ephesians 2

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
... For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who hath made both [us and Him] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us and God];
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity [we have with God]…for to make in himself of twain [us and Him] one new man, so making peace [with God];
...And that he might reconcile both [Himself and us] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity [between us and God] thereby:
For through him we... have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.