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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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I Am Not a Sinner!

Heavenly expectationI am not a sinner.  There!  I said it!  Let me say it again…I AM NOT A SINNER!   I’ve been told all my life, even as a child, that I am a sinner, and that as such I can only be saved by the grace of Christ, but I’m declaring myself healed, saved, no longer captive to sin.  According to traditional wisdom, I can be saved, but I’m still a sinner.  The only way for me to stop being a sinner is to die, and I’m even sure that’s the end of it!  What’s up with that?!!  I was driving along Highway 101 near Cabrillo on the coast north of Los Angeles when this thought hit me.  My heart immediately swelled with recognition – the kind of undeniable recognition that comes when you have been granted a nugget of eternal truth – and I immediately wanted to shout it to the whole world.  So, here I go…

*******

I AM NOT A SINNER.  I have sinned, yes (a lot, actually), but I am not a sinner.   I know Paul said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but that’s in the past.  If we want to quote Paul, he also said:

Galatians 2:17

But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

Romans 3:7

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

Romans 5:19

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

These scriptures clearly indicate that Christ came to save sinners.  They tell me that he does not foster sin; that once His truth has come to me, I am no longer judged a sinner; and that by His obedience, I can be made righteous.  What did Isaiah have to say about it?  How’s this familiar scripture from Isaiah 1:18:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

I perused through all the references to the word “sinner” in the New Testament, and never once did it say I have to stay a sinner my whole life.  As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the references described one person, usually a Sadducee or a Pharisee, calling someone else a sinner.  Christ Himself was typically accused of being a friend of sinners, but not their accuser.  So, I just don’t want to be considered a sinner any more.  I’m just not a sinner.

*****

I am not a sinner, because I don’t feel like a sinner.  I really don’t.  My heart feels good and righteous and loving.  I truly have no desire to sin or to do evil:

And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them, and also did all the servants of Lamoni; and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.(Alma 19:33)

And, you know what, I’m not even going to hedge my declaration by saying something like “Now, I don’t mean I’m perfect…”.  I’m just going to glory in the fact that I have been relieved, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, from the burden of sin!  Sure, I get caught by surprise sometimes by a particular situation, and I don’t always react the way I would aspire to, but that certainly doesn’t make me a sinner, and I refuse to accept that label.  Somehow, while I’ve been living for the last 20 years, I have been truly cleansed.  My heart seeks constantly after righteousness. Sin is abhorrent to me.  Righteousness, love, integrity, goodness – these are precious to me.  I feel clean.  I feel honorable.  I feel loved.

*****

I am not a sinner, and I think that telling people that they are sinners is a Great Lie, one perpetuated by Satan and his minions to minimize the power of Christ and to keep us from truly believing in Him, in His promises, and in ourselves.  To continue to think of ourselves as sinners is to deny the power of the Holy Ghost and of the atonement.  To do this is to deny Christ.  Christ said He would cleanse us in His blood:

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Mormon 9:6

O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day.

Alma 7:14

Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

Why would we want to perpetuate the concept of ourselves as sinners?  I have been baptized, and I have exercised “…faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and cleanse from all unrighteousness.”  I testify of His cleansing power.  In my case, it has been a process, but it has been as sure a process as the one experienced by Alma the Younger.  Just as he was cleansed in 3 days, so I am cleansed after 20 years.  No matter; I am at peace, and I am no longer a sinner.

I think I understand better now the rejoicing of Jacob, brother of Nephi, in 2 Nephi 9:19:

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel!  For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

Why do we need to wait until we’re dead to lay hold of the “mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel”; to be delivered “from that awful monster the devil”?  Well, I’m not going to wait, and I have been delivered.   I refuse to continue to be labeled as anything other than a righteous man of God.  I refuse to continue to submit to that awful monster, and to sell myself short just because I have not yet reached the perfection that is Christ.

*****

I am not a sinner.  I have been told very clearly by the scriptures and by His voice that my sins are forgiven; and even if I hadn’t been told that, I would still know it.  Nephi, Enos, Alma, Nephi son of Helaman, and Moroni – even the Prophet Joseph – were all forgiven of their sins.  Am I a great prophet like they are?  Perhaps not, but I’m still not a sinner.  I don’t have to be a president or a prophet or an apostle or a general authority to be completely cleansed and completely forgiven.  The scriptures are clear:

D&C 58:42

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

Do I glory in myself?  Am I being prideful?  I am most certainly not.  No, I am shouting from the rooftops that you don’t have to be a sinner, either.  This is not just about me or Enos or Joseph!  This is a promise for all of us, and that is the message of these great prophets.  The promise is for you, and until we accept this promise and its accompanying blessing, we can never approach the Savior, for no unclean thing can dwell with God (1 Nephi 10:21):

Alma 11:37

37 And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

We cannot be saved in our sins.  We must cast them off.  We must no longer even think of ourselves as sinners.

Brethren and Sisters, as long as we wait for our redemption, we effectively deny Christ’s power to save.  If you have truly repented, then be forgiven!  Believe Him!  Accept the cleansing power of His blood.  Rejoice in your salvation – now!  We were meant to live free of sin, not just to die free of sin.  If we continue to consider ourselves sinners, we have not truly forsaken sin, and we will forever labor under its burden.  This greatly limits our ability to have joy, which in turn denies God His glory.

I am not a sinner.   I refuse to be a sinner.  God doesn’t want me to be a sinner.  I believe Christ promises, and in His cleansing power of forgiveness, freely (Oh, so freely – and lovingly) given.  I so declare in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Just a Minute, Lord – I’ve Just Got a Few Treasures to Pack

TithingAs I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts recently, I just completed a 30 day “Super-Vegan” fast.  I mention this only for context, because I absolutely KNOW that I wouldn’t have learned as much as I learned during those 30 days if I hadn’t been “fasting” in this manner.  One among many significant things I learned during this time was a new perspective on tithing.

A few months ago, my family (no kids – we’re all grown) read an article by Alan Rock Waterman called, “Are we paying too much tithing?”.  This article examines D&C Section 119, making the point that we are really only required to pay 10% of our interest over and above what we need to be comfortable.  Thus, those of us who need most of our income to be comfortable would pay very little tithing.  The argument is compelling enough, and the scripture seems pretty clear.  Some in my family began to discuss the idea of paying less tithing.  This just didn’t feel right to me.  It felt to me like we were looking for an “out” so that we didn’t have to give as much to the Lord – as if what we give to the Lord we are giving because we have to, and if we can find an excuse to pay less…well, you get the point.

A couple of weeks ago, I read another article, this one by Craig James Ostler, putting a different twist on Section 119, which says:

Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion.  Even so.  Amen

Professor Ostler emphasizes the first three verses of the commandment – that the beginning of the tithing of His people is the putting of all of our surplus property into the hands of the church, and then after that, we are to pay 10% of our interest annually.

Upon reading this article, I was impressed that, even though I do not actually give all my surplus property to the bishop – which was much more feasible at that time than it is now – I still MUST give all my property, not just my surplus property, to the Lord.  In other words, I must, in my heart, say to the Lord, “Father, this is yours.  I will no longer covet it, and it is yours to do with as you desire of me”.

Shortly before I was baptized in 1998 – when I was asking myself if I was truly ready to make the commitment I needed to make if I were going to be baptized – I was prompted to ask myself, “What do I own; and what, of all my possessions, is most precious to me; and would I be willing to give that to the Lord if He were to ask for it?”.  My thoughts immediately went to my 1976 Martin D-28 guitar, which I had bought brand new, and thus had owned and played for 22 years.  (It should be noted that I was recently divorced, and my possessions were pretty much limited to my clothes, my guitar, and an old Chevy S-10 pickup).  I knew I was prepared to make and keep my covenants with the Lord when I answered this question, “Yes”.  At this time, in one of those small, intimate moments by which the Lord so often brings about great things, I symbolically handed the Lord everything, and accepted His commission as a steward over all that He would bless me with in the future.  One could make the case that this was a more significant “ordinance” than my baptism itself.

This, then, was the consecration of my surplus property – the “beginning of the tithing” – my first step toward becoming a Zion person.  Since then, of course, my wife and I have accumulated more “things”, and I have, for a time, forgotten this humble beginning.  I have begun to covet things and to give less freely to those who need.  The article by Professor Ostler reminded me of that covenant I made with the Lord before I was baptized – a covenant that I was prompted to make despite my ignorance and innocence in the gospel, or perhaps because of my ignorance and innocence.

It was then that I realized that, unless one has made, at least in their heart, this initial consecration of their possessions, then tithing – the paying of 10% of one’s income – is a mere shell of what it is intended to be.  Tithing without first consecrating all to the Lord fails to promote the oneness and the perfection that we are commanded to seek, because it reserves 90% of what we are blessed with for our own use at our discretion.  Relinquishing ownership over worldly things is essential to stripping ourselves of “jealousies and fears” (D&C 67:10).  Understanding this, I ask myself why I would ever consider the thought, “Am I paying too much tithing?”

It was then, also, that I drew an interesting parallel between the sacrament and tithing.  Just as the sacrament is intended to be a symbolic reminder of our sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (a willing consecration of our agency), so tithing should be seen as a symbolic reminder of our initial consecration of all that we have been blessed with temporally (a willing consecration of our stuff), and of our mere stewardship over our worldly possessions, which are, thus, not really “possessions” at all.

I suggest, then, that we must view tithing in this manner if we ever hope to become a Zion person, or ultimately a Zion people.  The goal of having “no poor among us” will never be realized as long as we continue to preserve in our hearts the concept of possessions and ownership.  Possessions come between us and the Lord.  Possessions bind us insidiously to Babylon, and prevent us from fully giving ourselves to our Savior.  Can you truly picture yourself standing before the Lord and, when He beckons, “Come follow me”, responding , “Just a minute Lord – I’ve just got a few treasures I need to pack”?

Brothers and Sisters, just as we are commanded to sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit unto the Lord, we must also sacrifice all that we possess, and thus accept our righteous role as stewards unto the Lord over our worldly goods.  We must learn to be willing to use these goods in the way the Lord commands us, without hesitation and without regret.  This is difficult – the concept of “ownership” is deeply ingrained in us.  Most of us, including myself – especially myself, will likely need to call upon the full power of the atonement to be freed from this burden.  We will be tried again and again as we strive to observe and keep this commandment – the world will see to that.  However, if we do not do this, we can never be prepared to live in Zion.  The goal of having “no poor among us” will be just as doomed by our failure to consecrate our “possessions” as it would be by our failure to consecrate our hearts and spirits.

Let us re-examine verses 6-7 of Section 119:

And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion.  Even so.  Amen.

The Law of Tithing is not about giving the 10% any more than the Law of the Gospel is about taking the sacrament.  The Law of Tithing is about consecrating everything, giving ourselves “completely” to the Lord and becoming one with Him.  It is about breaking the cords by which we are bound to Babylon, that we might be welcomed, and that we might welcome others, to Zion.  This, like every other law the Lord has given us, is a spiritual law intended to prepare us, if not as a church then as individuals, to receive of His fullness.  In D&C Section 119, the Lord commands us to accept this law, and the penalty for failure to do so is to forfeit Zion.  We each have a choice to make.  If we each make the right choice, the Lord will use us to build Zion.  If we all make the right choice, we will become a Zion church.  I may struggle from time to time breaking the bonds of Babylon, but the Lord knows my choice is made…

I stand imperfect but sincere…longing for Zion.

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Sincere Reflections on The Word of Wisdom

vegetablesSo much has been written about Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, commonly known as the “Word of Wisdom”, that one might well have to be either a prophet or a fool to risk writing any more, yet I actually hope to share a point of view that is just unique enough to help the reader be stronger, cleaner, and more committed to the values contained therein.  I have no intention of offering any kind of historical rehash of how it came about, or how the early saints, including the Prophet Joseph himself, apparently took it rather lightly.  There is no need for another account of how it gradually, over the space of 60 years, came to be enforced in 1902 as a requirement for entering the temple.  Instead, I hope to offer a very personal, more spiritual testimony of this revelation as light shining the darkness.  I will leave it to you to decide how important this testimony is to you.

My patriarchal blessing says, “Learn to live the word of wisdom in all its fullness, and in so doing you will, from time to time, enjoy the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  He will prompt you in time of evil and danger that you might avoid it and be protected from harm or evil that could come to you, for Satan would desire you.”  One might think this is a pretty standard thing to be said in such a blessing, until one considers that I was 45 years old at the time, and that I had a history of substance abuse which ceased abruptly at age 39, and that the patriarch had absolutely no way of knowing that.  I had only 2 months prior quit drinking coffee – for 2 reasons:

1)      I was planning to be baptized and…

2)      My new wife curled her nose in disgust every time I kissed her in the morning

I doubt seriously that the patriarch could still smell coffee on my breath.

As I got used to doing without caffeine, I started to like the way I felt.  I would still occasionally drink a Mountain Dew or something – we’re talking twice a year or so – but the “lift” it gave me became increasingly uncomfortable – like I was on edge.  It seemed like it just disrupted whatever was happening to my body and spirit as the Holy Ghost performed its cleansing work.  Then one night, Diana and I were eating dinner at about 8 p.m., having just arrived in Escalante, UT for our annual “Escalante Arts Festival” vacation and I said, “You put the display legs in the truck, didn’t you?”  She said, of course, “I thought you did!”  So, off we went – retracing the 5+ hour drive back to Salt Lake City.  We got to bed around 2 a.m., only to rise at 6 or so for the drive back.  I bought a liter bottle of Mountain Dew on the night trip, and another one the next morning.  I was buzzed!  We decided we were going to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, so I bought a 5 hour energy just in case.  Now…stop laughing!  This is where it gets interesting, and where I learned a lesson I have never reneged on.

As we were walking through this beautiful canyon, instead of feeling one with nature, I felt like I was bouncing off the walls.  Now it was a narrow canyon, but the walls were still 50-100 feet apart, so I felt like I was vibrating pretty at a pretty high frequency.  Then I asked myself, “If I were asked to give a priesthood blessing right now, would I feel prepared?”  First of all, why would this question come to me right then?  Regardless, the answer was quite obviously, “No!”  It was at that time that I decided caffeine could never be part of my life again.

Lest you think I’m picking on caffeine, let me share how, about 2 years ago, I looked at a hand full of jelly beans and said, “Nope, I don’t think so”, at which point I began to largely swear off cookies, donuts, pies, cakes, candies, (except dark chocolate), etc.  Then about a year and a half ago, I decided to limit my meat intake, meaning any kind of meat except seafood, to once a week.  I had just watched a video that talked about how, 100 years ago, our diets were plant-based with meat supplements, and we had much less cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.  I doubt the need to detail what the contrasting conditions of today were.

Why am I telling you all this?   I’m sharing these things because I believe the Holy Ghost has been telling me to make these changes.  I don’t know why exactly.  Maybe it’s helping me to ward off some dreaded cancer that I would be blessed with if I continued eating the way I have all my life – the way most of us eat (i.e. – “if they don’t have bacon in Heaven, I don’t want to go”).   Maybe He knows that if I don’t stay slim and trim (cough, cough) my wife will be tempted to leave me for a member of Il Divo, or a rich John Denver look-alike (John’s dead, or I could be in real trouble).  Or maybe, just maybe, He’s trying to pound it into my thick skull that the word of wisdom was especially given for us in our day and that its main purpose is to protect our agency; that it’s not about dictating what we can’t do, but about sustaining what we can do.  Maybe, just maybe, He’s hoping I will learn that it is given “Not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days…” (D&C 89:2).  And maybe, just maybe, He’s hoping that I will recognize it as a cornerstone of my spiritual progress as I strive to become a Zion person, consecrating everything to the Lord; seeking, asking, and knocking in search of the greatest blessings we can receive in this life or in the life to come.

My feelings about this are so deep, I hardly even know where to begin – but I will. Please humor me as I humbly offer this series of thoughts and observations concerning this revelation:

To My Friends, With Love

As I read the first 2 verses of section 89, I get the impression of a loving Heavenly Father talking to his “friends” (D&C 84:77) and sharing with them secrets about their bodies and spirits – about how they are made, and how to keep them in great condition.  Think if you bought a new car from your brother (as if that would ever be a good idea) and he’s telling you everything you need to do to get 200,000+ miles out of it.  It seems like the Lord is saying, “You know, you can do what you want, but if it were my car, here’s what I would do.”  But then the Lord says, “showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days”.  In other words, “You’re going to see some rough roads ahead;  desert treks, winter driving, lots of stop and go traffic, and you’re going to have to take especially good care of this baby if you’re to be able to do the things I expect of you….”  The Lord is warning us of what’s in store, and encouraging us to prepare ourselves, both physically and spiritually.  All that said, and even though verse 2 says, “To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint...”, verse 18, in preface to “the promise”, says, “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments“.  So, all in all, this appears to be a commandment lovingly given, which is quite consistent with all other commandments given by the Lord.

Consecration of the Body

If I am to consecrate everything to the Lord, does that not include my body?  If I fail to extend its life and strength as long as I can, am I not cheating God out of the service I might perform, or of the lessons I might be taught, and thus out of the Glory of seeing His child become more like Him?  The word of wisdom is an instruction manual for honoring our stewardship over our bodies.

Our Sacred Agency

It’s pretty clear how prohibitions of things such as coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco can protect our agency from the “evils and designs of conspiring men in the last days”, but have you ever considered how dependent you are on health care?  What if the government were the only source of healthcare (oh, yeah – that’s already happening).  What if you were told that you couldn’t receive medical care without getting a chip placed in your arm?  Or – what if you spend all your money on health care, will you have enough money or will you have the health to vibrantly serve the Lord in your later years?  Our health overall is central to our being able to maintain our sacred agency, and we will contribute little to the building up of the Kingdom of God if we are sick and weak.

Adapted to the Weak and the Weakest

The phrase “adapted to the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” suggests to me that there may be those who can partake of alcohol healthfully, but there are also those who cannot.  If we are to build a Zion society, the Lord would have us all adapt our habits to the weakest among us, so as to not make it more difficult for those of us who do not so easily resist temptation or addiction.   This phenomenon concerning the weak and weakest of the saints actually shows up in numerous places in today’s church.  Most saints are aware that the lines between doctrine, policy, and culture have grown increasingly fuzzy over the last few decades.  I think this is the result of trying to adapt the church to an increasingly wide variety of people, cultures, religious backgrounds and understandings.  The church is trying to provide spiritual nourishment for as many people as it can, which frequently necessitates policies, curriculum, etc. that are adapted to the “…weak and weakest of the saints…”, which is the spiritual equivalent of insuring that there are “no poor among us”.

The Flesh of Beasts

As I mentioned earlier in this post, our diets have changed dramatically over the last 100 years.  Instead of meat being a supplement in our diet, it is the staple, and plant-based foods are more of the supplement.  We generally struggle to make sure we eat enough fruits and vegetables, but we never hear of someone (other than young, prime athletes) being encouraged to eat more meat and pasta.  The depth of the media’s influence on our diet became glaringly obvious to me as I started to try to eat less meat.  Restaurant choices are dramatically limited.  Advertisements for juicy, succulent burgers seem to be on every billboard I drive by.  It’s perhaps particularly interesting that I had never noticed this before.  Or did I?  We are accosted constantly with tempting invitations to indulge in eating the flesh of animals, whether it be burgers, steaks, KFC, BBQ, or whatever.  In contrast, verses 12 and 13 say:

Yea, the flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is PLEASING unto me that they should NOT be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (Emphasis added)

Then, in verses 14-15, the Lord emphasizes this by telling us:

All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. (emphasis added)

The Lord tells us twice that the flesh of beasts is for use of man only in times of famine, winter, etc. – only when there’s no other food.  Now, it’s easy to say that our society makes it hard to obey this counsel, but then that’s part of the point.  Society says we don’t need to obey the law of chastity, either.  Here, the Lord is telling us basically that it is pleasing unto Him that we eat an overwhelmingly vegetarian diet, eating meat only when necessary to maintain our health in the absence of these other preferred foods.  If we want to allow modern cultural trends to enter into the discussion, maybe we should realize that it’s no longer necessary to eat meat even in winter and times of famine, because even then we have ready access to a cornucopia of plant-based foods that provide all the nutrients we could possibly need.

Above All…Spiritual

The core of the word of wisdom is spiritual.  Even though it says, “…in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days…”, I perceive it to be much more spiritually than temporally motivated.  After all, the Lord said in D&C 29:35, speaking of Adam:

Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him a commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are all spiritual; they are not natural or temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.

Incorporating the word of wisdom into our lives helps to distance us from “Babylon”.  We are imbued daily with advertisements for sex, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, clothing, entertainment, etc.  The result of all of this is to make us feel that if we don’t participate or consume like other “cool” people, we are somehow different.  Obeying the word of wisdom actually serves as a wedge between us and Babylon, giving us practice at resisting the constant temptation that surrounds us.

There is nothing other than air that is a more essential to the natural man than food and drink.  By submitting our consumption of food and drink to the Lord’s will and counsel, we are symbolically surrendering the natural man to the spiritual.  Much like tithing is symbolic and largely spiritual (the Lord doesn’t need our money – He has sufficient for His needs) obeying the word of wisdom is symbolic of overcoming the natural man.  Because most of us fail to recognize it as such, I’m afraid we miss out on the spiritual strength and growth that obedience brings.

Let Me Go, Let Me Go

Every time I read something about the word of wisdom that’s not from a church affiliated or apologetic source, it’s about someone trying to justify why they don’t need to obey particular points.  They make points similar to these:

“Mild drink” means beer or wine, so it’s ok for me to drink beer or wine”

“It doesn’t say anything about coke or pepsi, or energy drinks, so that’s ok”

“the revelation  was originally “…sent as a greeting; not by commandment or constraint…”, so why is it a requirement to enter the temple?”

Well, I don’t really care whether it is a commandment or a constraint, or if it is “restrictive”.  I KNOW that beer and wine, even coke or pepsi, can be destructive if used in excess, and I don’t really need the scripture to tell me that.  (I can clean my toilets with coke and pepsi; it dissolves nails!  Do I really want to put that into my body?)  I honestly don’t want to go the temple feeling caffeinated.  As I said before, I just don’t feel the harmony with the spirit that I seek, and that I have grown quite accustomed to.   In other words, I’m not looking for a way out or for something to object to.  I have no objections, so I feel no need to critique it or pick it apart.

Let Me Go, Let Me Go – Plan B

I want to be with the Lord.  I am drawn to Him like a magnet.  I have begun to crave being in His presence – dare I say like a moth to the candle – but I’m held back.  I’m held back, anchored to this earth, as least somewhat by my more worldly cravings.  By obeying the word of wisdom in its fullness, I am loosening the bonds that bind me to this side of the veil, and make it more possible to pierce it, more possible for the Lord to show Himself as He did to the Brother of Jared.  Obeying the word of wisdom is an exercise of faith, the kind of faith that the Lord has rewarded in the past by visitation (Ether 3), by heavenly trust (Helaman 10: 4-5), and by miracles (Helaman 5), including the miracle of translation (3 Nephi  28).

Conclusion

The word of wisdom has become a great blessing to me – one that would never have been realized if, in my early days in the church, I had not felt obligated to obey it or if my stake patriarch had not been inspired to include that specific counsel in my blessing.  Because the church makes it a “requirement”, I had the opportunity to learn for myself what a blessing it ultimately is.  Today, I want to obey it!  It lifts me and comforts me.  It makes me feel clean, physically and spiritually; physically because my body is cleaner, spiritually because I’m distancing myself from Babylon and drawing closer to the Lord.  I feel more in control of myself, so I am even more free.  My options, ironically enough, are more open.  I can still choose to drink alcohol or coffee, or to eat meat, but I have no need  for it.  I am more free to maintain a healthy diet as I choose.  I am more free to do that which is clearly pleasing to God.  I actually enjoy life more because I am more at peace with myself and am under less pressure to bow to the enticings of Babylon.

The word of wisdom is a gift from God, and it is an act of love for the church to emphasize it as it does.   Whatever its history, whatever objections others might have, to me it is a blessing and a protection that elevates my life and helps me grow closer to God.  For those reasons, it is a treasure – a “principle with promise” – the promise being quoted in the last verse:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these saying, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

And I the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel and not slay them.  Amen.

 Let those hear who have ears to hear.

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Conversation with God #4 – A Temple Pure and White

The following conversation is actually a fusion of multiple prayers and revelations over the space of 2-3 days.  I share it not to bring attention to myself, but because of the message of hope it gives to all of God’s children – a message not only of hope, but of His love and forgiveness, which He offers to all of us.  I hope it lifts each of you as it did me!  If you notice the switch from Father to the Savior about half-way through – I have no explanation for that.  It’s just the way it played out.

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Heavenly Father, I was thinking about how Adam told you that he heard your voice and hid himself, because he was naked, and, well, I REALLY, REALLY don’t want to hide myself from you.

THAT’S GOOD.  WHY?

Well, because I know I’m naked (or sinful, or exposed to the deceptions of Satan – all those definitions fit), but I also know I want to be one with you, and I want that very, very much.  So, if I hide myself, doesn’t that kind of get in the way of becoming one with you and my savior?

IT ABSOLUTELY DOES.  I WISH MORE OF MY CHILDREN WOULD SEE THAT!

You mean, I don’t have to be perfect to be in your presence?

WELL, YEAH, BUT WE CAN TAKE CARE OF THAT.  THAT WHAT MY SON DIED FOR.

Yeah, it occurs to me that, if I hide myself from you because of my sins and imperfection, I’m pretty much denying what Jesus died for.  I’m saying, “I know He died for me, to cleanse me of my sins, but I’m still not worthy, so I need to keep trying to perfect myself…then maybe I don’t have to hide myself anymore”.

I THINK YOU’RE GETTING IT.

So, Father, I REALLY don’t want to keep hiding from you.  I want to be as close to you as I possibly can. I want to stand before you in all my “nakedness” and feel your love, your forgiveness, your power and glory.  What do I need to do for this to happen?

CLOSE YOUR EYES.  WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Not much really, Father.

KEEP LOOKING.

(I meditate on this for a few minutes) I think I see whiteness – yeah, I see whiteness.  It’s like it’s a white room – completely white.  I can feel it!  It’s me!  I know what it is!  It’s…this white room is my own temple – the temple of my soul!

THAT’S RIGHT.

But, Lord – it’s so white!  It’s pure and perfect!  How is that – I’m not yet perfect!

YES, I KNOW YOU’RE NOT PERFECT.  YOU DIDN’T MAKE IT WHITE ALL BY YOURSELF.  I DID THAT FOR YOU!

Of course you did!  I knew that!  Just testing you!  But what does this mean?  I’ve never seen this before!

I’M SHOWING YOU THIS NOW BECAUSE I EXPECT NOW THAT YOU CAN KEEP IT CLEAN.  I THINK YOU’RE READY TO MAINTAIN YOUR TEMPLE – PURE AND WHITE.  IF YOU KEEP IT THAT WAY FOR A WHILE, I WILL COME AND VISIT YOU.

My Lord, my God!  (Words failed me at this point, and everything after this was rather anti-climactic)

Two days later:

Father, my temple…it’s not white anymore.  I’m so sorry – I don’t know why.  It’s almost like just living in this world soils and stains us.  I don’t know what to do.

NO, MY SON, IT’S STILL PERFECTLY WHITE.  YOU’VE DONE NOTHING TO STAIN IT.

Then, why does it looked stained to me?

THAT IS SATAN’S GREATEST LIE.  HE MAKES YOU THINK YOU’RE FILTHY EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT.  LOOK TO ME…I WILL SHOW YOU THE TRUTH!  REMEMBER – IT WAS HE WHO TOLD ADAM AND EVE THAT THEY WERE NAKED.  HE WAS THE REASON THEY HID THEMSELVES.  YOU HAVE NO REASON TO HIDE YOURSELF – NOT FROM ME.

Oh, Father!  I see.  It all makes so much sense now!  You’ve been beckoning all this time, but I’ve been too ashamed to look to you completely.  Father, will you accept me as I am?

MY SON, YOUR TEMPLE IS PURE AND WHITE, AND I’M FULLY CONFIDENT THAT IT WILL STAY THAT WAY.  YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN, AND YOU HAVE A PLACE WITH ME – YOU AND YOUR DEAR WIFE, WHOSE PURITY IS YET GREATER THAN YOURS.  YOUR PLACE HAS BEEN THERE FOR A LONG TIME.  I WAS JUST WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME TO SHOW IT TO YOU.  NOW IS THE TIME.  YOU ARE READY.  WELCOME.

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Revelation – Knowing the Mind of God

UA flightOn a United Airlines flight from Queretaro, Mexico to Houston, I sat quietly, as I often do, with my eyes closed, talking to God.  Sometimes He talks back, sometimes he doesn’t.  (Sometimes I fall asleep, this time I didn’t).  I’ve been learning to tell when He will talk back, and when He’s not going to. I’m sure that has more to do with me than with Him.  This night I asked Him:

“Lord, what more do you want me to do?”

He said, “You’re not even doing what I’ve already told you to do”.

I said, “What was that?”

It didn’t take but a couple of seconds for the answer to enter into my mind.  You see, my daughter had completed a 40 day fast last summer/fall during which she only ate fruits and vegetables.  She was seeking for specific blessings in her life, and she asked for them.  My understanding is that she received most of what she asked for.  I had thought about doing something like that ever since, but had all kinds of excuses – pretty good ones – the principle one being that I travel for my job, and it’s really hard to maintain such a restricted diet when you’re “on the road”.  Nevertheless, this time I couldn’t deny the message, and the conversation as it ensued was just between me and myself.  Picture the classic angel-devil duel on my shoulders:

“Well, I know this came from the Lord.

But what if it didn’t – does that mean I don’t have to do it?

But if it did, then I can’t, in sincerity, ask for direction anymore, because I’m not even doing what he’s already told me to do.

So, how do I know if it’s really direction from Him?

Duh!  The only way I’ll ever know is to do it!

Then I guess I don’t really have any choice.”

So, off I went on this 30 day fast.  I felt comfortable that 30 days was enough – that I didn’t need to go 40.  While I later decided it was ok to include rice in my diet, I’ve been eating what I call “Super-vegan” for the last 30 days, meaning no meat, no dairy, no fish, no grains (except rice), no added sugar.  This means no bread, eggs, butter, yogurt, potatoes, chocolate, etc.  Don’t ask this to all be logical.  It’s the diet I constructed, and in my mind the Lord approved, so this is what I’ve been doing.  I don’t think He particularly cared what the diet was; the important thing was just that it was a sacrifice and that I committed to it and did it.  The benefits?

  • Obeying the Lord in doing something that, for me anyway, is pretty hard.
  • Exercising faith that He would give me the strength and discipline to do this – even if I’m on the road every week – and that I won’t actually starve to death.
  • Exercising faith that for some reason it is important for me to do this.
  • Learning how to eat even less meat and other “less healthy” foods – taking to a new level the pattern of the last couple of years where I’ve dramatically reduced my meat and processed sugar intake.  In short – proving to myself that I can do this and it’s ok.  In doing so, I’m further breaking the bonds that our culture has on the foods I eat, and thus on me.Ghandi fasting
  • I may lose 5 or 10 pounds.  (Yeah!)
  • I might start a worldwide revolution against tyranny
  • Maybe I’ll learn some things that are worth sharing with others – like maybe something to do with receiving revelation and knowing the mind of God.

From my earliest days in the church, I’ve shared the challenge we all face trying to distinguish between promptings from the spirit (revelation) and our own thoughts.  It’s so easy to say, “Well, I can’t tell the difference – is it Him, or is it me?”  This implies, of course, that if it’s not the spirit, we don’t have to do it.  But, as illustrated in the example above, how can we ever really know which it is if we don’t do it?  Stop and think about it: if we are to be “one” with God (John 17:20-23), then our goal must be for our mind to be the same as His, at which point it ceases to matter whether it’s from the spirit or from us – they should be one and the same.  In short, if it’s righteous, then do it.  The only risk is that we might “over-please” God.

I think revelation itself has a very simple definition.  It is “to know the mind of God”.  For most of us, this comes in flashes, from time to time.  Our goal, I think, should be for revelation to be constant.  This is consistent with the aforementioned idea of being one with God.  We become one with Him through obedience – through the exercise of faith.  This faith starts out being based on belief, but eventually faith must be based upon knowledge – the knowledge of God, of His mind, of His very nature.  (I would encourage the reader to study the Prophet Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith – a small book that is rich with doctrine as to the exercise of faith and the nature of God).  This progression of faith from that based on belief and desire to faith based on knowledge suggests a process that we all must complete if we are to enjoy eternal life and exaltation:

  • After exercising faith unto repentance, we simply obey commandments.  We submit to baptism, we attend church and pay tithing, we keep the word of wisdom and the law of chastity, we read the scriptures.  Our faith is based on belief.  At first it may be difficult, but eventually we learn to practice discipline.  We begin to feel clean and honorable.  This, then, allows the spirit to begin to teach us because we’re not spending so much time and energy trying to justify our failure to live up to our own standards.
  • Armed with increased personal discipline and a heightened sense of integrity, we begin to crave the cleanness we feel and we really notice when it’s not there.  The spirit is more easily offended.  We are less easily offended (And Nothing Shall Offend Them – David A Bednar).  Our life begins to be more delicious, and as we taste of the joy, we begin to look around for even more of that joy.  We begin to exercise faith based upon our as-yet limited knowledge.
  • As we search for more, our prayers become more personal, more sincere.  We ask more questions – sometimes deep, probing questions.  The heavens begin to open up to us – not necessarily in vision or anything dramatic, but we start to gain a real sense of God’s love and goodness – of His simple and pure desire to bless us.  Our craving now is not just for the cleanness, but for that personal relationship that begins to develop as our prayers evolve:  we develop a desire, even a need, to know God.  The balance between faith based on belief and faith based on knowledge is really beginning to tip towards the knowledge.
  • As this desire increases and is satisfied, we begin to trust.  We trust His integrity and His love.  As our vision expands, and we gain a more eternal perspective on our existence, we are prepared to truly consecrate all things to Him.  Fears, jealousies, and pride fade (D&C 67:10).  We take onto ourselves true charity.  Our own integrity blossoms and becomes precious to us – even powerful, as God’s integrity is to Him. (Alma 42:22) We are truly beginning to know God, not just believe in Him.  The Holy Ghost is free to be our constant companion.  Our souls begin to be filled with the light of truth, and darkness is chased away – no more to have place in us.  When the Lord speaks to us, we rejoice at the sound of His voice, which we have learned to recognize, and he begins to speak more and more often, because we listen more and more often, and because we obey more and more often.
  • We finally begin to measure all our thoughts, our actions, and our desires against what we know of God and we do this out of love.  As we do, our thoughts, actions and desires naturally become more like His. We become more like Him.  Of course, by this time there is no other option, because our old standards and supports have become hollow and empty. (John 6:66-69)  Ultimately, we know Him because we have become like Him.

This last step is much more eloquently described in D&C 121:45:revelation1

Let the bowels be filled with charity towards all men, and the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from Heaven.

Imagine yourself standing in the presence of God, confident that you have done as He has asked, confident in His love and forgiveness, and knowing that you have glorified him through your obedience!

I believe this is a description of the process of sanctification – of becoming one with Him.  All through this process, revelation comes to us progressively more often as we ask more, listen more, and obey more; as we come to know the mind of God.  I closed my last post with the following scripture.  I repeat it here because it is so appropriate and so powerful:

revelation2That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until that perfect day. (D&C 50:24)

I testify that as we submit our will to His and manifest that submission through our obedience; as we learn to cherish His commandments and laws because we understand them and because we love and understand Him; as we begin to measure all of our thoughts, actions, and desires against the standard of His integrity, we naturally become more like Him.  As we do this, revelation becomes more constant and more natural.  Our thoughts become indistinguishable from His. (Helaman 10:4-5)  We become one.  We become perfected.  (3 Nephi 12:48) I testify further to my knowledge that “that perfect day awaits each of us.

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Judgment without Charity – Poison for the Soul

judgment image2I have observed on Facebook and through other interactions, both personal and virtual, that there is an explosion of open criticism of the LDS church and its leaders among disaffecting, disaffected and even faithful members.  This is a phenomenon whose scale, if not its nature, is unprecedented in the history of the church.  There have always been those who question, even criticize the church and its leaders, but now those who do so have a much broader forum for sharing their questions, doubts, concerns, and criticisms.  It would be inappropriate and hypocritical for me to speculate on their motives.  I have not walked in their shoes, and I choose to assume they are motivated by an honest and sincere search for truth.

In my teaching at the Salt Lake County jail, I often share the concept of a personal tool chest.  The lessons we’ve learned in life, the knowledge we’ve gained, our successes and failures, the things we have faith in:  all go into our tool chest, and we use these things when making decisions and solving problems.  The purpose of this post is not to call anyone to repentance.  In fact, I believe the Lord encourages us to question and to constantly seek greater light and knowledge.  That is the only way they can become what He wants us to become.  This cannot be done without some risk.  Nope – I’m not suggesting in any way that people not question, but I do suggest that we stop and think carefully before that questioning turns into criticism.  It is important to make sure that if it does, the criticism is justified and constructive.

There are many things about the church and its leaders that may be subject to criticism, as is the case with any prominent figure or organization.  Scriptures abound that appear to call today’s church to repentance and warn us of apostasy in the latter days.  I’ve heard many equate today’s church with the churches who were confronted by Abinadi and Samuel the Lamanite.  There are scriptures that declare that the church is under condemnation (D&C 84:54-57) with little or no evidence that such condemnation has been lifted.  President Ezra Taft Benson confirmed this condemnation in his conference talk “The Book of Mormon, Keystone of our Religion”.  Quite frankly, I think most of these issues are very real – if misunderstood – and that one would do well to make the effort to understand them.  Dismissing them is decidedly NOT a good idea.  Actually, to question and to receive answers can and should, if done in the right way, be a faith building experience.  Joseph Smith has told us that it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance (D&C 131:6).  Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance is not exaltation.  So, we must question, but before we jump on the bandwagon of criticism, might I offer the following observations for inclusion in your personal tool chest:

 Little Tommy Monson

I don’t think any of our leaders in today’s church asked to be apostles, or presidents, or general authorities.  I live in President Monson’s ward.  Shortly after he was called as the prophet, I was visiting with a small group after sacrament meeting, and I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder.  I turned around and there was President Monson, inquiring about the health of an elderly member of the ward with whom he had been friends for some 50 years.  He then began talking about an upcoming trip to Brazil, and I sensed something in his manner.  I received the impression that here was “Little Tommy Monson”, the terror of his primary teachers, the life-long friend of the widows in his ward, finding himself suddenly called as “The Prophet” of 14 million people – 14 million people the vast majority of whom he had never even met, but who nevertheless pretty much expected him to be perfect.  I saw a man, a prophet, a leader, who was overwhelmed and a little scared, yet who was still willing to walk forward in faith.

Old Men

President Monson was 80 years old when he was called as the prophet.  I have to think he was tired even then!  Many of the “old men” who lead the church, and whom we target for our criticism, should, by all rights, be retired, fishing, playing golf, and enjoying their great-grandchildren.  These 15 men will have no “retirement”.  They will instead sacrifice the last 20-30 years of their lives to serving full time, if not more, for the church, its members, and the Lord. They will continue traveling the world, managing the affairs of a worldwide church until they die or their health prevents them from doing any more.  This is not something one does for enjoyment, or even for power.  It is most likely quite a heavy burden, but one that they agree to carry to the end of their days.

How Much Do They Know?

How much do these church leaders, know?  Do they know that the church is under condemnation?  Do they recognize that we Latter Day Saints threw away our opportunity to build Zion, and that the tithing we pay now is considered by the majority of saints to be nothing more than a pale substitute for the law of consecration, much as the 10 commandments were a substitute for the laws of the gospel?  Do they understand that we only follow a shadow of the word of wisdom, completely ignoring the Lord’s word that it is “pleasing unto” Him that the flesh of beasts “should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold or famine” (D&C 89:12),meaning basically that is pleasing unto the Lord that we be vegetarians.  Do they collectively and individually bemoan the fact that, if we’re lucky, only half of Latter Day Saints will be prepared when the Lord returns in His glory as indicated by the parable of the ten virgins?  And do they recognize just exactly how far we the membership live beneath our promised blessings, or how much we mistake culture, policy, even folklore for doctrine?  And yet, in spite of this knowledge, do they continue to wear out their lives serving out of obligation, commitment, and love for us and for the Lord?  Do you think that perhaps their tears water their pillows (2 Nephi 33:3) at night on behalf of their brethren and sisters in the gospel?  Don’t know?  Neither do I, but have we truly considered this possibility?

The Empire

Many criticize the financial affairs of the church.  Obvious projects such as City Creek, the new Philadelphia center and the Florida land purchase come under particular scrutiny.  “Why don’t we give this money to the poor and needy?” critics say.  I was recently prompted by a post on Facebook (thanks – whoever you are) to consider the jobs that were created by City Creek – both in building it and in staffing it now that it is open.  I was prompted to ask myself, “is it better to give people money to feed them, or to use that money to create jobs that will continue to feed people for decades”?  I am also prompted to ask, “What future purpose might the Lord have for these projects?”  And, of course, I ask myself, “when did we become so expert in urban planning, world-wide finance, macro-economics, and the prophecies of the last days that we are qualified to criticize the church in such decisions?”  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but then I guess that’s my point.

Trusting the Arm of Flesh

One of the favorite mantras used by those who question, judge, and criticize the church is that one should not trust in the “arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34).  This is true, of course, but by rejecting the word of Brigham Young, or Neil Maxwell in favor of that from some more recent book, blog, or website; unless you’ve done the primary research, and/or have received a confirmation from the spirit that what someone says is true, you are simply trading one arm of flesh for another.  It seems to me that people are far too quick to accept a new concept or new truth simply because it contradicts the old one, which we perhaps never fully understood.  After all, this is “learning”, right?  Yet, does new learning always have to be gained at the expense of old learning?  Perhaps we should be careful in making this trade, and make sure that we are being guided by the only guaranteed testifier of truth – the Holy Ghost.

The Purpose of Publishing Criticism?

One should probably ask oneself, “What is the purpose of publishing criticism” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?  Is it to simply promote truth and independent thought – ultimately to let the reader decide for themselves what it true?  Is it to help overcome the culture of the church and encourage people to seek to understand true doctrine and to worship Christ, and not the church or its leaders?  If so, these are truly worthy endeavors, and I whole-heartedly support them.  Such learning should prove to be faith-building, not faith-destroying.   If, however, the criticism does not meet these criteria, then one is left to wonder just exactly what the purpose is.  In my mind, criticism that simply tears down serves no good purpose.  If light is being obscured, then we must be sure to point out how to embrace the sought for light after removing the obscurity.  I have personally read both types of offerings – sometimes from the same author.  But such authors (myself included) must be careful that what they write is edifying to their audience – that it builds them up – and that their words and thoughts are words of love and charity, not simply words of contention and destruction.

I’ve written before about judgment – that it is a necessary part of life.  I spoke above about the value of questioning, of how it is essential to our eternal progression.  Questioning, when answers come, inevitably leads to judgment.  That is the purpose of questioning.  I am left to ask, though, what happens when judgment turns to criticism?  What happens when judgment is rendered without empathy, compassion and charity?  My personal experience has taught me that such judgments almost invariably end up feeding our own pride and becoming the seed of hypocrisy.

I repeat, I’m not saying these criticisms are, at least on the surface, completely unwarranted.  I, too, have found myself questioning many things about the church, our history, our leaders and our current affairs.  I really question some recent excommunications that I have become aware of.  I question the role of culture in the church, and have observed repeatedly how it can distract us from the true target of our worship – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, I noticed while I was questioning that a bit of darkness crept into my soul.  I began to pray simply because it made me uncomfortable.  Being told by others that “truth is hard” didn’t satisfy me.  I continued (and continue) to pray.

I received answers, and the Lord was much more compassionate and understanding.  The Lord gave me to understand that I don’t know all things; that I don’t walk in the shoes of the church leaders; and that the whole of His plan has not yet been revealed to me.  More importantly, he gave me to understand that judgment, rendered without charity, leads to contention, and we all know that contention is the enemy of our quest to become one with the Lord (3 Nephi 11:29) – that contention is the enemy of light.

Yes, the Lord Himself taught me that the real purpose why we covenant not to speak evil of the Lord’s anointed has nothing to do with the Lord’s anointed, but it has everything to do with us.  The Lord’s anointed do not suffer when we criticize them.  The church does not suffer when we speak evil of it.  No, we suffer when we speak evil…of anyoneWe are the ones who are poisoning our spirits, injecting insidious wedges of darkness between ourselves and the Lord.

The Lord also taught me that, even if there are things terribly wrong with some people, with some leaders, with some decisions, even with the Church itself, none of it justifies us inviting contention into our hearts.  Correction, if necessary, is best effected in the same way the Lord teaches us – with love, compassion, and empathetic instruction.   Our example, teaching, and nurturing is what is called for.  D&C 121:34-46 remains our guide in all things.  If chastening is required, that is the Lord’s responsibility, not ours.  In short, we take too much upon ourselves when we seek to “steady the ark”.

There is an interesting paradox illustrated here.  We hopefully question things because we have a sense of how things “should be”.  This sense is, for most of us, the result of a laudable sense of morality and justice.  This sense is offended when we see things that seem to contradict it.  However, I’m afraid we fail to realize:

-          That few of us, likely including the church leaders, know and understand the Lord’s complete plan for us, the church, and the world

-          Just how human the leaders of this church, just like us, truly are, no matter how god-like we might like them to be

-          That we hurt others as well as ourselves when we criticize things without having the full picture.

In summary, brothers and sisters, it is very tempting to jump on the bandwagon of criticism.  I understand; I’ve fallen prey and I’ve felt its sting.  But if you find yourselves feeling a little bit dark, perhaps even a little dirty, consider these things I have shared.  Take care that you don’t invite spiritual poison by exercising judgment without charity or by criticizing without full knowledge.  Go to the Lord, the only true messenger, with your questions – I promise He will answer them in truth and righteous, with full knowledge, wisdom and love. You may or may not like all the answers, but you must respond to them with charity.  I believe this is the only way that we can fulfill for ourselves the right word of the Lord, which promises:

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)

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