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Of Ministering Angels – Mark and Tammy

St Charles Inn

St Charles Inn

LDS author John Pontius pointed out in his book “Following the Light of Christ into His Presence” that we all go through periods in our spiritual growth where we seem to plateau out, and sometimes even digress. These periods of relative depression typically follow periods of intense growth, and are most certainly followed by another period of more rapid progression. He wisely pointed out that we need to be careful during these periods of stagnant growth not to be too concerned, as this is simply part of the way we grow – part of the way we create, and are created. Even the Lord rested after 6 days of creation. I believe these periods help us to solidify our gains, so to speak, and perhaps rest up for a growth spurt to come.

Even though I read this book twice, I recently had to be reminded of the principle by my friend, Liesl Elmer. Her comment brought me a measure of comfort, and perhaps even signaled the end of the recent plateau. I had been growing concerned and frustrated by the fact that I was not inspired to write, that the heavens seemed silent, and that I was constantly questioning myself and the things I had already learned and experienced. Perhaps this feels familiar to you.

One of the blessings of the spirit that I have never knowingly experienced, but which I long for, is the ministering of angels. Such ministering is featured prominently in the scriptures:

And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. (Moroni 7:29)

Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. (Moroni 7:37)

And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them. (3 Nephi 19:15)

There are, of course, many other mentions of this ministering – over which the Aaronic priesthood holds the keys. (D&C 84:26) I don’t mean to wallow in self-pity, but I sure could have used a ministering angel over the past few weeks. I prayed one time “Lord, this is hard!” He said, “It’s not supposed to be easy right now”. “Sheesh”, I said, “that doesn’t really help now, does it?”

However, sometimes we need to be willing to recognize when the Lord does send us angels in a form other than a heavenly visitation, and we need to be thankful for them. I said above that I had “never knowingly” experienced the ministering of angels. During the week of July 23, I knowingly experienced the ministering of angels, and only one of them – my dear wife, Diana, who is the brightest angel any man could ever ask for – was even a member of the LDS church. Their words and their actions pierced my heart in a unique, confirming and warming way. I would like to tell the story of these visitations in my next few posts.

First, some background. There is a singer/songwriter who gained a cult following from about 1975 to 1985 named Kate Wolf. Diana and I both love her music – it is as

Cemetery where Kate Wolf is buried.

Cemetery where Kate Wolf is buried.

heavenly and spiritual as any music I have ever heard. Her songs are sweet, poignant, happy, sad, loving and so very, very real. They testify of Christ in so many ways, even though she doesn’t mention His name even once. I’m sure the Lord is a fan. One of my favorite Kate Wolf songs is one that Diana and I play ourselves called “Green Eyes”. We have the opening line of this song engraved on the inside of our wedding rings. Kate’s career was cut short in 1986 by leukemia. In about 2001 we were in the area of Grass Valley, CA and decided we would go find Goodyear’s Bar, CA, where Kate was reportedly buried. Well, we found the town, found the grave, and also found a bed and breakfast – the only business in this village of about 50-60 people. A couple of years later we came back for the first of our three stays at the “Helms St. Charles Inn”.

That was when we met Mark and Tammy Helms. They had bought the St. Charles Hotel in the mid 90’s, and brought courage, modest skills, and a beautiful vision to the town of Goodyear’s Bar and to the dilapidated hotel. There were no guarantees that they could make a go of it but they came anyway. And they stayed.

St Charles Inn

St Charles Inn

We found that Tammy would typically sit and chat with us while we ate the breakfast she had crafted for us. On our first visit, they invited us to share dogs and burgers with them and their family on a Sunday afternoon. The next visit, after playing a few of our songs for them, we sat around with some of the family members, including the patriarch Cy, and listened to stories about Goodyear’s Bar, the rowdy history of the St. Charles Hotel and Saloon, the resurrection of the St. Charles Inn, and Kate Wolf, who was, for a brief time, their neighbor and friend. They pointed out bullet holes in the ceiling and regaled us with stories of the family of highwaymen who, led by their 5’ tall mother, terrorized the loggers and miners back in the late 1800’s. We heard about the flood of 1997 when the Yuba river flooded their basement with 5 feet of water, took out the bridge to Highway 49, and basically wreaked havoc throughout Sierra County. Mostly, though, we heard about a family who loved each other, stood by each other, and worked together to make the world a better place.

New bridge after old one was washed out in 1997

New bridge after old one was washed out in 1997

This past week, we were chatting as usual at breakfast about a variety of topics, including religion and politics (I guess people have become true, trusted friends when they can openly discuss religion and politics), when the topic of marriage came up. Tammy said at one point, “Well, I just can’t imagine life without Mark.” Something in the way she said it – her tone, her mannerisms, the timing and context – told me how much she really meant it. My heart was simply and sweetly touched. Her unassuming, heart-felt declaration made it clear to me that she understood, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of eternal marriage, even though it had never been formally taught to her in any other way.

The next morning, as I was praying, I felt prompted, even commanded, to offer to pronounce a blessing on the inn, upon their family, and upon all who stay there. As we walked into the dining room for breakfast, I asked Mark if they would allow me to do just that. They quickly said, “Sure!” We went into the living room and I asked if we could kneel. I raised my arm to the square and was given a beautiful, almost tearful blessing to pronounce. I blessed them – actually, the Lord blessed them – that, as long as they continued serving their family, their community, and Jesus Christ as they currently are, then their home would be protected from the influence of a sinful world, from the forces of nature, and from economic hardship. I blessed them that all who entered their home would feel the spirit of peace and be comforted. I was greatly touched by their humility – by their willingness to get on their knees and trust me to pronounce this blessing, in the name of Jesus Christ, upon them. Most people who are not members of the LDS church would consider me to be rather audacious for even suggesting such a thing, but not them. They were simply appreciative. Their love, humility and kindness shined brightly in Goodyear’s Bar that morning.

Mark and Tammy Helms were angels sent to remind me of the importance of humility, of courage, of loyalty and devotion, and of the true meaning of love. Only the most pure, the most humble, and the most virtuous can be used by the Lord to accomplish His purposes. They continue their ministry each day among the people of Goodyear’s Bar and Sierra County, building Zion as they understand it, and they do so with knowledge that, as long as they do, they will be protected and lifted by the Lord.

The next day, on Friday, we learned of a luthier (a guitar craftsman) who lived next door to Mark and Tammy. My next post will tell the story of another pair of angels that we met during our vacation of July, 2014.

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Priesthood Keys – And Blessed are Ye if Ye have no Disputations Among You

Thorvaldsen christusIn Helaman 10:4-5, the Lord told Nephi, the son of Helaman – and father of Nephi the Nephite disciple – the following:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I Thorvald Peterhave given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

This is one of my favorite scriptures.  I dream of someday being so trusted of the Lord that he says, “…all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.”  Looking a little deeper, though, it appears that the Lord actually granted unto His servant Nephi the keys of the priesthood – all the keys of the priesthood – at least all of those granted unto men in that time and place.  In verses 7-10, the Lord says:

Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.

 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.

 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.

The Lord granted unto Nephi power over the elements, mountains, and “this people”…but only “among this people”.  Apparently, Nephi held the keys to the priesthood over this church.  With this power, of course, came great responsibility.  Nephi not only had power and authority – he had “stewardship”.

Stewardship

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines stewardship as, “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something”.  So, what was Nephi responsible for?  Obviously, he was not responsible for anyone’s individual salvation – or was he?  And what about the salvation of the people as a whole – what about the church among the people of Nephi?  Later in the story, in Chapter 11, Nephi saw what was going on around him and cried unto the Lord:

O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee. (verse 4)

A few verses later, of course, Nephi asked that the famine be lifted as a result of the repentance of the people.  Chapters 10 and 11 of the book of Helaman are the story of Nephi receiving and exercising the priesthood keys and his stewardship which were delegated to him by Jehovah. His stewardship was apparently over the people and everything required for their salvation.

Keys Unlock the Power – but is that all?

A traditional explanation of priesthood keys is that they “unlock” the power of the priesthood, primarily through the ordinances of the gospel. I acknowledge that this is part of the definition.  Nephi certainly had unlocked the power of the priesthood – he commanded the weather, for Heaven’s sake!  However, it was quite recently, in my blog post on Church Discipline, that I first mentioned the idea of priesthood keys representing a stewardship.  I’ve continued thinking about this, and as a result I think I have a more clear understanding of the mysterious (at least to me) topic of “priesthood keys”.  I don’t want to upstage or critique Elder Oaks’ talk from this past conference.  I’ve heard that it enhanced the understanding of many, but it really didn’t help me understand the concept any better than I did before.  Allow me, however, to explain why I think the concept of a “stewardship” makes this so much clearer, and thus why the keys to the priesthood are so important.

As I said in my earlier post:

 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a stewardship from the Lord.  I think the keys of the priesthood represent that stewardship – in other words, “stewardship” is a great way to look at the keys of the priesthood.  Those who hold priesthood keys have stewardship over the ordinances to ensure that they are administered consistently by those who have authority from God to do so.  (I have authority to administer many ordinances, but I have no keys.) They have stewardship over the finances of the church.  They have stewardship over the welfare of the membership.  Their attempts to honor this stewardship manifest themselves in many, many ways.  I think these manifestations are actually what we have come to call “The Church”.  Church policies, temples, curriculum, buildings, commercial investments, missionary work, the welfare system, humanitarian aid…these are all manifestations of that stewardship.

Manifestations of the Priesthood Stewardship – Baptism

We can witness this stewardship, as I suggested, in many ways.  One very familiar example is with the sacrament.  The Nephite disciples were given the keys to the ordinance of baptism in 3 Nephi11:18-30:

And it came to pass that he spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth.

And Nephi arose and went forth, and bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet.

And the Lord commanded him that he should arise. And he arose and stood before him.

And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven.

And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize. And he said unto them: On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you.

Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them.

And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:

Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.

And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.

And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

Here, Christ gave them the keys to the ordinance, then told them how to do it, then made a point that part of His purpose was that there should be no disputations among them.  In other words, He didn’t want any arguments about how the ordinance should be carried out.

Sacrament

Christ later instituted the sacrament among the Nephites in 3 Nephi, chapter 18, and in verse 34 he said:

And I give you these commandments because of the disputations which have been among you. And blessed are ye if ye have no disputations among you.

He had now made this point pertaining to both baptism and the sacrament.  How to best ensure that this injunction of “no disputations” is carried out?  That would be through priesthood keys, of course – through trusted “stewards”.  The Bishop, who holds the keys in the ward over these ordinances, is responsible to make sure that they  are performed the same way every time.  How many times have you heard the bishop asked the nervous young priest to repeat the words of the prayer?  The bishop holds the keys to that ordinance – he has the stewardship to ensure that the prayers, the emblems, etc. are given within the bounds the Lord has set.  The priests have authority to administer both the baptism and the sacrament, but the Bishop has the stewardship.

Temple Ordinances

I have mentioned before that I am an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple.  We are responsible for learning the words of the endowment so that we can deliver them “word-perfect” in the live endowment sessions.  We also, of course, administer the initiatories, the name issue, etc.  Our studying and memorizing can only be done in the temple – we cannot take things out to study at home.  Now these sessions are rarely delivered perfectly, simply because people are imperfect, but the temple presidency has the keys – the stewardship – to ensure that the presentation of these sacred ordinances do not start to diverge, and they do exercise them.  With hundreds of ordinance workers delivering hundreds of ordinances each week, this is a sobering task, one of eternal import.

Keys of Creation

A fourth example of priesthood keys – one that is frankly beyond my comprehension, but which follows the same pattern – is that of creation.  The keys to creation – the organization of matter – were delegated to Jehovah by Elohim (interestingly, except for the creation of man).  The power which is “unlocked” by these priesthood keys is pretty obvious to us – at least on the surface – but what about the stewardship?  If the laws of creation, of the organization of matter, were to be diluted or violated, our whole universe would likely disintegrate into chaos.  The universe maintains its order because creation chooses to obey God, in turn because they know that God is always perfectly righteous.  If the stewardship were not maintained; if the keys were not exercised; their obedience would not be insured, and we would have no order. (Intelligence Theory of the Atonement from Cleon Skousen).  This is a very speculative theory, but I like it.  It rings true and it strengthens my discussion, although it is not essential.)

Chaos vs. A House of Order

Given this perception of the keys of the priesthood, it’s not difficult to make a case for how essential they are to maintaining the “order” that the Lord declares is characteristic of His house (D&C 88:119, D&C 109:8, D&C 132:8), as well as to avoiding the disputations and contention that Christ commanded should not be allowed among us.  We need only take the ordinance of baptism as an example.  In the absence of priesthood keys, this saving ordinance did in fact descend into chaos, with sprinkling reportedly being introduced in the 14th century. (I have not validated the historical accuracy of this source – but only the date is arguable.  The fact that sprinkling is a common practice in both Catholic and Protestant churches today is indisputable). The baptizing of infants is another abomination that was allowed to develop in the absence of priesthood keys. The sacrament itself is performed differently among different churches, so much that the Catholics introduced the doctrine of transubstantiation, reportedly in the 11th century (again, the timing is not important here).  Temple ordinances completely disappeared in the absence of priesthood keys – nobody had a stewardship over them.  The doctrine of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost likewise disappeared.  The Great Apostasy itself came about as the result of the absence of priesthood keys – no one had the stewardship to make sure the ordinances and doctrines of the gospel were passed along as they were taught by the Savior. Those who defined doctrine did so without the priesthood keys.

Dispensations

The Great Apostasy was not the first time this happened, either.  The doctrine of dispensations is based on the fact that the gospel, introduced by a dispensational prophet, was allowed to deteriorate over the centuries at the hands of careless men – men without priesthood keys – until it became unrecognizable, requiring a new introduction through the next dispensational prophet.  The most dramatic example, I think, is the dispensation of Noah.  According to the traditional interpretation of the Genesis account, after the flood, Noah and his family were the only people left alive.  Noah held the priesthood, and exercised all the keys that existed on the earth at that time.  Over the millennia, though, men abandoned their stewardship, and the result is the myriad religions that are observed on the earth today.  Today, we live in the last dispensation – the dispensation of the fullness of times – and we have been told that the keys of the priesthood are here to stay:

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.(D&C 13:1)

And:

Exalt not yourselves; rebel not against my servant Joseph; for verily I say unto you, I am with him, and my hand shall be over him; and the keys which I have given unto him, and also to youward, shall not be taken from him till I come. (D&C 112:15)

We likewise have Oliver Cowdrey’s testimony that the Melchizedek Priesthood shall remain upon the earth as long as the earth stands:

“The channel is here, the priesthood is here, I was present with Joseph when an holy angel from god came down from heaven and confered, or restored the Aronic priesthood. And said at the same time that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands.  I was also present with Joseph when the melchesideck priesthood was confered by the holy angles of god,—which we then confirmed on each other by the will and commandment of god. This priesthood is also to remain upon the earth untill the Last remnant of time. (Conference Address, Kanesville, OH, October 21, 1848).

Perhaps the most frightening thing about this phenomenon is how long it takes.  It took approximately 1300 years for the ordinance of baptism to devolve into sprinkling.  It took 1000 years for the doctrine of transubstantiation to creep into the sacrament.  It was about 600 years between the dispensation of Abraham and the dispensation of Moses, and 1400 years before the birth of Christ.  These time frames point to the fact that these apostasies developed in tiny, tiny, incremental, barely noticeable steps.  In other words, it sneaks up on us.  Only the greatest diligence in wielding priesthood stewardship can halt the historically repeated descent into chaos.

The Miracle of Order

One of the things that impressed me when I first joined the church was that, no matter where we went to church, everything was recognizable.  I could go to church in a different country – speaking a different language (and I did) – and I could still make it through the meetings with a good understanding of what was going on.  This was a great testimony builder to me that the church was being led by the spirit.  This cannot be said of any other church with the possible exceptions of the Catholic and European Orthodox churches – whose rites and services I understand pretty much follow a set format or script.  I now realize that this consistency in the LDS Church is the result of priesthood keys, and of the diligence and honor with which they are exercised.  It is through the priesthood keys, and the stewardship that accompanies them, handed down from the Lord through the Prophet to every stake president, bishop and elder’s quorum president – that the church will be able to combat the natural or social forces of entropy that have infected every other church since the beginning of time.

Imagine how quickly the ordinances of the gospel would change and “evolve” if we started doing our own baptisms, our own sacrament, etc – each individual adding his or her own twist.  It wouldn’t take very long before these saving ordinances would become grievously altered.  Even worse, it wouldn’t take very long, even, before disputations would arise as to whose version was more accurate and more efficacious.  It wouldn’t take very long before new churches would arise, built around different doctrines and different versions of the ordinances.  The priesthood keys are ultimately what define the Lord’s church.  They are what make it “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5)  Perhaps, in Zion or in the millennium, when we have transcended this telestial existence, such diligence will be less of a requirement because the spirit will have a more direct influence (even though I’m sure the Lord’s house will still be a house of order, and there will still be priesthood keys and ordinances) but the reality is that we live in a telestial world at this time, and it is the priesthood keys that hold the church together.

Looking at priesthood keys in the context of a stewardship is so enlightening and clarifying to me.  Every dispensational apostasy in recorded history was a direct result of the loss of priesthood keys.  Perhaps even more importantly, Christ Himself repeatedly commanded that we must avoid disputations and contention. (The word disputation is used 10 times, and the word contention 81 times in the Book of Mormon alone.)  He emphasized this in direct reference to the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament. Obviously this was important to Him and to us.  This stewardship required to honor these commandments and to stave off the deterioration into disputation and contention is not easy to maintain.  It is a miracle, even with the LDS Church’s inspired hierarchy, that it has been preserved as much as it has – a miracle directly attributable, in my mind, to the power and influence of the Holy Ghost, and to the good intentions of the men who hold the keys.  My testimony has been strengthened as a result of this understanding.  I hope it may serve to “unlock” your understanding as it did mine.

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Thoughts on Church Discipline – The Parable of the Rowers

salt lake templeThe facebook “airways” were buzzing within hours on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 with the news that Kate Kelly, the founder of “Ordain Women” and John Dehlin, broadcaster of “Mormon Stories”, had received letters of church discipline.  Soon after, word surfaced that Alan Rock Waterman had likewise received formal written notice of pending church discipline.  Alan’s facebook page contains a list of excommunicated and disciplined people dating back to before the declaration on the priesthood.  I could easily add to the list others who I know have been excommunicated for reasons that seem controversial to many.

I have heard the use of the word “purge” in conjunction with the recently publicized disciplinary actions.  It has been suggested by some that this is the beginning of the “cleansing” mention is section 112: 24-25.  Many are jumping on the bandwagon, criticizing the church’s attempts to control the throughts of the members.  One blog compares the church to 1984’s big brother.  My guess is that this is alarmist at best, and at worst the term “purge” is being used by those who seek to sensationalize.  I may well be wrong about that.  I certainly have no inside information to say one way or the other.  It will be interesting to see how things play out.

My purpose in writing this post is not to stir the pot or to perpetuate the controversy over these church disciplines – it is quite the opposite, in fact.  We should remind ourselves that church disciplinary actions are private, and the only way they are made public is if the individual themselves make it public.  Not too long ago, in another life (ok – another phase of this life), I read the letters associated with Denver Snuffer’s excommunication.  He posted them on his blog.  Apparently, John Dehlin’s letter has been posted for public consumption. My brief search didn’t show that Katy Kelly’s letter has been posted. Looking back on it, I feel like I was being voyeuristic.  I felt like I was peeking into someone’s bedroom or underwear drawer.  I regret having read those papers, except that I think it forced me to come to grips with the whole issue.  I would like to share the result of that process.

A Stewardship From God

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a stewardship from the Lord.  I think the keys of the priesthood represent that stewardship – in other words, “stewardship” is a great way to look at the keys of the priesthood.  They have stewardship over the ordinances to ensure that they are consistently administered by those who have authority from God to do so.  They have stewardship over the finances of the church.  They have stewardship over the welfare of the membership.  Their attempts to honor this stewardship manifest themselves in many, many ways.  I think these manifestations are actually what we have come to call “The Church”.  Church policies, temples, curriculum, buildings, commercial investments, missionary work, the welfare system, humanitarian aid…these are all manifestations of that stewardship.  It is a daunting task for any man, men, or organization of men (men in the “humankind” sense of the term).

In exercising this stewardship, the leaders of the church must often recognize when a member is pulling in a different direction.  Their stewardship extends to both the divergent individual as well as the members that they might influence.  It is their responsibility to judge whether or not a person is threatening their salvation or the salvation of others.  In doing so, they are not judging whether or not the person is good or bad; or whether they are saved or condemned.  That is not their place.  Such is a judgment reserved only for the Lord Himself.  However, they do have a responsibility to judge whether or not that person is aiding in the fulfillment of the stewardship.   If they are breaking temple covenants, the decision is easy – the discipline offers them a chance to repent, or, in the case of excommunications, theoretically releases them from their covenant obligations.  In these other cases, I think their concern is more for the other members who are being influenced by this person.  There are often powerful personalities who can easily sway the thoughts of less powerful personalities.  Not everyone is fully grounded in the gospel.  If the church were to allow members to openly teach principles that are not doctrinal, or that are counter to the church maintaining its stewardship, that could easily be tantamount to consent.  They could be perceived as condoning such teaching.  Consider a father whose 17 year –old-daughter is dating a 25-year-old ex-felon.  It’s a classic dilemma.  If the father just passes it off, that can be perceived as approval.  On the other hand, the daughter may well know she is doing the wrong thing, and is testing her father’s love to see if he will put a stop to it.  Of course, she will kick and scream, but the father, if he is honoring his stewardship over the family, most likely needs to do everything he can to stop the relationship.  Will he drive the daughter away, which many raise as a common complaint against the church?  Perhaps he will – that would be her choice – but to do nothing might well be far worse, as it could show that HE has no standards, or that HE doesn’t love his daughter enough to stand his ground and do what is best for her in the long run.

The Parable of the Rowers

…recently came to me.  Let us consider the church as an ancient Egyptian Trireme – a boat with sails, but mainly powered by rowers.  The ship’s mission is to get its passengers safely to their destination. Everyone on the boat is counted on to help fulfill the mission.  The ship’s officers are committed to the mission, but they cannot row the boat themselves – it takes the contribution of all the rowers.  This progress toward the destination will be much steadier and much faster if everyone is rowing as hard as they can, and especially if they are all rowing in the same direction.  Of course, with millions of rowers, there will be variation in effort, and sometimes even in direction.  Some might not row hard all the time.  Some may stop rowing.  Some might occasionally turn around on their bench and start rowing in the opposite direction.  The havoc that results from that can easily be imagined.  The ships officers might first assume that the individual is simply confused.  The work is hard and long.  There are many dangers to be navigated.  It is understandable that this might happen – that the occasional member might find themselves out of step with the mission of the boat.  However, if they attempt to correct the individual, and the individual insists on rowing the wrong direction, their oars tying up 3 or 4 rows on either side of them, the officers, for the benefit not only of the mission itself but of the individuals whose efforts are disrupted by the “rogue rower”, must do something.  Ultimately, they may be forced to set the rower adrift in their own boat to fend for themselves.  Such a move is not desirable, as now the boat has one less rower, and the individual is in grave danger of being lost at sea, but it is preferable to allowing the rower to continue to impede the progress of both the boat and the individuals on it.

Personal Responsibility

Let us also consider the integrity of the individual.  When I joined the church, I made a commitment to the Lord that I would support Him through the church.  My covenant was with the Lord, but it included the church.  In the temple, I made further covenants that involved the church.  I received saving ordinances at the hands of individuals who held the keys (the stewardship) to administer those ordinances.  I believed that those ordinances, though they must be validated by the Lord through my faithfulness, were necessary for me to obtain my exaltation.  I still believe that today.  If I were to decide that those ordinances are not necessary for my salvation or exaltation, or that the church does not have the authority to administer them, or if I were to decide that I could no longer keep my covenants, should I not remove myself from the church?

There are qualifying conditions of course.  An 8-year-old cannot really understand about these covenants, and must grow into the learning and comprehension that I describe above.  If, during that process, they find themselves growing in a different direction, I do not believe they will be held to the same level of accountability as I would be, having joined the church at age 45 – endowed at age 46 – with eyes wide open.  Nevertheless, if they decide they can no longer support the declared mission of the church, would they not have the responsibility to simply remove themselves?

Likewise, if an individual, regardless of the conditions under which they entered the church fellowship, simply cannot reconcile the direction of the church with their individual conscience, why would they not simply leave?  Many do.  They go “inactive”, remaining under the radar, avoiding church discipline unless they begin campaigning and drawing other members away with them.  Perhaps the dissenter is motivated by love for the church and its members.  If that love is sincere, and they are sincerely trying to change the church from the inside, but find themselves at odds with the direction of church leaders, then such a condition is truly tragic, and I would not want to be on either side of that situation.  The Lord Himself will sort that out in the eternities.  Why would inspired leaders not see the real heart of the dissenter?  I don’t know.  All the criteria affecting such a situation are rarely known outside of those directly involved.  We usually only hear one side of the story. Perhaps the leaders are right in their decision, even though it is not readily apparent to us.   Perhaps, even, they made an imperfect decision.  I’m sure that has happened more than once, but I am not in a position to judge.  Few of us are.

 

Oh, the Sin of Pride

It is easy to imagine that dissent is motivated by pride.  D&C 121:37-39 says:

That they (speaking of the rights of the priesthood) may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exerciseunrighteous dominion.

 The concepts in this scripture can be applied on both sides of this situation.  Almost all of us have experienced situations where we have mishandled authority or influence.  None of us (except possibly my sweet wife) is immune.  Yet, as I said, none of us can fully judge the motivations of another person.  I doubt that those who are set up as judges on such things relish the responsibility, but, again, they are given, and they have accepted, this stewardship, and they will be held accountable for how they exercise it – be it for good or for bad.  It is easy for us to sit on the sideline and judge the actions of another, whether it be the leader or the dissenter, but we must ask ourselves, “What would we do in the same situation?  What would I do if I were president of the church?”

I have come to the conclusion that if I believe the leaders, even though they are fallible men, are called of God and entrusted to run this church, and if I choose to remain a member of this church, I have an obligation before God to sustain them.  Sustaining, to me, means that I do everything I can to support them.  I do not stop thinking. I may or may not agree with everything, and I may or may not speak up, but I will not turn around in my seat and start rowing in the other direction.  When I start voicing my disagreement in public forums, or over the airwaves, I am no longer sustaining, and I am abusing my influence. I would expect to hear from the people who carry the stewardship for the organization against which I am fighting. Similarly, if I believe the church holds the keys to the ordinances of salvation, and if I have benefitted from those ordinances, how ethical is it for me to turn my back on it when times get tough?  On the other hand, if I conclude that these men are not called of God, or if this stewardship is not from the Lord, then the whole concept of the church comes crashing down for me, and I believe I have an obligation to leave the church of my own accord.

Lockstep or Nothing?

A friend, whom I trust for his honesty and sincerity but sometimes disagree with, said recently that the sad thing about the church is that we must either be “in lock step” or not – there is no middle ground.  I understand his perception, and I thank him for his honesty in expressing what must be to him a very sad state of affairs.  I disagree that this is the case, though.  We are all responsible for working out our own salvation, it is clear.  We all learn at our own pace.  We may see things around us that are unsettling.  We may see leaders at all levels who exercise unrighteous dominion.  We may be uncomfortable with the way the church administers its financial affairs.  There are lots of questions that we might individually ask.  We should seek answers – we have the right and responsibility to do so.  But when we start go beyond questioning and start declaring that the church is wrong, and when we start broadcasting those declarations publically, trying to persuade others rather than allowing them to learn of such things as a result of their own search for greater light and knowledge, then we have begun rowing in the opposite direction.

Conclusion

Ultimately, my testimony is this…I love this church.  I believe that it has the keys – the stewardship – to administer the spreading of the gospel for the purpose of the salvation of billions of souls in these latter days.  I am not blind to the fact that it is a telestial organization, run by men, and that the care and keeping of this stewardship may not always be carried out in keeping with the Lord’s ideal, or even our own ideal.  I have a keen awareness of my own weakness and lack of knowledge and understanding, therefore my ability to judge, not having all the facts, is limited.  In lieu of full knowledge and understanding, a certain amount of faith is required.  The Lord is in charge.  I believe He sets boundaries that the church cannot cross or it will have gone “astray”, but within those boundaries there is a lot of room for things to be questioned, and for things to be less than perfect.  I will continue to sustain the church in fulfilling its mission.  For some, perhaps the best way for them to sustain the church, and themselves, is to leave it.  I suspect that is far too simplistic, but sometimes we need to rise above the trees before we can see the forest.  Fortunately for me, I do not have to make such decisions concerning others – for they are left to the individuals, the church leaders, and the Lord.

I offer these thoughts and insights to promote thought. I offer them as a counterpoint to all those who claim the church is silencing dissenting voices or bullying people to keep them “in line”.  I hope these ideas will bring peace.  For many, perhaps most, that will not be the case.  I am not judging and cannot judge the sincerity or motives of any individuals on either side in these scenarios.  I do speculate, however, based on my 60+ years of observation of human nature, behavior, and of my own frailties (assuming that most people are very similar to me).  I observe and I make deductions as to how the actions of others pertain to me.  As with everything, these observations and deductions are filtered through the lens of our own experiences and desires.  I may be wrong in what I have shared, and I have no doubt that many will disagree with me, but I think these thoughts are worth considering as you make your own observations and deductions.  I pray that we will refrain, though, from unrighteous judgment on either side of this debate.

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You May Have Gone Beyond the Mark if…

moroni burying the platesShe is my dear friend – an elect lady if there ever was one.  Her late husband is the model for the famous picture of Moroni burying the plates.  She served for years on the correlation committee.  I have no idea how many other callings she has magnified and fulfilled honorably.  She welcomed me into the ward with open arms after my baptism, repeatedly encouraging me and telling me how impressed she was with how fast I was learning and with who I was becoming.  One day, a couple of years after I joined the church, I said something to her that elicited the cautionary warning, “Be careful not to go beyond the mark”.  I had never heard that phrase before, but I’ve heard it many times since – not always in those exact words, but the sentiments are prevalent in the church.  There are many who seem to say, “Don’t seek after the mysteries, you’ll just get in trouble”.  In my case, I wasn’t sure what it mean, but I knew I had been lovingly chastised. This is actually an interesting topic, full of contradictions:

  • -          If one seeks knowledge, but gains it too quickly, we are in danger of not knowing what to do with the knowledge but…If we fail to seek beyond what we have, we will never grow.  We must aim higher, or we will stay where we are.
  • -          There are many things that can be learned that are not profitable, and can even be dangerous, but…We become what we have faith in.  If we only have faith in what we can see and touch, we will never learn truth beyond what we see and touch.  If we only have faith in what we learn in church, we must eventually stop learning, because we will have learned it all.
  • -          If we focus too much on one topic, or one aspect of the gospel, our lives can fall out of balance, yet if we have no passion, no focus, we tend to wander aimlessly.

As you can probably discern, seeking “greater light and knowledge” is a little riskier than one might think, but to stay in the “safe” zone, shows, to me, a lack of trust in the Lord.  It appears that it would be very easy, and very “safe” to hold onto the rod, but not enter into the mist of darkness.  Lehi made it very clear, though, that one must pass through the mist of darkness to gain the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:24)  Overall, I think “Going beyond the Mark” gets a bad rap, but the concept also demands respect.  I believe going “beyond the mark” is, in some respects, necessary for spiritual growth; while on the contrary it is used by some as an excuse not to explore the gospel or to criticize those who do.  It is easy to go too far – meaning, at minimum, that you have lost your balance, perhaps your testimony, and at worst you have sacrificed salvation.  On the other hand, Joseph Smith said in D&C 131:6, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance”.

Some of you, most of you, perhaps, may remember the comedy routine by Jeff Foxworthy affectionately called, “You Might be a Redneck if….”.  Some examples include:

You think “loading the dishwasher” means getting your wife drunk.

You ever cut your grass and found a car.

You own a home that is mobile and 5 cars that aren’t.

Your wife has ever said, “Come move this transmission so I can take a bath.”

You have the local taxidermist’s number on speed dial.

Your school fight song was “Dueling Banjos”.

Your coffee table used to be a cable spool.

You keep a can of RAID on the kitchen table.

You’ve ever financed a tattoo.

You’ve ever been too drunk to fish.

Lest anyone think I’m poking fun at someone else’s expense, there are 2 or 3 of these that sound awfully familiar, and that 1990 Bronco II that I drive still has grass stains on the running boards. Well, I’d like to do a more serious treatment of “Going beyond the Mark” using Jeff Foxworthy’s brilliantly comedic model.  It’s not funny, but I hope it’s effective.  Here we go…(contributions from Facebook friends noted) You might have gone beyond the mark if:

You find yourself accepting things that contradict the very principles that enabled you to learn those things in the first place.  My friend Mark McCullough described it this way: “I have always viewed the “mark” as a point where new knowledge (or so-called), makes you doubt or question what the Spirit has already revealed to you.

You find yourself walking into church, something that once brought you joy, and you feel contempt and contention instead of peace and contentment.

You’ve ever used the words “awake” to refer to yourself, and “asleep” to refer to others when you’re NOT on a camping trip.

You find yourself looking at other people and thinking that you’re better than they are because of the difference in the way you dress, look, walk, eat, etc., or because you obviously know more about the gospel than they do.

You think you have a better idea of what to do with your tithing than the church does.

You choose to exercise that superior knowledge of what to do with your tithing money by distributing it according to your own rules.

You pick and choose which prophets you think were really chosen by the Lord. (A corollary to this: You think the only true prophet was Joseph Smith.)

In reading section 89 and church history, you come to the conclusion that drinking beer (mild drink) is ok today, and then start teaching others what you’ve learned.

You start teaching others what you’ve learned on any topic, even though you don’t know if the Lord would have them hear it.  In other words, you are teaching the knowledge you’ve gained, not to please the Lord, but to bring greater praise for yourself. (Yes – GUILTY!  I am in repentance).

If you start doing anything to elevate yourself in the eyes of anyone other than the Lord.  My friend David Miller said, “If you can’t be happy unless you are …perfect, …the best, …the richest, …The smartest, …right, ….In power, …

You decide the church curriculum is boring and start skipping the meetings, or sit there grumbling about how these people are “missing the mark”.

You criticize people, for any reason whatsoever, who are sincerely bearing their testimony.

As a corollary to this, how about, “You might have missed the mark if….”

Your testimony is based upon any man, book or institution other than Christ Himself.  All things in the gospel and in the church point to Him.  If they do not, then they are an evil distraction and are of the devil himself.  They, themselves, have “missed the mark”.

When the laughter and applause subsides, please read on… These are a few examples of symptoms of having missed the mark.  There are many more.  I would invite other suggestions.  What it really comes down to is that we may have missed the mark when we allow anything to come between us and the Savior.  This could be pride, it could be riches, it could be gospel “hobbies”.  Fear is the enemy of love (1 John 4:18), and therefore comes between us and the Lord. Selfishness in any form cannot be tolerated in His presence.  Judgment without charity, teaching without compassion, desire without temperance – all can come between us and our quest to gain His presence.  All can cause us to go beyond the mark. Gaining knowledge without wisdom is likewise something to beware.  I wrote of an experience in my post from more than a year ago, “Zion vs. Babylon – Two Ways Only” as follows:

Here I need to share a portion of a blessing I received when I was recently set apart as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple.  I was counseled in the blessing that “knowledge cannot be allowed to outpace becoming”.  In other words, I was told very clearly that all of my study, knowledge and understanding of the principles of the gospel, the history of the church, and the “hidden” things of the Kingdom, can easily do more harm than good if I am not becoming at the same pace that I gain knowledge.  In other words, the Lord was saying that my becoming is lagging behind even what limited knowledge I do have; and that I have a lot of work to do – a lot to learn; a lot to become.

If we individually are entrusted with making sure that our “becoming” or our wisdom is keeping pace with our knowledge, I fear we will fail miserably.  My family has heard me say many times over the past few months, “Ok – we have this knowledge…but what are we going to do with it?!”  The only person who can monitor that balance successfully – the only person who can direct us in what to do with our knowledge – is the Lord Himself.  Therefore, we must learn to be patient.  Yes – Seek knowledge; seek blessings; seek greater light until that perfect day (D&C 50:24) – by all means; but we must learn patience and trust in the Lord.  We cannot allow our learning to outpace our becoming. I have learned over the past year that the temple points us toward blessings beyond our comprehension.  The initiatories are nothing short of glorious! The endowment invites us into the presence of the Father!  For every covenant we make, blessings are promised.  We must seek after these blessings, for to fail to do so is to disrespect them and their giver.  However, the temple must be approached with greater reverence than anything else in our life.  In my post, “Seeking after the Mysteries – Keeping up with the Joneses”, I wrote:

I came across a website recently that taught about the symbolism of the endowment ritual.  It was apparently sharing the things that the group who administers the website had learned, and it did so in a very reverent, respectful manner.  I read a little bit, and quickly learned a couple of things that had not occurred to me before.  I was very tempted to devour it and gain “greater light and knowledge”.  I hesitated, though, remembering the cautions I had repeatedly received concerning the temple; that these things should not be presented for public consumption. So, before going further, I sought understanding – I sought the Lord’s guidance.  It came to me in this way: I will be taught by the Lord the things I need to learn when I am ready to learn them – as a result of my effort and my “jealousy-free” desire.  I have coined the term “organic learning” to describe this.  For me to gain the understanding presented by the website would be akin to bulking up my body (yeah, right) using steroids.  It would not be natural or healthy – it would not be “organic” – and it is not the Lord’s way.  In the temple later that day, I covenanted with the Lord that I would seek learning on His terms, and that specifically I would avoid this website.

This is the second time in this post that I have quoted myself.  I do this because, the more I learn, and the more I write, the more the pieces fit together, and the more they become interrelated.  Because these nuggets of truth come from such different times in my recent growth, it is almost as if they are a second witness, witnessing for each other, and for the Lord Himself.  He is teaching truths that will eventually become one great whole. I have also learned more over the past month of the power of satan.  When we go beyond the mark we expose ourselves to his power, and he will use it.  We must have the foundation of faith to stand up to his attacks.  If we have not built our house upon the rock, it will come crashing down. To summarize, then, we must constantly seek greater light and knowledge, but such an endeavor does not come without risk.  The destroyer will seek to do what his name suggests. We must enter the mist of darkness if we are to reach the tree of life.  If we either fail to move forward, or if we let go of the iron rod, we will find ourselves wandering lost, never reaching our desired goal.  If we find ourselves doubting the very doctrinal foundations that got us this far; if we start feeling dirty or slimy or perpetually contentious; if we judge others without charity; if we engage in any thoughts, feelings, or activities that we would have to hide from the Savior, we might have gone beyond the mark – or perhaps we have missed the mark entirely. I hope the next time we use the term, “Going beyond the Mark”, we will stop and think about what this really means.  I hope we will not use it to chastise or discourage someone whose desire for knowledge, or their rung on the ladder, is different from our own.  I hope we will not claim it as an excuse to remain ignorant of the glories of the blessings that the Lord promises those who truly love Him.  Lastly, I hope we will not look upon it as a foreboding sign similar to that from Dante’s Inferno, saying, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”.  The Lord wants us to seek knowledge, but He wants us to seek it in His way, in His time.  Let us trust Him, seek Him, Love Him.  If we do this, we can safely move forward without fear of “Going Beyond The Mark”.

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A Mighty Change of Heart

As I knelt to pray this morning, I felt to pray a prayer of gratitude.  As I did so, I recalled a time when my prayers were mostly prayers of gratitude.  I realized that I don’t pray as much about my gratitude as I used to.  I pondered as I prayed this morning, and came to the conclusion that just a short time ago, my relationship with the Lord was largely defined by gratitude, but this gratitude came from the fact that I felt unworthy of the blessings that filled my life.  I had committed to the gospel – I was keeping the commandments – and the Lord was blessing me – but the remembrance of my past sins was still fresh.    I recognized those blessings, and felt grateful for them, but I still felt unworthy.  I realize now that I was not yet converted.

Something has changed over the last couple of years, however.  I have become converted.  I have come to recognize a list of indications of that conversion:

-          I no longer think of my past sins.  I have been forgiven of those sins.  He remembers them no more.  I am a new person – reborn – looking toward my future with the Lord, not toward my past.

-          I wrote recently of recognizing that there is no turning back in my life – for where would I go, as the Lord Himself has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).  I wrote that I fear that if I were to turn back now, I would be in danger of becoming a son of perdition.  Whether the Lord would impose such a penalty on me is up to Him, but I accept for myself that I have come too far, I know too much, and I am eternally committed to either exaltation or eternal darkness.  There is no other choice for me.

-          I no longer feel unworthy of the blessings the Lord chooses to bless me with.  As a matter of fact, I have learned to ask for more and more, trusting completely that the Lord will not grant them to me until I am prepared to receive them.  Furthermore, since I asked, and since I know that He desires in His boundless love to bless me with all that He has, I trust that He will prepare me to receive these blessings, and in doing so, He will prepare me to become one with Him.  My part is to ask in faith, and to be humble enough to allow Him to change me.

-          Even though I falter at times, I have learned to revile the spirit of contention.  It is “poison to my soul”.  I was counseled recently that all the Lord desires of me is a pure heart and pure intent.  These are completely incompatible with the spirit of contention.  I cannot imagine not delivering these two simple requests unto Him in love and humility.  Even so, I recognize that my weakness remains such that, even after all that I can do, it is only through the atonement that this sanctification can be accomplished.

-          As these doctrines have distilled upon my soul, my confidence in the presence of God has grown. (D&C 121:45)

-          I recognize that I have not only been called, I have been chosen.  With this recognition comes also the acceptance of great responsibility.   Zion will be built.  I will have a role in either building Zion or in preparing those who will.  This is a responsibility of eternal import. I am a partner with the Lord in bringing about His purposes.  I must be willing to sacrifice even as He sacrificed – a willingness which I have formalized by covenant in the temple endowment.

-          Rather than attending the temple because I have faith in those who told me I should, I now attend the temple because I love it and because I have come to recognize both the eternal importance and the immediacy of the blessings that are promised therein.

-          The words of Moroni in Mormon, chapter 9 are like arrows striking at my heart.  I cannot bear the thought that He would be speaking of me when he says in verse 20 (I encourage you to read this chapter again, in full):

And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

I cannot bear the thought that I would in any way contribute to the phenomena prophesied by this great prophet.

It is obvious to me that I have experienced the “mighty change of heart” mentioned first during King Benjamin’s great speech (Mosiah 5:2) and later 3 times in Alma the Younger’s sermon to the Church at Zarahemla (Alma 5:12-14).  The Guide to the scriptures describes it this way:

To have the Spirit of the Lord cause a mighty change in a person’s heart so that he has no more desire to do evil, but rather desires to seek the things of God.

Many who have experienced this change, this conversion, recount a singular event, a burning in the bosom or throughout the whole body, a true “Baptism by Fire” – similar to that experienced at the “Day of Pentecost” described in the second chapter of Acts.  For me, and for many others I have spoken with, this mighty change of heart has been accomplished through a process of varying gradualness.

How is this conversion accomplished?  Perhaps this is that for which I should be most grateful, because I’m frankly not sure.  I don’t know exactly what I have done to help bring this about.  I think it began in earnest when I asked the Lord what I needed to do to have my Calling and Election made sure, and what I needed to do to meet the Savior as promised in D&C 93:1.  At that time, I said, basically, “Lord, whatever it takes, whatever trials I must endure, whatever changes I must make, I am willing.  Whatever I must sacrifice, I will sacrifice.  I am yours”.  I am reminded of the King of the Lamanites, the father of Lamoni, who, when taught by Aaron of the Great Spirit, said, “Behold, said he, I will give upall that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” (Alma 22:15).  This formerly evil man, who had just recently been willing to slay his own son in His anger, was so changed, so converted, that he was willing to forsake his kingdom to receive the “great joy” of knowing the Savior.

Since that time, I have felt the Lord working in my life, effecting this might change of heart, that I might be prepared to receive the blessings that I asked for.  My job in this was (and is) simply to remain humble and teachable – not an easy task for me.  The scriptures abound with invitations, in various forms, to seek and receive all that “my father hath” (D&C 84:38)

And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’skingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

We must seek, ask, and knock.  I have said before that to fail to do so is to disrespect the offered gift.

Permit me to express my gratitude to the Lord for His love, mercy and, perhaps above all, His patience.  I trust Him with my life.  My gratitude once was ironically based on unbelief.  I felt unworthy of the blessings that had been bestowed upon me, because I didn’t truly believe that my sins had actually been forgiven – I had not truly been reborn.  My gratitude now is based on faith unto knowledge – faith in His love and mercy; faith in His desire to bestow upon me the powers of heaven for purpose of bringing about His purposes; faith in the fact that HE has chosen ME to help build Zion.  The creator of the universe has not only called, but chosen me to be on His team.  As I conclude this testimony, my cup overfloweth with gratitude for the blessings He has bestowed upon me; blessings that I can never be “worthy” of, but which I accept because I am confident in and accepting of His love.   My conversion is not complete, but the tipping point, commonly referred to as the Baptism by Fire, or the “mighty change of heart”, has been accomplished.  I close with the words of Alma:

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. (Alma 29:1-2)

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He Employeth No Servant There

Christus“When I first began waking up, The Lord gave me three visions to teach me about faith. In the first, I was standing alone, everything I knew well-lit behind me. Before me was absolutely dark. Like, right at my toes, almost touching my nose, before me. I understood that moving forward into that was faith, and assumed that meant one careful step at a time.
The second one came days later and began the same, me standing in that place, the light behind, the thick darkness before. This time I knew that I stood at the edge of a cliff, the depth & width of the abyss before me completely unknown. I gathered myself, sprinted two steps with everything I had and with arms open wide threw myself into the black. 

I finally understood faith.

A few days after that, I had an experience in prayer that answered the choice I had made in the second vision. As I began praying I felt compassed about by evil spirits–individual intelligences of ill intent. I prayed for protection, and I felt wings rising from my shoulders as I knelt, broad & gloriously white gryphon’s wings. Then, much to my surprise, He gave me a tail, just as strong & beautiful: a gryphon’s tail that with one swing banished every one of those spirits behind & around me. The tail & wings protected & covered me as I prayed, and I felt such power, such blessing.
The first vision showed me where I was. In the second vision, I made a choice and acted on it. And in the last one, Jesus showed me what He gives to those who trust Him so much they don’t just step cautiously into the dark.” 

Annalea

www.aNew DayDawns.com

This young lady receives visions, and she described this one in a spectacular manner.  I rarely receive visions.  I receive sensations, understanding, even words and knowledge.  No visions, but even so, I know of a surety what this young lady is talking about.  I don’t know what happened in my case, really, or how it happened.  It wasn’t as sudden, but it was just as sure.  It wasn’t as flashy, but it is equally certain.  Somewhere along the way during the last 5 years, I reached a point of no return.  Somewhere along the way, without really realizing it, I gathered myself and leapt into the black.  The thought gives me chills as I write this.  Perhaps my arms weren’t as wide open as Annalea’s were, but at some point the Lord said, “Jump”, and I jumped.  And I flew.  I’m flying now, lifted by the wings of His spirit.  Let me tell you how it feels.

I think about the Lord constantly, and that feels good.  I think about His goodness and His love.  I think about His vision of Zion; the vision that He shares joyfully with all who will listen; the vision that is described repeatedly throughout the scriptures, if one has the eyes to “see”.  I think about the forgiveness that I know he gives freely if I will simply keep getting back up after I stumble.  I think about how I can better please Him.  I think about reaching out and anxiously asking for the blessings that He has promised to those who love Him (D&C 84:33-38).  I mourn for the sins of the world, and for those who don’t know Him as I do – especially those who focus on His judgment more than they do His love.  I mourn because they do not listen; they do not see.  I am filled with hope for the future that my wife and I have been promised, because I have experienced nothing over the past years to indicate that our life experience will not continue to blow my mind.  I know that as I continue to exercise faith, I will continue to learn more of Him, and He will manifest more of Himself – of His true, divine nature – to me.

It feels consuming – in a good way.  My life has no other context than the gospel.  Everything about my life is viewed within that context – my successes, my failures…my growth.  All are experienced only through the magnifying lens of the gospel.  Everything around me and inside me is meaningless without the gospel.  It is the core of my existence.  I think I’ve been converted.

It feels scary.  Babylon offers no comfort because I’ve “seen” Zion – not in vision but in spiritual knowledge.  I guess you could say I’ve “felt” Zion.  Regardless, having done so, I can no longer settle for less.  To consider “settling” would be painful if I had the courage to go there.  I can only go forward toward this dream that I don’t fully comprehend, but which I know is real, achievable, and glorious.  I remind the Lord daily, “Lord, I have turned it over to you. I’ve passed the point of no return.  I cannot turn back.  I need you, I crave you…I love you.  Please teach me, guide me, nurture me. Please protect me, and please forgive me for the times when I am weak and selfish, or when I lose focus…squirrel!”.

It’s not necessarily peaceful.  I recently wrote a piece called “cognitive dissonance”, (which I did not publish publically, but which I will share upon request) describing the truths that I’m learning and how they don’t exactly harmonize with the “truth” that I formerly understood.  I have realized, though, that if our understanding of truth were completely harmonious, that must necessarily mean we had conquered that “one great whole” into which all truth may be circumscribed.  In other words, we would know all and we would be God.  So, if you think about it, if we are not experiencing “cognitive dissonance”, we are either asleep (literally) or we are being intellectually and spiritually lazy by not actively seeking further light and knowledge.  Learning is the result of intellectual and spiritual conflict.  There is no other way to learn.  There is no other way to receive light unto that perfect day (D&C 50:24).  Furthermore, this necessary conflict between truth and what we think is truth can only be resolved through the power of the Holy Ghost.  Inasmuch as this process of learning by the spirit resolves into light and truth, it brings us ever closer to Christ, who is the source of all truth.  This truth, however, must be approached in love and charity, with complete trust and confidence that the Lord will ultimately resolve the conflicts.  Jealousy, fear, and pride are the enemies of this sacred process. (D&C 67:10)

It feels committed.  I feel very much like Peter as recorded in John 6:67-69:

Then Jesus said unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

As I said earlier, there’s just no turning back.  If I were to turn back now, I would be left hollow and empty.  I have not received all light, but the light I have received as greatly enlarged my soul, as Alma promised in his great sermon on faith (Alma 32:28-43).  It is continuing to expand daily.  I’ve also come to realize that this is not something that can be stopped.  To stop would be to deny the Holy Ghost; even to deny Christ Himself.  I would risk becoming a son of perdition (honestly, it may already be too late).  The “outer darkness” spoken of would be inside of me.  We’ve all heard of the “Big Bang Theory”.  Well, I feel like the Lord has set off a “Big Bang” inside my soul, and it is expanding with light – expanding inexorably until I am filled and beyond.  As I continue to turn my will over to Him, I will be perfected.

Having taken the leap just like Annalea did – just as so many others have, I understand even more surely the meaning of 1 Nephi 9:41, which says:

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (emphasis mine)

The Israelites, during the great Mount Sinai drama, told Moses:

“…Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”(Exodus 20:19)

The context of this makes it clear that, with all the thunderings and lightnings of this episode, the people were clearly frightened, yet allegorically the message remains that the people preferred to have Moses approach God for them because they were afraid.  They did not know God as a merciful, loving God, as we do.  They had just recently referred to him, in Exodus 15:3, as a “man of war”.  We know God differently, yet I think we are still afraid to approach Him ourselves.  Doing so takes great effort and implies great responsibility.  It is risky.  It requires that we leave the security of Babylon behind, and that we be willing to do as He commands us, even if it means sacrificing all that we “possess”.  It is much easier to have the prophet or the church speak to God for us.  By this arrangement, we only need to keep the commandments that are given to the whole church.  The Israelites were quite willing to keep the Law of Moses which was recorded in Exodus, chapters 19 through 23, but they didn’t want to talk to the Lord themselves.  They didn’t want to be personally responsible.  I fear that too many of us also don’t want to be personally responsible.  We are afraid to take that leap and fly.

I began making personal covenants with the Lord before I even joined the church.  My first covenant was that I would “seek to know thee” – a covenant made initially in complete ignorance of John 17:3, which says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”.  I have absolutely kept this first covenant, and I have continued to make personal covenants with the Lord ever since.  We can’t approach the Lord without making personal covenants.  We cannot “know Him” if we allow others to communicate for us.  We can’t come unto Him simply by keeping the commandments that He gives to everyone else.

I did have a “vision” once, I guess, while praying – a vision through my spiritual eyes.  The Lord stood before me.  He was not in my immediate presence – he stood a few meters away.  It was not a “visitation”.  I did not see His face, but I saw His figure, His white robes, and I saw His arms beckoning, saying “come unto me”.  I knew then that I was on the right path, and I wanted to run to Him. I was not ready at that time to jump into the darkness, but I was ready to heed His beckoning.  It was a thrill to realize that HE was beckoning to ME!  It was also sobering.  I have come to realize that no man can to speak to God for me.  No man understands my needs, my weaknesses, and my desires as he does.  I may learn from others – from their studies or from their testimonies – but there can be no truth until it is confirmed directly by the Lord, spirit to spirit.  If I let others speak for me, I am surrendering my own responsibility before Him.  I cannot approach him as commanded.  Frankly, I can never know Him.

Brethren and sisters, the way is straight and narrow.  There is only room for one person on the path, and we each have our own.  He employeth no servant at the gate, and He cannot be deceived.  The temple endowment teaches clearly that we must come straight to him, one by one, in humility and sincerity, desiring Him with all our hearts, having placed all on the altar.  We cannot be afraid – “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear…” (1 John 4:18) – for we must trust.  We must trust in Him and in His promises.  We must believe Him.  If we can do this, HE can perfect us.  HE can fill us with light unto that perfect day.  HE can bring us home to Zion.  There is one way only, and it is through Him.  If we each personally honor these truths, the day will come, if it hasn’t already, when He will call upon us to

…gather ourselves

…sprint two steps with everything we have

…and with arms wide open, throw ourselves into the black

…and fly.

Fly we will, gloriously…into eternity…into His arms.

3 Comments

I AM Not A Sinner – Reprise

I was frankly surprised at the reactions to my latest post, “I Am Not a Sinner”.  Based on some of the comments, I speculated whether some had even read the post.  Regardless, if there was misunderstanding, I must not have made myself clear.  I hope to remedy that now.

First, let me define sin.  Sin, in my mind, is making a choice that contradicts one’s understanding of right and wrong.  As we progress, and our understanding of right and wrong is refined, so does the definition of sin.  This is how we approach perfection, as we have been commanded to do.  One who has not the law is not subject to it, and the atonement is sufficient for them. (2 Nephi 9:25)  A “sinner”, on the contrary, is one who has been given the law, and who repeatedly and knowingly makes choices that contradict their understanding.

Second, my purpose in writing the original post was to “shout from the rooftops” my testimony of the cleansing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and of His love and mercy.  I was a sinner – most certainly.  I am no longer a sinner, because I no longer have the desire to sin.  Instead, I abhor sin and find great peace in making righteous choices.

Third, let me clarify that Paul did not say “We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God”.  He said, as I quoted in the post, ““For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  For the record, I never said “I have not sinned”.  I never said, “I do not sin”, and I never said, “I will never sin again” or anything of the sort.  I never said I was perfect, which was one of the more astonishing accusations.  Some people seemed to read that into the original post.  I regret not making that more clear.  What I did say was that I rejoice in the ways in which my heart has changed over the years, the result of constant repentance, constant cleansing, and constant learning, all made possible by the Holy Ghost and the power of the atonement.  My declaration that “I am not a sinner” is the result of the Lord pointing out to me that my heart is indeed righteous before Him, and that He knows that I have no more desire to sin. I am not alone in having had this experience, and since the Lord is no respecter of persons, I maintain that such an experience is available to each and every one of His children.

Fourth, because I teach at the Salt Lake County Jail, I have been exposed first hand to men who have been taught all their lives that they are sinners.  I try very hard to teach them that they are Children of God, and to look at themselves as such.  I believe it is important for all of us to look at ourselves in much the same way.  Rather than resigning ourselves to being fallen, I would that we should strive for redemption and then sanctification.  We should seek joy in the Lord’s power to save, to change, and to cleanse. We should celebrate our divinity – not in pridefulness, but in awe and gratitude – accepting the miracle of our conversion as just that, a miracle… a very real miracle.

Fifth, some perceived that I was presenting “meat” to those who might not be ready for it.  I consider this doctrine to be the mother’s milk of the gospel.  It is so essential to who we are and to how Christ works in our lives that I think to withhold it is from His children is in itself a sin most insidious.

The Lord desires to lift us up.  He desires to cleanse us.  Would we deny Him the fulfillment of His loving desires?  The temple teaches us that we may pass through the veil into the presence of the Father.  I ask, when in our eternal progression do we become clean enough to be in the Lord’s presence?  Do we suddenly become “not sinners” when we die?  Do we suddenly become “not sinners” when we become “exalted”?    The point of my post is that we stop being “sinners” when we yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.  We stop being sinners when we offer the Lord our broken hearts and contrite spirits.  We stop being sinners when we stop desiring to sin.  Yes, we stop being sinners when we allow the Holy Ghost to perform His work upon us.

I apologize to any who were offended because I did not communicate my thoughts clearly enough.  If there were faults, they were the faults of men – not the message.  This message that I share is beautiful and glorious and I know it is true.  I plead that we will all embrace this miracle that has occurred in our lives.  Let us rejoice in the cleansing and healing power of the atonement.  Let us thank the Lord that we are no longer sinners, or that we are losing the desire to sin.  This is the essence of the gospel, it is the purpose for which Christ lived, died and was resurrected.  I so testify, once again, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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