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Fasting on Thanksgiving

Fasting on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving cornucopiaYes, I’m fasting on Thanksgiving.  Wow – who would have ever imagined this?  Why am I fasting on Thanksgiving?  Well, my main motivation is that I am in the midst of a personal crisis, the nature of which suggests that my life will never be the same afterward.  The details are, of course, very important to me, but they are not to be shared here.  The point is that it is so important to me that I have decided to fast on Thanksgiving.

I express amazing gratitude to my wife, Diana.  We were both lying awake in bed at 5:30 this morning.  I was pondering the aforementioned crisis.  I’m not sure why she was awake – something about “I can’t breathe”.  Sheesh.  Anyway, I was laying there trying to decide whether or not to fast, because I felt like I needed to commit such to the Lord.  I turned over and said, “Sweetie, would it upset you terribly if I fasted today?”  There were a few seconds of silence followed by, “Sure, I guess that’s ok.  I’ll just eat a frozen burrito.  No, wait!  I have a TV dinner in the freezer!  I’ll just eat my TV dinner!”  Then she laughed in that sweet way she always laughs – very much like a child.  She is so beautiful!  She makes it much easier for me to fast on Thanksgiving.

I should make it clear that my decision to fast on Thanksgiving was also made much easier by the circumstances surrounding the day.  We had been invited to dinner at Diana’s ex-husband’s wife’s son’s house (yeah – chew on that for a bit, and think about what a miracle of magnanimity and charity it is that we were even invited.  There really is a great story buried in there) but it turns out that family dynamics were such that we turned down the invitation in favor of a quiet day with our daughter and grandsons.  There are some things that even a miracle of magnanimity and charity cannot overcome.  Then, when we invited our daughter and grandchildren to go with us to Golden Corral, it turns out that the thought of dinner at Golden Corral offended her increasingly vegan sensibilities.  I pondered for a bit where else we could go together, but I don’t know what restaurants would be open that would not offend a vegan’s sensibilities on Thanksgiving Day.  So, Diana and I were left with the prospect of dinner alone at Golden Corral – something that could be done any day.  It had therefore become much less of a sacrifice to fast on Thanksgiving.

It’s kind of funny how this all came together.  An unexpected spiritual crisis, a minor (or major, depending on the point of view of the family member) family crisis, one decision leading to another, and here I am – fasting on Thanksgiving.  This was certainly not something I anticipated a short 5 days ago.  There’s something very important about this, though, and that’s what I hope to share with you.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day for expressing gratitude.  I realize now that there’s something incredibly poetic about expressing gratitude with fasting.  I would not have thought this yesterday.  I would probably not have given great consideration to how symbolic it is that we express our gratitude for all with which the Lord has blessed us by demonstrating that we, on this traditional day of feasting, are willing to set aside the natural man and distance ourselves, at least temporarily, from babylon.  It’s kind of like the sacrament or tithing – symbolic of a greater covenant between us and the Lord.  (You can read more of this here).   Because it is Thanksgiving, it is even more potently symbolic, don’t you think?  The sacrifice, and thus the learning, should be just a little more intense.  I hope the blessings that result are, likewise, a little more intense.

It is highly likely that I will never voluntarily fast again on Thanksgiving.  For one thing, I hope I never again find myself in the middle of another crisis like the one that is prompting me to do so today.  I hope we never have a family crisis like this one (yeah, right!)  I also hope I never forget the lessons that I am learning today:

  • There is very little in this world that is more precious than an eternal companion who can laugh in a situation like this, and satisfy herself with a frozen burrito for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Sometimes, the Lord just arranges things so that we have the opportunity to do the right thing. We really need to learn to recognize and take advantage of those opportunities.
  • It is good that we remind ourselves frequently that the temporal needs of the natural man, the comforts and indulgences of babylon, must always be subordinated to the eternal needs of the true follower of Christ (Moroni 7:48). This is the covenant of which fasting is a type as I mentioned above.

Even before I decided to fast, I could feel the desire, and the power, to testify of Him flowing into me.  Oh, if we only truly understood how much He loves us!  If we only truly understood that we can become like Him, become one with Him, (John 17:20-21) if we will follow His example.  If we could only fathom that everything we can ever hope for – truth, justice, mercy, righteousness, love…Zion – is all embodied in Him, and He wants nothing more than for us to come to Him, be fully redeemed from the fall, and taste the sweetness of the fruit that is brightest above all things.  He invites.  He awaits.  Let us come unto Him.

I so testify, in an attitude of prayer, rejoicing, gratitude…and fasting… on Thanksgiving Day, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Sacrament Talk – Nov 23, 2014 – “Beggars, Indeed”

beggar's cupHugh Nibley, in his masterpiece, “Approaching Zion”, presents the case that, contrary to popular belief, the greatest sins committed by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had less to do with unnatural abominations than with the fact that, among other things, they covered their fruit trees with nets to prevent the birds from feeding off the tops.  In other words, they were so greedy that they even withheld food from the proverbial sparrows.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in the last General Conference, delivered an address entitled “Are We Not All Beggars”.   In this talk he points out that before the Restored Church was even 1 year old, they were commanded to appoint men whose duty it was to “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.” (D&C 38:35)

Before I go any farther, I want to make it absolutely clear that, if I do not make it my business to repent every day of my life, I will most assuredly find myself standing condemned before Him on the last day, condemned by the very words I am about to speak.

We all recognize that the Savior has always commanded us, if we would be humble followers of Christ, to minister to the poor and needy.  Furthermore, the Lord has repeatedly implored us, throughout the history of His relationship with fallen man, to fully receive His redemption by establishing a Zion society, which He has defined as a society of the pure in heart, where there are “no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).  With rare exceptions, such as the City of Enoch, the City of Salem, and for 200 years, the post-resurrection Nephites, the Lord’s invitation has been rejected, most recently by the members of this very church.Homeless and Hungry

I believe that the reason Zion is so often rejected is that the Lord’s people, despite His repeated warnings to the contrary, continue to set their hearts on their riches.  D&C 101:6 says, referring to the cause of persecution among the Missouri Saints:

Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

The love of riches clearly violates the first commandment that “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).  It is the primary cause of jealousies and fears (D&C 67:10); of jarrings, contentions, and envyings and strifes and lustful and covetous desires.  In my own personal quest to prepare myself to dwell in Zion, I have made the following observations that I would like to share with you today:

First, our “stuff” is not ours- none of it.  It never was and it never will be.  We are only stewards over what he has given us.  For a true saint, the idea of “ownership” of anything other than (metaphorically speaking) an altar on which to offer sacrifices is a myth, even an abomination.  As His stewards, we must continually ask ourselves,  “…what would He do with these possessions if they were His?”  Well, they are His.  So, what’s the answer?  What would He do with them?

Second, let me share that I am constantly asking the Lord for further light and knowledge.  He does not always give it to me when I ask for it.  Why?  Because I must first learn to believe, and to act in faith.  Knowledge, even truth, given at the wrong time, could actually weaken my dependence upon the Lord.  Rather than piercing the veil, it could actually strengthen the veil.Child beggar

Possessions are very similar.  We humans have always accumulated possessions because we think they will protect us from the things we cannot control.  In this way, our possessions often come between us and Christ, because they often serve to convince us that we do not need Him.  On the contrary, we must look to Christ and only Christ to protect us.  Without Him we are nothing.  Furthermore, we cannot exercise faith in Christ unto salvation when we depend, no matter how subtly, upon our possessions to insulate us from the unpredictable world around us.  Jacob, the brother of Nephi, said:

But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30).

Then, Jacob takes it even further in verses 41-42:

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.

And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (emphasis added)

Girl BeggarChrist, which the prophet Joseph Smith describes in the Lectures on Faith as the “prototype of the saved man”, rarely had more than the clothes on his back.  He didn’t even have a place to lay his head.  Brethren and Sisters, we must be very careful that our possessions do not enhance the thickness of that veil of unbelief that already stands between us and the Lord.

Third, I have observed that it is common for people to consider that once they have paid their tithing and a generous fast offering, their obligation is complete, and the rest is theirs to do with as they please.  Such a belief is false, and actually represents a particularly insidious philosophy of men.  Obviously there are exceptions throughout the church – even throughout the world.  There are those among us who truly give until it hurts; who recognize that the Law of Tithing is to the Law of Consecration as the sacrament is to the atonement.  In other words, the Law of Tithing is a type of the Law of Consecration – a reminder that all that we have temporally is His, just as the sacrament is a reminder that without the Atonement of Jesus Christ we could never be redeemed from the fall – that all that we are, or hope to be, spiritually is because of Him.  The Law of Tithing signifies our dependence upon him for our temporal needs, the sacrament represents our dependence upon Him for our spiritual needs.  Temporal and Spiritual = Body and Spirit = a complete soul.  In either case, as King Benjamin so memorably pointed out, we are all beggars before the Lord.

Elder Holland, in the above-mentioned talk, told the story of President Monson giving his shoes away and traveling home from East Germany in his slippers.  I would like to consider the parabolic aspects of this story.  Like with the conscription to the early missionaries not to carry two coats, and to go forth with neither purse nor scrip, the power of this story is not really that President Monson’s sacrifice was so great – a few shirts, a suit and a pair of shoes that could easily be replaced.  He knew those articles of clothing meant a whole lot more to those who had no shirt, no suit or no shoes than they did to him.   No, to me this story is a parable of his reliance – no, OUR reliance – on Christ to provide for our needs.  This is the power of the story, and the true power behind President Monson’s example.  It represents a third witness, added to that of Elder Holland and King Benjamin of the refrain, “Are We Not All Beggars?”Lonely beggar

Some of us will remember a sign that used to sit outside the entrance to the Salt Lake Temple encouraging temple patrons to not give money to panhandlers.  I honestly never felt comfortable with that sign.   Based upon the timing of its disappearance, I suspect that President Monson had something to do with its removal.  President Monson, if that is true, I thank you.  You see, I think there is something very appropriate about there being beggars outside the temple.  They remind us that we are not Zion.  In preparing this talk, I asked myself, “Are these people really any different than the beggars in Christ’s day?”  I think not.  Perhaps they are a little more cunning, and less temporally needy than the blind, lame and crippled beggars who surely lined the streets where Jesus walked, but they are no less needy.  Their needs are likely more spiritual, which is consistent with the way our society is today.  Relatively few people, at least in this country, are truly starving.  Typically the blind and lame and crippled among us are well taken care of by the government.  It is those among us who are spiritually crippled; whose wounds and scars are well hidden; whose petitions are so easily rejected by those of us who judge them, who stand outside the temple today.  Perhaps King Benjamin was looking to our day when he cautioned us against judging whether or not the beggar had brought their misery on themselves.  A caution for us all…such judgment can only be righteously rendered by one with much more wisdom that any of us have.

Finally, I would share a story of one of those beggars I met outside the Salt Lake Temple.  Perhaps some of you remember him.  He always seemed very humble, looking down at the ground like he really didn’t want to make eye contact, perhaps for fear that he might make someone uncomfortable.  His fore-arms were swollen, almost like in the old Popeye cartoons.  I stopped one day to give him the few dollars that I had in my pocket.  We introduced ourselves and I said something about how difficult it must be to stand out here under these circumstances.  I will never forget his response.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yeah – that’s the hardest thing!  It’s the people who walk by like I’m not even here.  I don’t really even care if you give me money, just a friendly word, an acknowledgement that I exist, would mean so much”.

Brethren and sisters, we truly are all beggars.  Those whose needs are so great that they have no possessions or no spiritual reserves with which to insulate themselves from this lone and dreary world may well be closer to the Savior than we are.  I have no doubt that my Lord Jesus Christ would have stopped and spoken to every one of the beggars outside the Temple.  I have no doubt that He would give what he had, and when He had nothing left, He would give of his heart.  I testify that He is, as Joseph said, the prototype of the saved man.  I further testify that we would each do well to cherish His example and to recognize our role as mere stewards of all that He has given us – both the temporal and the spiritual – and to maintain a constant state of repentance until we have learned to exercise that stewardship as He would exercise it.  I testify that what I have spoken is true…and I do so in the name of my Lord and Savior, even my friend, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Seeking the Face of the Lord

In His ArmsThe following is a letter I wrote to a friend.  I thought it worth sharing.  Sure hope you agree:
My friend,
I’ve thought much about our discussion on Sunday.  I’ve discovered that I express myself so much more completely in writing than I do verbally, so please allow me to express some thoughts that I failed to express at the time.  I offer these thoughts for your understanding  of me, of who I am becoming and what motivates me, and also should you come across others who believe similar things.
 
In our meeting, you lovingly shared your concern that I might become so focused upon seeking the face of the Lord that I would lose my balance and overall view of the gospel.  Honestly, I have heard this caution previously from others.  I must admit that I have rejected that because the truth is actually the opposite.
 
I mentioned D&C 93:1 in our talk. You appeared to be familiar with it.  It says:
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;
 
When I read this, I am actually struck with the way in which these ‘requirements” for seeing his face and knowing that He is encompass the completeness of the gospel.  Nothing significant is left out.  If one truly seeks to understand and fulfill these requirements, one will actually be very balanced in their understanding and living of the gospel.
 
D&C 67:10 says:
 
And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
 
I have spent much time contemplating what it means to “strip yourselves from jealousies and fears”, and it is apparent that the only way to do this is to completely accept the atonement, rise above the influences of “babylon” and rely upon his love.  We must learn to believe that “perfect love casteth out fear”, because “fear” is the source of all jealousies.  And then, of course, we must humble ourselves before him (and thus before all men) and forsake pride – the greatest of sins.
 
D&C 101:38 says:
 
And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.
 
I take these scriptures literally, while it has been my observation that too many of us are satisfied to accept them metaphorically.  I don’t know how they can be more clear.
 
The endowment is a representation of our individual journey from His presence in the Garden to His presence on the other side of the veil.  It teaches us the things we must do to return to His presence.  I have observed that it is commonly accepted that the veil represents death.  I don’t believe that.  To me, “enduring to the end” means the end of this journey, which is to overcome the veil that was raised after the fall, to pierce it, and one again experience the fullness of his love, even the “fullness of the gospel”.  The journey is the same.  The requirements are the same.  The only difference is that I don’t believe we should wait until death to seek to fulfill these covenants and commandments, and to receive the promised reward.
 
I read a story once that said that President Joseph F. Smith received a visit from the Savior in which he was told that the people had turned away from Him (meaning the Savior).  The accuracy of this is irrelevant – whether it actually took place or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that, upon reading this, I immediately got on my knees and “cried unto the Lord” that I did not want to be one who had “turned away from Him”.  I feel like if I were to fail to seek after this gift (as well as others that are promised us in Mormon 9 and in numerous teachings from Joseph Himself) I would be disrespecting His promises and turning away from Him.  If I were to fail to actively seek, knock and ask for these blessings, it would be because of unbelief (Mormon 9).  It is that we might receive these blessings, that we might be redeemed from the separation imposed upon us by the fall, that he died.  Can any of us truly settle for less?
As I write this I am filled with a profound love for my Savior, and I want you to know that I love Him.  I want to be with Him. I want to hold his face in my hands and kiss Him, thanking Him for all that He has sacrificed.  This is the fullness of the gospel.  This is what I would have shared with you had I said everything I wanted to say.  Thank you for your understanding, and thank you for all that you do to serve the Lord.   You are a good man – a great example to all of us.
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A Lexicon of Love

The Love of Creation

The Love of Creation

I had a dream last night.  It was one of those dreams that seem, for some reason, to be more than just random – the result of my experiences, hopes and what I had to eat last night.  I’ve had 3 of these dreams in the past, and they all turned out to be quite significant.  In this dream, I found myself at a dinner with about 100 attendees, and the scheduled speaker had failed to show up.  The organizer asked me just a few minutes ahead of time to give a 10 to 15 minute talk.  Obviously, I was completely unprepared – or was I?  The group was very eclectic – there may have been Mormons in the audience, but it was certainly not a Mormon group.

Oddly enough, I was not nervous.  I knew I could pull this off, but even as I sat at the speaker’s table to begin eating, I had no idea what I was going to talk about.  The dream ended as I spilled a drink while taking a bite of black beans.  After I awoke, I lay there thinking about the challenge I had been facing before I woke up.  What would I talk about in that situation?  What wisdom would I share?  What lessons that I had personally learned in my life would be meaningful to such a group, and could readily translate into “non-mormonese”?

I decided I would talk about love.  Every speech should have a structure, and lists usually help people internalize what the talk was about.  Thus, my “lexicon of love” – Love, Fear, Free Will, Gratitude, and Jealousy.

Love

I feel like I have led two lives.  In the first one, I worked really hard at avoiding life. I didn’t really love myself very much during this first life.  I didn’t do good things for myself.  In the second, I have focused on leaving the first behind, and on embracing life.  The process is not complete, but it is progressing.  Shortly after passing into life 2, I was given a definition of love that has withstood the test of the last 15 years of so: Love is that which “builds up” or makes something better.  Love is, therefore, largely an act.  I have since refined that original definition to say, “Love is any act or communication which helps another intelligence move toward fulfilling its potential”. (For the LDS audience – substitute “fulfill the measure of its creation”).  By this definition, love includes a wide range of activities including acts of kindness, compassion, teaching (and learning), and nurturing.  By this definition, “tough love”, if done in kindness, qualifies.  By this definition, creation is an act of love.  Building a house, restoring a vintage car, creating art, creating a universe…all can be acts of love.

There is another definition of love that I have come to understand.  Love can also be defined as the appreciation of the love and/or potential goodness in someone or something else.  I love my wife with a depth that I never knew was possible during my first life.  My love for her derives largely from an appreciation of her goodness – of the many ways in which she loves others, including me.  Her love for me helps me understand, in turn, that I am worthy of loving and being loved, and thus it helps me realize my potential.  Her love for me also serves as an example which, because of my appreciation of her, encourages me to love others – again helping me realize my potential.

This definition of love, I think, accounts for the parents’ love of a child.  Who can better appreciate the goodness (and potential) of a person than those who gave them life?  How do we account, however, for those aberrant individuals who fail to “bond” with their children, or whose “love” for another turns into a desire for control or possession?   That takes us to the next word in our Lexicon of Love.

Fear

Whether you believe the Bible to be “scripture” or not, I think most of us can agree that it contains many valuable and influential philosophies – philosophies that have shaped our western culture.  Given that, please allow me to quote a scripture from the first epistle of John:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

I have often heard the phrase “fear is the opposite of love”.  However, this particular phrase is mentioned nowhere in the Bible.  That’s ok – I think this verse describes the relationship between fear and love quite nicely – especially “…because fear hath torment”.  This relationship between love and fear is, in my mind, quite simple and easy to understand.  It is that when one is consumed with fear – with torment – one cannot look outside themselves enough to act and communicate to the benefit of others.  Neither can one appreciate the goodness in others.  Fear turns one’s focus inward.  Love can only be experienced by turning one’s focus outward.  “What of self-love?” you might say.  I would maintain that truly loving oneself – doing things that promote one’s own potential – requires realizing one’s potential for loving – for engaging in acts of kindness, compassion, teaching, nurturing and creating.  This logic, of course, rests upon my personal belief that the reason for our existence is to learn to love – that it is in our nature to love.  Thus fear, the other 4-letter “F” word, actually is the opposite of love because it focuses our energy inward and hinders the realization of our greatest nature, stymying our greatest potential – the potential to love.

Free Will (Agency)

Acts of love must be exercised without compulsion.  If they are forced, they are not acts of love, they are acts of fear.  No potential is realized through acts of fear – no matter how kind, compassionate or nurturing they might be on the surface.  Potential is actually inhibited by acts of fear.  Many times in life, the greatest love is exhibited when one recognizes that the actions of another are potentially or likely destructive, especially to themselves, but one does not intervene other than “… by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge…” (This passage is extracted from a letter written by the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith while he was incarcerated in the Liberty, Missouri jail in March, 1839, and is now canonized as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – D&C 121:41-42).   Love, without free will, is fear.

Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail

Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail

Gratitude vs. Jealousy

Just as “love and fear” represent a dichotomy of opposites, so do “gratitude and jealousy”.  Gratitude, being thankful for one’s lot in life, frees one to, once again, look outside themselves – enabling one to perceive beauty around them, to appreciate the goodness in others and in themselves – to be content.  Jealousy, or covetousness, results from a lack of appreciation (a lack of love), and results in enmity between oneself and those who have what one is jealous of.  This jealousy typically applies to possessions, experiences, relationships, personality or physical traits, and is driven by fear that one will be deprived of such possessions or that one is not as good as another – perhaps even that one will be subjected to another’s power.  It is interesting, also, that this very fear is itself motivated by the desire to be free of fear.  In other words, the jealous person believes that gaining additional possessions, or having more perfect relationships, or being more beautiful, strong, kind, compassionate and nurturing will result in their being free from fear.  The irony, of course, is that such thoughts actually perpetuate the fear that they hope to be free of.  Only through gratitude, being appreciative of oneself, of who one has become and who one can become, will bring peace.  I’m sure there is some platitude, probably from an oriental religion, that expresses this much more eloquently than I have, but this illustrates the thought process by which I, personally, in my own search for truth, have been taught.

Faith

One must hope that these principles are true, we must believe that it is possible, and that our lives will be better for them, and we must have the faith to act on that belief.  Without faith, nothing is possible.

Summary

When I was asked to address this group, I didn’t panic.  I thought to myself, “I have been preparing my whole life for this moment – I will be fine”.  I’ve lived part of my life in fear, and I have live part of my life seeking to conquer that fear by learning how to love.  I’ve seen both sides of the coin, so I feel qualified to discuss it.

I believe in God.  I have dedicated my life to knowing him.  I believe that God is love – that love, as I have defined it, is His defining characteristic.  I believe that we, if we are to fulfill our potential – if we are to fully realize our existence – must learn to love as He does.  We must learn to overcome fear and jealousy, and learn how to love ourselves, other people and the world around us.  If you do not believe in God, I hope you will at least believe in your own potential.  I believe they are one and the same.

Finally, I would quote two scriptures that I think tie together nicely what I have shared with you today, and which illustrate the purpose for our lives.  The first is from the Bible, John 17, verse 3.  They represent the words of Jesus Christ:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

The second is also attributed to Jesus Christ.  It is from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, section 67, verse 10:

And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.

To know God, to see Him and know that he is, is to fulfill our potential.  To do this, we must overcome our tendencies toward fear and jealousy, and truly learn to love without the need to protect ourselves.  We must become like him.  This is eternal life.  Even those of us who do not believe in God the creator must admit that God exists – even if only in the hearts and minds of man.  Even such a God, if imitated in the way I describe, is a beautiful God – a God worthy of our worship (reverence and regard) – if only because such reverence and regard bring out the finest in each of us, and ultimately in mankind.

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My Friend – Jesus the Christ

This is the text of a talk I will deliver at the Highland Care Center tomorrow, September 21, 2014:

**************************

Brethren and Sisters, I love you.

Today, I want to introduce you to my friend.  I asked him to join us today.  He promised to be here. Perhaps you can see him, perhaps not, but I assure you he is here with us today because He always keeps His promises.  His name is Jesus.  He loves you, too.  He wanted me to be sure and tell you that.annunciation-to-shepherds-949488-gallery

To many, my friend is known as the Christ, the savior of the world.  While he is those things, to me he is even more than that.   He is my confidante, my teacher, my example.

How do I know He is my friend?  Well, He told me – just last week.  You see, sometimes when I pray, I find myself talking to Him.  I’ve learned to cherish those times, because the things He tells me are always so comforting.  It’s like he truly wants me to know how much He loves me and how wonderful He thinks I am.  It’s like He wants me to know Him.

Yes, just last week He told me that I was His friend.  But I think I knew it even before He told me.  I knew it because:

  • Although I kind of knew Him when I was young, I went away for many years. I was being very selfish.  Perhaps I was looking for new friends.  I found some, but none like Him.  Nevertheless, when I realized again how much I needed Him, he was there.  He didn’t really even ask any questions.  He just said, “It’s so nice to see you again.  I missed you!”
  • He has always kept every one of his promises. He likes making promises – and they’re always 2-way promises.  I do my part, and He does His.  It never fails.  He’s so reliable that way.  Keeping promises together always make the bond – the bond between friends – stronger.  He’s really smart that way.
  • He’s very quick to tell me He loves me. He does that in many ways – through the scriptures, through blessings that are showered upon me, sometimes even by talking to me.  He never hesitates to take an opportunity, any time I will listen, to tell me how much He loves me.
  • Every time I go to the temple, He goes with me.
  • He’s always helping me learn how to be a better person – to become more like Him, and He’s so gentle. He never shouts – His voice is always quiet and piercing – and somehow he always knows how it is that I learn best.

Yes, Jesus – the Christ – the Creator and Savior of the world, is my friend.  How amazing is that?!!!

I mentioned the promises He makes.  There are many of them.  There are promises that apply to all of us – because, of course, He is your friend, too.  These particular promises are given in the scriptures, and we need only to read and study them to understand all that He offers us, and what we need to do to receive the blessings that He wants to give.

There are also promises that He makes to us as individuals.  These promises are usually made during those quiet moments when we are on our knees in prayer – when we pray, metaphorically, in our closets.  These promises are just as sure and real as the ones in the scriptures.  Of all of these promises, the one I look forward to the most is one of the scriptural promises He has made to all of us.  This one also qualifies as one of those personal promises, because He has told me personally that it is my promise.

This promise is given in the scriptures, in D&C section 93, verse 1.  In this verse, the Lord tells us:

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

What a glorious promise this is!  I so look forward to the day when I am able to see His face.  I already know that He is, but I want to feel the fullness of His love.  I want to receive a huge hug.  I want to look upon His face and see the love in His eyes.  I want to hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

Jesus is my friend.  He is your friend, too.  He always keeps his promises – all of them.  This promise is no different.  For some, this may not happen until we pass to the other side.  For others, perhaps even for some in this room, it will be fulfilled, or has already been fulfilled, before we pass.  Either way, the promise is sure.  The temple testifies of it.  The scriptures testify of it.  Hopefully, our lives testify of it.  It is my prayer that we will, each and every one of us, experience that moment when we stand before the Savior, look into His eyes, receive a huge hug, and hear Him say the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

I testify that these things are true, and I do so in the name of my Lord, my Savior…my friend, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Same Sex Marriage – Perspectives

s-COLORADO-GAY-WEDDING-CAKE-smallKnow ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?  Alma 39:5

Even the most casual student of the Book of Mormon is familiar with the story of Alma’s son, Corianton, who “didst forsake the ministry” among the Zoramites and did go “after the harlot Isabel”.  This story also serves as a reminder of how sexual desires can so easily overpower even the most righteous.  Sex is one of the most powerful physical and emotional forces that define the human experience.  Very few have escaped its influences completely unscathed. Kept within the bounds the Lord has set, these God-given desires bond a man and a woman, physically, emotionally and spiritually into a family unit that is ideal for the raising up of God’s spirit children in an environment where they will be most likely to experience the fullness of eternal joy for which they were created. Unharnessed, however, these desires and cravings lead daily to everything from lustful thoughts to pre-marital sex, accidental children, pornography, adultery, rape, child abuse, abortion, STD’s, and other forms of violence and social tragedy.  I have become convinced that sexual sin is poison to the soul – a destructive force that leaves a trail of broken lives in its wake.  This is not news, but it is necessary to establish a baseline for the rest of my thoughts.

In this post, I wish to discuss the topic of same sex marriage from an LDS perspective. I know it’s been done before, but I believe that I can offer a body of thought on the topic that will increase our understanding of why it is such a difficult topic for people – even in the relatively homogenous Latter-day Saint community – to agree on.  I would like to begin by listing two things that I will not discuss:

  • Whether homosexuality is a choice or an accident of birth
  • Prejudices concerning the overall morality of the gay community as a whole

In the first case, I am not really qualified to offer an opinion and, to the person who is gay, it doesn’t matter.  Whether it is a choice or not doesn’t change their situation.  It is what it is.  Discussion of the second item would be totally based on anecdotal evidence, and although I have had the opportunity to make some direct observations, I do not feel that it qualifies me to authoritatively discuss the topic.  Besides, it is decidedly prejudicial, judgmental and unfair to saddle any individual with a stereotype that has been ascribed to a minority of millions by the majority of billions who obviously know very little about what it is truly like to be gay in the first place.  That said, I believe there are a number of aspects of this topic that I can discuss, if not authoritatively, at least thoughtfully.

Definition of Marriage

It’s been a couple of years since I posted a blog entitled “Perspectives on Marriage”.  In that post, I made the point that marriage, in my opinion, has been undergoing a gradual redefinition for more than a hundred years.  Prior to that, marriage was more of a religious, procreative, and economic arrangement.  At its glorious best, it represented a 3-way covenant relationship between a man, a woman and God.  From a more worldly perspective, it was at least a proven arrangement that facilitated the survival of the species by having children.  It provided the best structure for raising children to adulthood, in the process forming a social and economic cornerstone for survival and growth of the species.  Marriages, no matter how unfulfilling or even miserable, were typically for life, simply because the man was dominant and the woman could scarcely leave, especially once there were children in the picture.  Of course, there were exceptions, but, for better or worse, that was the overwhelming trend.

Beginning in the 20th century, though, marriages began to be granted unique privileges, or rights, that were denied to unmarried people.  Details are provided in the blog post above, but in general they include tax breaks, inheritance rights, health insurance discounts, hospital visitation rights, living will authority, etc.  The government began to license marriage.  It became a legal and civil institution rather than a religious one.  Divorce laws were developed and varied from state to state, although they have largely become generic over the last few decades.  This is why it has become so difficult to deny same-sex couples the same civil rights that are granted to participants in traditional marriage.  It’s not so much the right to marriage, it’s the right to all the privileges that come with being married which arguably cannot be legally, or even morally, denied.  Society and government “subsidized” marriage for many years  with these “rights” in an attempt to encourage couples to form and maintain family units.  There may well have been good justification for the direction marriage took during that time, but in this day of 50+% divorce rates, single parent house-holds, children born to un-wed mothers and, yes, abortion…this social and legal subsidization has lost its focus as well as the power to really make a difference.  What was, ironically, once marriage’s best friend, has now become its greatest threat.  Over the past decade, the justification for withholding these civil “rights” from certain groups in society has been rapidly eroding, and as we well know court after court has decided that such civil issues override any traditional, religious or cultural definition of whatever arrangement it is that carries with it those rights.  In short, “marriage” has been redefined to be nothing more than a social contract, and thus can scarcely be denied to any two individuals who desire to enter into such a contract.

The Law of Chastity

As mentioned above, one of the Lord’s most significant commandments, according to LDS doctrine, is the Law of Chastity, which all faithful saints, endowed or not, are commanded to obey.  Simply put, it is that any sexual relations outside of the bonds of marriage are forbidden.  In addition, the Proclamation on the Family states:

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

This proclamation, which I personally consider as scripture for my life, makes it quite clear that marriage is defined as “between man and woman…husband and wife”.  (It is interesting that it does not say “…A man and woman” – I had never noticed that before).  Whether or not you consider this proclamation to be scripture for your own personal life, there is no room for interpretation that it includes same sex marriage or any form of marriage that does not involve man and woman.  There is also no room for interpretation, when combined with the Law of Chastity, that it leaves any room for heterosexual relations outside the bonds of marriage.  The commandments are quite clear.

Chastity outside of marriage, and complete fidelity within marriage, are essential to maintaining the marriage bond and thus the family unit.  When a husband and wife commit themselves to each other physically, emotionally and spiritually, and when they engage no other outlet for this powerful physical desire – even need – for sexual fulfillment, the bond that is formed is very powerful.  When these boundaries are broken, through any form of stimulation or fulfillment that does not involve one’s spouse and only one’s spouse, the bond is compromised and the marriage, and thus the family, are threatened.  God’s precious children suffer.  We see it every day – most likely even in our own families.

I firmly declare, and I can quote no authority other than the fact that I have lived many years on this earth, that I have been on both sides of this battle, and that I have the gift of the Holy Ghost to testify to me of truth, that the disregard for the Law of Chastity that has been steadily increasing over the past 50 years is one of the primary causes of the degradation of society that we all are witnessing today.  This disregard is much more manifest, just through sheer numbers, in the heterosexual community than it is in the homosexual community (are they really different communities?), but both are an abomination before the Lord, and will only lead to more of the symptoms I described in the first paragraph above.

“And the second is like unto it”

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question,tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)

And now the counterpoint to any discussion about same sex marriage – the need for love and compassion.  This cannot be denied.  The Lord is clear.  One can argue that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” suggests that one could perhaps condemn and judge behavior in another just as one would condemn it is oneself.  In other words, if I am willing to condemn extra-marital sexual activity in myself, I have the right to condemn it in others.  I don’t think so.  People regularly invoke the conveniently modified edict “Thou shalt not judge”, which is actually said nowhere in the scriptures, but reads more like:

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

Or:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15).

However, I don’t believe this gives us the right as individuals to condemn others for their actions.  We do not know their challenges…do not live in their body…in short, we have not walked in their shoes. Only Christ’s judgment is perfect – only He has the knowledge, the understanding, and the compassion to judge perfectly, and for us to impose our imperfect judgment on others is not loving them.

Consider with me what it must be like for a child who is raised up in today’s world, seeing all around them examples of the promise of marriage and family with the accompanying emotional and sexual love.  They are told by their parents that, when they grow up, they can be just like them.  Media, relatives, churches; the vast majority of society’s influences all reinforce this promised dream.  Then, at some point, probably during puberty, things go horribly wrong.  The attraction they’re supposed to feel for the opposite sex doesn’t develop as it does with their friends.  Worse, they find themselves physically attracted to those very friends.  Can you imagine the confusion?  Just as these promised dreams should be materializing and coming true, the rug is pulled out from under them.  They are banished into the fringe of society, with no acceptable outlet for these powerful sexual urges and unfulfilled emotional desires that typically spin out of control even for heterosexual teens. The tension that is set up here is pretty obvious.  Throw in the fact that, for most heterosexuals, there is a deep, psychological, perhaps even physical, revulsion for same-sex activities.  It’s just as hard-wired into our make-up as same-sex attraction is for the gay person.  Imagine being told that, in order to be part of society you must either overcome those visceral feelings or abstain from sex altogether. Imagine being told, as a heterosexual, that you had to engage in homosexual relations.  How can one not have compassion – true compassion – for such unfortunates?

There is no Easy Solution

The forces mentioned above, all of them very real, are in insidious opposition to each other.  Marriage today simply is what it has evolved into.  The civil rights, once given, will never be taken away.  Society and Government are not going to do that without huge social upheaval which would result in casualties far beyond so-called marriage benefits.  The Law of Chasity, among the LDS faithful, is not something on which we can or should compromise.  The welfare of society, not to mention the building of God’s Kingdom on the earth, demands its strict observance.  Yet, there are millions of people who find themselves, for whatever reasons, trapped in the interplay between these two forces.  The commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” encourages us to tolerate, if not condone the actions of others even though we know them to be wrong.  It’s like a perfect storm designed to wreak havoc on our society – on the Kingdom of God.  As a matter of fact – it probably is exactly that – insidiously designed by the enemy of the Kingdom of God.

Government will almost certainly, in the next few years, alleviate the civil rights aspect of this dilemma.  Although I remain convinced personally that same-sex marriage, as a symptom of the larger disease of sexual immorality overall, will further the destruction of society that has already been aggressively advanced by the widespread disregard for the Law of Chastity, I do not see any other moral or legal route for the state and federal government to take. Unfortunately, this course will result in even greater erosion of the family, making more and more people dependent on the government, which, of course, transfers power, both political and economic, right into their hands.  In other words, the whole thing is very much in the interest of the government.

The Law of Chastity itself can never be compromised – it is of the Lord.  The fact that all those who participate in extra-marital sexual relations will ultimately be judged by the Lord for their choices is indisputable.  There is nothing any of us can do about that.  However, that judgment will also be “of the Lord”, and it is not our place to circumvent His perfect, fair, compassionate justice by replacing it with our own.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of this would be for us to disobey the second great commandment which is “like unto” the first and forget our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The sin is then on our head.  We suffer, they suffer, everybody suffers.  The world, which is already descending into a pit of immorality that includes pornography, promiscuity, rape, and abortion, would be made even darker by the removal of what precious little light is left.  Let us not hasten its decline by adding our own hatred to the veil of darkness that threatens to engulf us.  This, our ability to love, is the only thing that is truly variable in this drama. We must each resolve to love our fellow man as we love ourselves.  This is really the only “weapon” we have to battle the evil one, and make no mistake – this IS his assault.

The Future – a prediction

What I am about to say is a personal prediction, most definitely not in any form a prophecy.  It is not particularly inspired of the Holy Ghost, although that doesn’t mean it is not true.

In Europe, the church no longer performs weddings – that is reserved for the state.  The church only performs sealings.  I predict that, once gay marriage is legalized, the church will stop performing marriages, and only sealings will be performed in the temple.

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Lessons From the Jail #6 – Faith – The Cycle of Becoming

Faithimage3For the past 6 years, interrupted by an 18 month mission abroad, I have been involved in the LDS ministry at my local county jail.  This has been a unique and rewarding experience for me personally, and I have probably learned more than any of the students – hence the title of this series: “Lessons from the Jail”.   (Read lesson 5 here) I hope and pray that you, readers, will find in them a perspective and an honesty that will brighten your own understanding of the miracle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Lessons From the Jail #6 – Faith- The Cycle of Becoming

For the past few months, every time I start a lesson, I write on the white board the word “Dogma”.  I then draw a circle with a line through it.  I then define “dogma” as something that you are told to believe simply because someone else said it was true.  A perusal of the dictionary.com definition confirms that this is a valid summary of the various definitions. I then say something like the following:

“It does no good for you to believe something because I or anyone else says it is true.  I encourage you to listen to others, but you can only put it in your tool chest if you properly think about it, and make it your own truth.  It is intellectually and spiritually lazy to do anything else.  So – in my classes – we have 2 rules: 1) No Dogma, which means you must think for yourselves and 2) only one profanity allowed per class.”

I know from my own life experience that there are a few giant words that we use frequently, which we “throw around” as if we understand them, but which we really don’t understand as well as we think we do. Such words include “Judgment, God, Heaven, Hell, Repentance, etc.”   I think it helps remove some of the “mystery” from religion, and thus lend greater reality and clarity to our relationship with God, if we better understand these giant words.  The giant word to be discussed in this lesson is “faith”.

I have delivered this lesson several times now, and, after delivering the above prelude, it typically goes something like this:

…So, I want to talk about the giant word “Faith”.  Few of us really understand what it means, although many will say, “It means to believe” and they are happy with that.  Faith, however, is much more than belief. It is common to believe something without having faith; people do it every day.  We often speak of believing in Christ, but there are many, including satan himself, who believe in Christ, but who do not exercise faith in Him.  Probably the first thing I want to share with you about faith is that I can tell by your actions what you have faith in.  If you are quiet, you have developed faith that being quiet typically keeps you out of trouble. If you are loud and brash, you have developed faith that your brashness keeps people at bay and prevents them from getting close.  Am I right?  Don’t you know people like that?  I sure do.  If you are violent or quick tempered, it is because you have developed faith that this protects you from being hurt by others.  If you take drugs, you have developed faith that the drugs bring you comfort and protect you, no matter how temporary and ultimately costly that comfort and protection might be.  These are just some examples.  I’m sure your minds are racing with other examples from your own experience.

So, what is faith?  The scriptures provide some pretty specific definitions, don’t they?  Paul, in Hebrews 11:1, says:

 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. 

Moroni, likewise, says in Ether 12:6:

And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

The Bible Dictionary describes faith in the following terms:

Faith is a principle of action and of power, and by it one can command the elements, heal the sick, and influence any number of circumstances when occasion warrants (Jacob 4:4–7). Even more important, by faith one obtains a remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God.

I don’t know about you, but that all still sounds pretty cryptic to me.  … “substance of things hoped for”?  What is that?  One thing that is clear to me, though.  There is no power in believing.  Only faith can be converted into power.

So, if you’re still a little confused, like I was, let me offer an original definition which makes sense to me:

“Faith is believing that something is true, even though you cannot prove it empirically or to the satisfaction of others, and believing it to the point that you are willing to take action as if it were true”.

Notice how, in order for belief to become faith, we have to act on it.  Let’s turn now to Alma, Chapter 32.  How many of you are familiar with this chapter?  (3-4 hands go up).  Great!  Will someone begin reading then with verse 27:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

Notice the emphasis on the word “desire”.  You must first have a desire to believe.  Now, on to verse 28:faithimage1

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma here, and in the next 6 verses, tells us that the seed must be a good seed.  In other words, our desire must be a righteous desire, and we have to recognize it as such so that we do not reject it.  We must be humble, we must be willing to listen, and we must be willing to accept new possibilities. As a side note: it is very difficult to do all this in fear. We must have courage, and we must trust.  In this example, we have taken the action to at least not reject this belief.  We have taken the action to plant the seed.

Now, Alma switches gears on us.  He starts talking in verses 35-37 about what comes next:

O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit

Clearly, more action is required of us, isn’t it?  Alma is telling us that we must nourish this seed. We need to get excited! If we do not, it may yet die out, even though we know it is a good seed (verse 34).

Have any of you ever tried to grow an avocado in a glass of water?  (3 or 4 hands go up again – not necessarily the same ones as before).  Well, I remember – oh, probably about the 3rd grade – my teacher told me to get my mother to take me to the store and buy one of those nice, big California avocadoes.  Then, with my mother’s help of course (3rd graders do not play with knives, right?), I was to cut it open, remove the seed, stick 4 toothpicks into it, and place it over a glass of water.  So – what have we done here?

  • We had a righteous desire to please our teacher
  • We believed our teacher enough to ask Mom to take us to the store, etc. (Mom, of course, was thrilled, having performed the same experiment when she was in the 3rd grade and because…well, moms are like that).
  • We took action to plant the seed (well, we sort of planted it)
  • Then, if you were like me, you checked it every day! You got excited! Every morning before school, and every afternoon when you got home – maybe even at night before bed – you would check to see if it had sprouted.  At first, you might have been disappointed, but you didn’t give up.  You had hope and you had faith.  Then, one day – after what seemed like an eternity – there was a little cream-colored sprout on the top of the seed.  It had sprouted!!!!  Now your faith had been converted into knowledge.  You believed, you took action and you gained knowledge that the seed was good (the avocado was even delicious – if you like avocadoes.) because it grew – it swelled.  Likewise, lest we forget the teacher, you learned to trust her (or him), because now you know she told the truth.  Do you see where this is taking us?  Who does the teacher represent?  Right – she represents the Savior.

There’s one more factor in this process we’re describing though.  The action needs to be a correct action.  If we put the seed in upside down, it wouldn’t grow.  If we let the water evaporate away, it won’t grow.  Plus, what if we get really excited and decide we’re going to plant the tree in the back yard?  What if your knowledge simply fueled the desire for greater knowledge?  Well, if you live in Utah, the seed might grow for a few months, but it won’t survive the winter.  Does that mean the seed wasn’t good?  No, it just means you took it too far – you took incorrect action.  You might need to try the experiment again, only next time plant it in a greenhouse (a very tall one) with heaters during the winter.  Was your knowledge false? Should you abandon your faith?  No – you just need to adjust your actions.

So, our picture of how faith works is almost complete. We have:

  • Righteous desire (unrighteous desires will only yield unrighteous results)Faithimage2
  • Belief that our desire can come true
  • We apply action
  • Appropriate action applied to belief becomes faith
  • Faith fulfilled becomes knowledge
  • Knowledge fuels desire for more knowledge

You might call this the “Cycle of Faith”.  I prefer to call it the “Cycle of Becoming”.  It is through this cycle that we seek to become more and more righteous; that we learn to discern between righteous and no-so-righteous desires; that we act on our desires; that we learn to fail and to succeed.  It is through this cycle that we become the sum of our choices. 

There is a relatively famous, and to me at least, mystifying story told in Matthew, Chapter 17:14-21:

And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,

 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

I’ve often pondered how one can have faith no greater than a mustard seed – the tiniest of seeds (Mark 4:31) and still move mountains.  I’m sure most of you who recall this scripture have wondered the same thing.  Well, I believe this concept of the cycle of becoming explains it.  Christ is not saying that if you have a tiny amount of faith, you can move a mountain right now.  He is saying, instead, that if you have the tiniest amount of true faith, it can grow (like the mustard seed) into faith strong enough to move mountains or, if you take appropriate action by prayer and fasting, cast out even the most stubborn of devils.  He is telling us that we can become even as He is.

So, guys, here’s the deal:

  • We all have to have faith. Without faith in something, there is no basis for action.  We are nothing.  Heck, when God created the universe, He first had to believe He could do it, right?  Then He had to try.  He had to turn His belief into faith.
  • What you have faith in very much defines who you are, and ultimately who you will become.
  • Faith is not a great mystery, as you can now see, but it is a great power – a giant word if there ever was one.
  • To have faith in Jesus Christ is to believe in Him, to believe in His teachings – even though you cannot prove anything about Him – and to believe in Him and His teachings to the point that you take action on them as if they were proven truth.
  • The key, as you can see, to turning belief into faith is action.
  • This is why James said in James 2:26, For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Belief, then, is faith without action – it is dead faith.

I encourage you from now on to ask yourself regularly, humbly, without fear, what it is that you believe in, and whether or not your actions reflect that belief, that it might be converted into faith and power. 

I testify in great love for each of you that these things are true, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Brethren and Sisters,

I never understood the principle of the mustard see until one of the inmates asked about it while I was teaching this particular lesson.  It was then that this interpretation fell into place for me.  Similarly, it was while teaching an impromptu lesson on judgment (link above) that I came to understand the glory and overriding power of God’s love at a whole new level; that His ultimate judgment will be summed up with the question, “How much can I bless you?”  I am often left to wonder – was the spirit helping me to teach them, or to be taught myself? 

These are good men who have made mistakes – who have sinned against society (and most likely, of course, against God).  Still, they are not that different from you and me.  They desire goodness in their lives.  They want to be good husbands, fathers, son and brothers – they have just forgotten how.  They have been distracted by the events of life, and by the choices they have made.  They need someone to show them the way back.  I try very hard to teach them things that will help them remember the things that will strengthen and enlighten them, and especially to remember the love of Christ.  Why am I saying this? It is because we all need to be reminded, taught, and encouraged. We all need, at one time or another, to remember the love of Christ.  As my term(s) at the jail comes to an end in November, I realize that probably the greatest lesson I have learned is to genuinely love and care for those who have “strayed”.  Some of these people are in jail.  Some are on the streets.  Some sit next to us in Sacrament.  The Lord loves each of us equally and, if we are to become like Him, so must we. 

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