Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All That Will Hear May Hear

I have begun the study of the Doctrine and Covenants again and that means reading Section 1.  This section is filled with wisdom and counsel with which we are quite familiar.  The section is called The Lord’s Preface because it was revealed specifically for the purpose of preceding all the other sections and as an introduction and a warning to those who read the book.
Of all the familiar parts of the section one that impressed me as I read it was in verse 11: Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear.
I know I had read that before, but I concentrated more on the verses that follow.  They talk about those who will not hear and the consequences that follow when we refuse to take into our hearts the words of the Lord or his servants.
This verse, however, is an invitation to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that will lead us to the blessings we seek in life.  We all tend to pick and choose what we will accept and what we will leave to others to believe. 

In his autobiography, Yearning for the Living God, F. Enzio Busche describes his conversion.  He has, at one point, several witnesses of specific parts of the Gospel as he has received them, but his life experiences and circumstances have caused him to have doubts about others.  When the missionaries challenge him to quit smoking, his wife says, “Oh, that is no problem, he is good at that.  He has quit eight times, already.”  In fact, he was smoking 40 cigarettes, 3-5 small cigars and 2-3 pipes every day.  He accepted the challenge to pray about it, as he knew that his prayers were heard from time to time.  As he prayed he got the impression that God would help him quit smoking if he would read the Book of Mormon
He had never read the Book of Mormon except to find fault with it and he had no desire to read it again.  He knew that this time would have to be different.  This time he would have to read it with the intent to discover what it contained that could be of use in his quest for truth.  He looked for those things that could teach him of Christ.  He said he expected to cut down on his tobacco intake, but to his surprise, he had already smoked his last cigarette.
So our search must be.  If we are looking for the inconsistencies in the scriptures, we will find them whether in the Book of Mormon, the Bible or any of the recorded words of God.  This critical approach gives us permission to continue in our comfortable path without truly examining our lives.  When we accept the Lord’s invitation, not only will we examine our lives and discover where we fall short, but we are given energy, positive feelings of love and hope and a desire to be a blessing to everyone.  We are open to receive all that God promises to the righteous and faithful.

 That little verse opens us to a world of possibilities.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Gifts of God

I have, in my lifetime, come across several people who have attempted to punish God.  He had failed to meet their timetable, answer their need, provide a doctrine or any number of other imponderables, so they rebelled as if that would change God.  In every case, the result has been unhappiness and failure to one degree or another.  Others, in similar situations, have exercised their faith and found solace in God and His words and patiently wait for the blessing, knowing it will come according to His timetable.

In his final treatise, Moroni discusses the power of God and the gifts of God.  This comes right after the reminder of the love of God.  “Deny not the power of God, for he worketh by power according to the faith of the children of men…” (Verse 7)  Moroni then states, “…deny not the gifts of God, for they are many and they come from the same God.”  (Verse 8) He concludes by saying, “…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.” (Verse 30) The power of God is apparently manifested in the gifts of God.  Both require faith if they are to be expressed in their highest capacity.

In Moroni 10 there is a list of the gifts of God that are bestowed upon mankind.  They are bestowed by the Spirit and are sometimes referred to as spiritual gifts.  They include the ability to teach the word of wisdom (as opposed to the Word of Wisdom) and to teach the word of knowledge. To some is given the gift of great faith, to others the gift of healing, and to others the ability to work mighty miracles. Still others receive the gift of prophecy, while others receive the ability to perceive and receive the ministering of angels. There are those who are given the gift of tongues and the interpretation of languages.

In D&C 46 and ICor. 12 we find similar treatises and the lists are similar but by no means intended to be a complete list of all the gifts of God.  I think the point is often missed that we come with some gifts, we develop our capacities and receive other gifts, but if we are to find the highest expression of the gifts we are given, we must exercise those gifts in accordance with the influence of the Spirit of God (which I understand is the Holy Ghost) and the Spirit of Christ (which we are taught is our conscience). Further, we must understand that “every good gift cometh of Christ.” (Verses 8,17-18)

Are there those who have gifts, but do not have to live by the influence of the Spirit of God, and ignore the Spirit of Christ?  Of course, we see them every day.  They can be prominent men and women or just people we meet from day to day.  The gifts they have received are sometimes used to their own profit, sometimes for the profit of others, sometimes never put to a good use because of fear or laziness.  Some even become great by earthly standards all the while being arrogant that they are somehow superior to others who have not the same degree whatever their gift may be.  Seldom do they stop to realize that what they have is a gift and the source from which that gift is derived.

These people may magnify their gift by studying, exercising, performing, rehearsing, or in any number of ways, but if they do not include the Spirit of Christ at least, they reach a ceiling and find they cannot go beyond a certain point.  If they magnify that gift while following their conscience, they find their gift is a blessing to themselves and to others, as well.  A good example is Steve Jobs who had a magnificent gift, realized it and used it to produce products that continue to enrich the lives of people all around the world. When someone not only magnifies his gifts while honoring the Spirit of Christ, but also the Spirit of God by increasing sensitivity to the promptings he receives, he finds that his gift is greater than he could imagine.  That person also comes to realize that he is magnifying other gifts he may not have known he even had to begin with.  Having read the autobiographies and biographies of Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, Spencer W. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball and many others I see that pattern repeat itself over and over.

I believe this is what Moroni was leading to when he began discussing the gifts of God.  When we look at the chapter as a whole we find that it begins with the admonition to ask God if these things are true.  Receiving the answer is a gift from God, so he continues with the commentary on the gifts of the Spirit which, again, require a hope in Christ (despair comes from rebellion and disobedience he tells us), faith adequate to exercise those gifts and the charity to use our gifts to bless the lives of others.  Then he ends the entire book by discussing the doctrine of perfection.  

Why the discussion on gifts with the discussion of perfection?  Because “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  We, being sinners deserve death (or Hell, in other words) and that is what we will get without our turning to Christ, but with Him we can overcome that death and receive eternal life.  It is the greatest gift of God and it is a gift he is anxious to bestow on all of us.  Cut out the excuses, turn our lives to Him and receive the gift. It is that simple; and that difficult.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Be Ye Therefore Perfect

In the final chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10, the last prophet of the book discusses some of the most basic concepts of personal spirituality.  He reviews the concepts of faith, hope and charity; as discussed in my last entry, he talks about following the promptings of the Holy Ghost in determining whether the writings of the prophets are true; he writes several columns on spiritual gifts and completes his work with a discourse on becoming perfect.

We often excuse our behavior by saying something like, “Sorry, I’m not perfect,” or “Nobody’s perfect.”  We are taught that it is virtually impossible to be perfect in this life.  As Paul expressed it to the Roman saints, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Many, as a result of their realization that we cannot ever be perfect, tire of trying and decide that they may as well indulge in all those sins of which they have been deprived.  The result is always disastrous.  Inevitably, hearts are broken, lives are wasted, and by the time they discover that this path is leading them nowhere, their children are not indoctrinated in the essence of the Gospel and are lost. 

Why would Christ, then, have stated that famous phrase, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect”?  If it is impossible, why did he put that before us? Much has been written on the subject and my insights are most likely no more valuable, but it has brought comfort to me to read the words of Moroni in this regard.  Here we find that while we cannot be perfect, we can be made perfect.  His invitation is the same that missionaries and members of the Church are commanded to give throughout all the world, “Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.”
You will recall that the commandment to be perfect followed the Sermon on the Mount.  It was there that Christ expressed the need for us to step up our obedience such as don’t be angry with thy brother, but be reconciled to him.  The old law was “Thou shalt not kill.” Where the old law was “Thou shalt not commit adultery” Christ said we must not look lustfully at a woman.  The old law was that you put away a wife by a writ of divorcement, but Christ said we commit adultery when we divorce and remarry unless she has committed adultery.  Instead of love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy, He said love, bless, do good to and pray for our enemy. Then, after we find Christ in our hearts will he make us perfect.

There is something in each of us that says, “You are made for greater things.  There is more to you than this mundane life.”  God has placed it in you and Christ will help you find it.  Satan also knows about this and uses it to our disadvantage.  It is the reason we seek to know the doctrine of Christ, but it is also the reason some abandon their families and go out in search of themselves.  One finds peace, joy and eternal perspective; the other finds that no matter what the world has to offer, it is not enough.  It cannot satisfy, but until they turn to Christ, they either continue to try divergent paths, or they settle for mediocrity. 

When we find the doctrine of Christ, we find that it takes constant vigilance to retain that peace, so we read, study and meditate every day.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity has an interesting perspective.  He says that we got our body from our parents, but that does not mean it will just stay there if we do nothing about it.  We can lose it from neglect or even purposely end it. It has to be constantly nourished and built up, but keep in mind that you are not creating your life, you are only keeping up something that came from someone else.   
Similarly, we have to realize that the testimony of Christ (what CSL calls the Christ-life) is not of our own creation, but is a gift from God.  We can lose it with neglect or even kill it because it is inconvenient to the way we choose to live.  When we nourish it we discover a great gift has been given.  It is not something we are creating any more than we created our own bodies.

We know that just because we have the amazing gift of life from our parents doesn’t mean we will never be hurt, but it means that if we are hurt there are elements within us and outside us that can provide healing. Similarly, a man or woman of Christ knows that just because we have been given this great gift does not mean that we will go wrong, but it does mean that we can repent and pick ourselves up each time we stumble no matter how many times or the severity of the fall.

In many ways we are like refugees and our vision is limited.  In his autobiography, Elder F. Enzio Buche talks about the aftermath of World War II as a young German soldier trying to return home.  He had to travel 300 miles without any means of transportation and no food.  The only shelter was a small tent with no floor and only a blanket for warmth and protection from the cold, wet nights.  It was constantly raining and cold.  He says that the only aspiration he had in life at that time besides finding something to eat was that he might someday own a tent with a rubber floor.  To aspire to a house and a car, a refrigerator and a store of food were beyond imagination.

So it is with us.  We aspire to so much less than we are capable of becoming, but our vision of our possibilities begins to expand well beyond our limited vision when we obtain the vision that God gives us as we work daily to build our Christ lives – our testimonies, our understanding of his principles and our appreciation of the great gift we have been given.Today, we cannot even imagine perfection, but through our Christ-given vision we begin to see that we are going to be perfect with all that status implies.  If you have ever felt the inner joy of love, perhaps on your wedding day or the birth of a child, magnify that feeling a thousand times and imagine that it will be yours forever, never to be lost.  Perfection is beyond even that.  Our limited vision makes us aspire to less, but Christ will not give us less.  It is the only way we can satisfy that feeling within us that says, "You are greater than this."

Monday, January 16, 2012

If These Things Are Not True

We are all familiar with the exhortation of Moroni in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon that we should ask God if these things are not true and that if we do so with a sincere desire and with faith, he will reveal that they are true.  What are "these things" and why is it important that we find that they are true?

When I ask these questions I get the usual answers: "these things" are cumulatively the Book of Mormon and it is important because if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Church of Christ has been restored.  All true and important, but do we really need to know that there were elephants, horses, chickens, cummons, and cureloms before we can believe?  Is it necessary that we find the city of Zarahemla or that the math of the reproductive numbers of the Nephites and Lamanites works out before we can accept this volume of scripture?  Nothing can be less important, in my experience and opinion.

For someone just reading the Book of Mormon for the first time or for someone reading it over again for who-knows-how-many times "these things" refers to the particular doctrines the writer has been preaching.  If the Book of Mormon  is true, as a whole, then what Nephi and Lehi taught their families and those who traveled with them is important for us.  If the teachings of Alma are true, then Christ truly has taken upon him our sins, knows our sorrows, is able to guide our lives toward something beyond our pathetically small dreams.  If what Moroni says is true, Christ was not being cruel, hypocritical or stating the impossible when he declared to his disciples (including us), "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

When we ask God if these wonderful doctrines are true or if we really do have to repent of immoral activity, or improper thoughts the answer has usually been given before we even ask.  It is true, so now we have a responsibility to dig into the doctrines of the Book of Mormon and understand them on a deeper basis.  When I read any book of scripture or the writings of the prophets I read to understand more completely what I need to do to become what is promised in their writing.  I was very impressed with one of the speakers in our Stake Conference who said she took a spiral notebook and drew a line from top to bottom in the middle of each page.  At the top of the first column she wrote "If" and at the top of the second column she wrote "Then".  As she read the Book of Mormon, she would see something like "...thus we see..." and she would know that the next words would go in the "If" column and the words following those would go into the "Then" column.  That is how we know the promises of God and how we can achieve them.

In the next post, I want to take up the idea of perfection, so I won't spend much time on that topic here.  As an example of how to approach this, however, the idea of perfection is a good example.  Moroni 10:32 has the invitation: "Come unto Christ" and the promise "and be perfected in Him."  How do we come unto Christ?  It goes on, "deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength..." The promise: "...then is his grace sufficient for you , that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God."  Is that true?  If that is true then I can become the man that somewhere in my deepest consciousness I believe I am supposed to become.  If it is not true, then I truly am lost and without hope for perfection and might as well eat, drink, abandon my higher instincts for my baser pleasures, for tomorrow I will die and my life would have been for naught just like the billions who have become dust before me.  Nice try, but God will not tell you it is not true.  If you are sincere, you know what the answer will be and you will discover in yourself a man or woman with unlimited potential, happiness, love and intelligence.  It's there if you are courageous enough to take the challenge.

Keep in mind, however, that it is not easy.  It means that you will have to dedicate time every day for the rest of your life to this path of discovery.  It means that you pay rapt attention in meetings and classes for that little nudge that tells you, "I need to look at this again from another perspective."  It means not judging those who are trying to teach or preach, but to look at every one as an opportunity to become better.  It is a commitment, but it is a commitment well worth the sacrifice.  Remember the word sacrifice means "to make holy."  Thus, it implies that whatever we are giving up to study, pray and meditate is worth it because properly applied it will make us holy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charity - The Pure Love of Christ

Like Paul in Corinthians, Moroni discusses faith, hope and charity.  While Paul spends almost no space on faith or hope, Moroni discusses them all in some depth.  It is interesting that much of the language Joseph Smith uses in the interpretation of this chapter is very similar to 1Cor. 13 and 1John 3:2.  Since the inspiration comes from the same source and since Joseph Smith was very familiar with the passages of the bible, it should not be surprising that they come out to be very similar.  The important thing is what we are taught here, whether it is the parts that are unique to Moroni (which is most of the chapter) or those that are similar to Paul's writings.

It is the combination of the three that allows us to receive of the grace of Christ and receive eternal life.  That is we must have faith in Christ, a hope borne of the power of the Holy Ghost through our personal meekness and lowliness of heart, and then add to that charity towards our fellow beings.

Moroni defines charity as the pure love of Christ.  That is a very apt definition and unique to the Book of Mormon.  In discussing the concept of charity with a friend who is an evangelical, I mentioned that charity was the pure love of Christ and he was very enthusiastic about that definition.  Who can argue with that?  As Christ loved us without guile, so we should love others with that same guilelessness.  It is sometimes rewarding to think of a comeback that will put someone in his place, but is that practicing what Christ would have us do?  We win, but we have done little to persuade or advance the cause of Christ in most cases.  If we are inspired to do so, we must be prepared to show forth afterward an increase of love as directed in D&C 121:43.

Such things will fail to bring us satisfaction in the end and they fail to bring another person closer to Christ, but charity never fails.  When our loving heart is expressed in our actions towards others, they are touched in a way that leads them to the source of pure love.  It has to be motivated by pure love, however, and not a mixed motive such as manipulation, desiring to win approval of a person who could be a good referral source, getting approval of someone we consider our superior or any other mixed motive.  It must be only for the pure motive of just loving and serving for the sake of lifting and empowering that person.

Moroni suggests that the only way to achieve that level of purity is to pray for it with all the energy of our heart.  Then, when we have achieved this level of love, when our heart is pure and our love is without a hidden agenda, we are so Christlike that when we see Him, as we are promised in D&C 93:1 that we will, we will be like Him.  Our hope in him will be perfected for we will be purified to become as pure as He is.  Simple, huh?  Yes, except for that natural man that keeps tugging us back to be less that we ought to be.  It cannot be done without our constant striving, repenting and totally relying on Christ.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Hope in Christ

At a ward conference, several years ago, I was asked to speak on the subject of hope. One of the brethren stated that we should not just hope that Christ is a redeemer or that we can be saved, but we should know those things are true. In a sense, he was right. There is a way to obtain the testimony of which he spoke and we should have a conviction borne of the Spirit. We can obtain that testimony by our application of true principles and asking in faith for the direction we seek.

Hope in Christ, however, is not the same as hoping we got it right. The way to express the hope in Christ is to understand that without Christ, there is no hope. I have, in past posts, stated that we do not receive what we need from God, but what we deserve. We cannot go out to our garden and expect to get food if we never planted, cultivated or harvested, no matter how hungry we are. However, we cannot deserve Eternal Life, that is life with God, no matter what we plant, water, fertilize or cultivate. We do not have the capacity to make our wrongs right. As James Ferrell puts it in his book, The Peacegiver, the only thing we deserve as a result of our living here in mortality is Hell. Without the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection we are without hope. With faith in Him, we have hope in a glorious resurrection. (verse 42) Additionally, our faith and hope are meaningless if we do not have a meek and lowly heart and confess by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ. In other words, we must come to understand that no matter how expert we become, no matter how closely we follow the commandments or how much we read the scriptures, etc., we must admit that without the selfless act of the atonement, we cannot expect eternal life. (Verse 43) With Christ, our hope is fulfilled and we can expect perfection, not because we deserve it, but because Christ makes up the difference. (2Nephi 25:23; Moroni 10: 32-33)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Faith is the primary subject of most of Moroni 7. Faith is defined elsewhere in the scriptures, but this chapter has excellent examples of faith as well as the purpose of faith. Faith in Christ is the paramount requirement for receiving the blessings of God. We must ask in faith, act in faith, wait in faith and in gratitude, acknowledge the hand of God in our lives. In doing so we become the sons and daughters of Christ. That is our ultimate goal. In other areas of the scriptures we find that the disciples of a prophet become the sons of that prophet. In the same manner, true disciples of Christ become the family of Christ.

The book, Believing Christ, by Stephen E. Robinson points out that to receive the blessings of God we must not just believe in Christ, but that we must believe Christ. We don't just believe that Christ can heal a wicked heart, but that our own wicked heart is healed. We don't just believe that He has provided a living prophet, but we believe that following the counsel of the prophet is not only possible but necessary if we expect to receive all that God has.

First, he points out the obvious – we must use the light of Christ that is in all people to distinguish right from wrong and lay hold on every good thing. In Christ comes every good thing (V. 18-22). There is no virtue in hanging on to any evil thing, no matter what excuse we may come up with and no matter how small we think that thing is. The light of Christ will help us identify those things and then it is up to us to be rid of them.

Next, he points out that faith is power. In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith points out that this principle is how the worlds were created and everything that is in them. It is this principle that all the writers of Holy Scripture are trying to teach us the readers. Faith is power to do whatsoever thing is the will of God (Lecture One). No General Conference goes by without some illustration of someone who exercised faith despite the logic of man and had miracles come to pass. Most recently, President Monson illustrated the principle with the example of the dedication of the Bern Switzerland temple. Knowing that Brother Peter Mourik was not in the building, he nonetheless called on him to speak because the Spirit so prompted him. Brother Mourik, likewise interrupted a meeting to drive to the temple even though he intended to attend a different session and arrived just as it was announced that he would be the next speaker. There are countless examples of people who paid tithing when they had nothing to eat or feed their children, or who bore children not knowing how they would pay for them, or who chose to honor the Sabbath giving up potential fame or fortune. When the Lord knows that we will follow Him in faith, power is given us to accomplish His will.

Moroni points out that the exercise of faith is the reason that miracles have not ceased in the world. Miracles cease only when there is unbelief. Where there is unbelief, it is as if no redemption of Christ had been made. Finally, it is by faith that the greatest miracle of all becomes available to us - the atonement of Christ and our personal redemption.