Friday, December 1, 2017

Why Only Jesus Could Be The Christ

Q: Was Jesus the only one who could have been the Savior? Was it possible for someone else to have been the Messiah?

A: Jesus alone was anointed as Savior because He was the only one who had the right to be the Christ (or the Messiah).  He could claim that right because it was His by birthright and by righteousness, and also by covenant.

“Jesus was chosen from before the foundations of the world to be the Christ, the Anointed One…He was the birthright son, and he retained that birthright by his strict obedience” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and his Apostles, 15).

Christ’s claim to the Messiah-ship is actually fairly well established in scripture (particularly in the Bible).  Here is the case for Jesus’ unique and exclusive claim to the title of “The Christ” as well as to the responsibility and blessings that come with that title.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

5 Scriptures that Testify that God is Real

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Countless people throughout time have wondered: “Is there a God?” There are nearly as many opinions on this subject as there have been people who have lived on this planet.  For this reason, many people feel confused or uncertain about whether or not God exists, and if so, what that actually means for us humans.

Many people have rejected the notion of the existence of a God or a higher being altogether.  Still others acknowledge that there may indeed be some kind of higher being who exists in the universe, although they do not know who or what this being may be, or what form he/she/it may take.  Others choose to reserve judgment for a number of reasons, including waiting for more evidence (one way or another) to present itself.

The problem is that many of those who search for God tend to reject scripture out of hand as a reliable source of evidence.  I imagine that this is because they assume that religious texts are essentially biased.  However, this forces them to look for evidence that is inconclusive at best.  There are many who point to the workings of the natural world, and of creation as evidence of a divine presence, but there are just as many people who point to the same evidence to say there is not a god.  There are some who try to use a process of logic to reason their way to God, but once again there are many who would argue that logic suggests that there is no God.  Even some religious people might argue that God is beyond our ability to grasp through human reason alone.  I mention all of this in order to demonstrate the evidentiary value that scripture can have in an honest and open-minded investigation into the existence of God.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thy Grace Is Sufficient For Me: A Psalm of Gratitude

This is my amateur attempt at producing a psalm.  I posted this rather personal work in order that I might uplift and inspire others to grow closer to God.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

Lord, thy grace is sufficient for me
In thy mercy thou givest me rest
Lord, as thou takest my burdens upon thee
Thou makest my burdens light.

Thou forgivest me my transgressions
My sins are blotted out through thee.
Thy lovingkindness and thy mercy are without end
And cannot be exhausted.

Lord God, thou art my master
I deliver myself to thee
I am thy servant
Thou settest me free

Thy yoke is easy, and thy burden is light
Gladly do I take up my cross
Happily do I follow thee
In following thee I find my life

In serving thee I gain dignity
Thou makest me thy particular treasure
No longer am I a slave to sin
Never again will I transgress

Thou makest me thy child
No longer am I a servant in thy house
I am thy son, give me thy spirit
I cry unto thee, Abba, Father.

Thou guidest me when I am lost
Thou art my light in obscurity
By thy word I set my steps
By thy teachings I build my life

In grief I seek thee Ebenezer
In my adversity thou hearest my cry
Thou art my support in sorrow
My balm and surcease in suffering

Thou art my companion in adversity
In thy footsteps I tread the path of woe
Thou hast descended unto hell
In thy suffering thou hast reclaimed my soul

Thou art the captain of my salvation
I will follow thee in all things
Thou leadest the way
Thine example is my guide

Thou teachest me to love mine enemies
To do good to those that despitefully use me.
In love I fulfill thy royal law,
Through love I approach thy throne.

Through thy grace I approach thee with boldness
Thy redemption sanctifieth me
By thy merits hast thou justified me
Thou hast brought me before the mercy seat

I stand before thee revealed
Thy word is quick and powerful
Thou hast discerned the thoughts and intents of my heart
Purify thou me Lord!

Cleanse thou my innermost soul
Give unto me clean hands and a pure heart.
I give unto thee my heart and my will
I surrender unto thee the weapons of my rebellion

Thou desirest not gold or silver
Thy treasure cannot be bought
Thy salvation is a pearl without price
I would give all to obtain it

Thy grace is sufficient for me
In thee I am made whole
The riches of thy blessings defy my capacity to receive them
My gratitude is not sufficient to the bounty of thy grace

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How do I Distinguish the Holy Ghost from My Own Thoughts?

Q: How do I tell the difference between promptings from the Holy Ghost and my own thoughts?

A: For some reason, this is a question which preoccupies members of the church, especially the youth and young adults.  I have heard some variation of this question in countless settings throughout the church.  I have heard it in seminary and institute classes, I have heard it during ward youth activities, and during Sunday school and priesthood classes.  I also noticed that this question cropped up in every single face to face session the general authorities have held with the young adults in the church.  Clearly, there is a burning desire to learn the answer to this question!

I think it is a good sign that so many want to know how to better recognize that voice of the spirit.  It shows that people across the church are thinking about this question, and seeking to better know the Lord.  However, I do think it is a little strange that there should be so much confusion among members of the church.  Presumably, if they are members of the church, then they have been baptized and they have received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Since we are therefore entitled to the companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide, instruct, and direct us in our lives; surely Latter-day Saints must be experts when it comes to receiving and recognizing the spirit.

Why All the Confusion?

Given the particular facility the gift of the Holy Ghost ought to bestow upon members of the church, why is it (clearly) so difficult for us to tell the difference between the voice of the spirit and other influences?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

7 Mistakes Even Good Mormons Make

On the whole, Mormons are good people.  Most of us do our best to try to live the gospel. Most of us try to be Christ-like and obedient to the Lord.  Unfortunately, even the best of us tend to fall into traps of bad thinking without even being aware of it.  This flawed thinking can interfere with our ability to fully live the gospel. These mistakes can keep us from experiencing the full blessings and joy that come with gospel discipleship.  More often than not making these mistakes can actively make us miserable.  On my blog I answer gospel questions, and in real life I talk to people of all walks of life about religion, and I have noticed a few common problems that even the best of us may have to overcome in order to progress in the gospel.

I.                 Riding the Line
When I was a young man, I was taught a parable in my Aaronic priesthood Sunday classes about truck drivers and staying away from the line:

“A man was interviewing new drivers for his transportation company. The route was very dangerous and went along several steep cliffs through a mountain pass. The interviewer asked each man how close he could safely drive near the edge of the cliff. The first man responded, “I could drive within six inches of the edge.” The second man responded, “I could drive within two inches of the edge.” The third man responded, “I would stay as far away from the edge of the cliff as I possibly could.” (Aaronic Priesthood Manual, lds.org).

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Gospel is NOT a Checklist.


Q: I am a convert of 9 years, and in that time, I have noticed something that bothers me. In particular, I've seen this happen to a couple friends, to two of my own cousins, and even my husband.

They grow up totally devout Mormons, learning to go to primary, young men/women's, serve a mission, get married, go to the temple, etc. But then sometimes people hit a snag. The church says "you must do A,B,C,D and then you get to go to heaven.”  But I've seen some people get to "C" and because of something beyond their control, they can't do that thing. (For example, not qualifying to go on a mission for medical reasons)

For example, one person had a hard time finding a wife. He's only 27 and he acts like his life is over because he's not married yet. My cousin didn't go on her mission and the guy she was with left her, and now she's lost like she has no purpose.

It's like they suddenly don't know what to do with themselves. Like their life just ended. Like they had a map of what to do and the map is messed up so they fall into this really sad and really pathetic depression.

Personally, I don't want my kids exposed to that!  I don't want my son to be depressed and feel like a failure because he didn't follow the A,B,C,D plan to a T.  Watching what this stuff is doing to my friends and family is so sad. My cousin literally just sits in her room crying and feeling sorry for herself because she didn't qualify for a mission. AND ITS NOT EVEN HER FAULT! She's even becoming apostate over it!

I'm so close to pulling my kids out of church and just teaching them at home. I don't want my kids mentally screwed up because of this church and the ridiculous pressure and expectations put on these kids.

Am I wrong? Does anyone else see this?

A:  You are not wrong to be concerned and repelled when you see your friends and family suffering from feelings of inadequacy, depression, and guilt at what they perceive to be their failure to adequately live up to gospel requirements.

Your friends are not alone.  Many Mormons who are doing their best to follow God’s commandments can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight and number of things they have been asked to do as members of the church. Some, like your friends, may wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and failure when they don’t manage to measure up.

This is unfortunate, because your friends and many others like them don’t need to feel like failures.  They don’t have to feel like they are stuck, or like their life is over when something doesn’t happen the way they think it is supposed to happen.  Your friends are laboring under some misconceptions about how the gospel is meant to be lived, and this wrong thinking is making them miserable for nothing.  From where I’m standing, there are two problems: First, they (and you) seem to be proceeding from the assumption that there is a checklist (A, B, C…) that we have to follow to a tee if we are going to go to heaven.  Second, they also assume that getting into heaven is the whole point.  Also, as you may have noticed, the problem with this checklist mentality is that it almost immediately starts to fall apart when things in life don’t go according to plan.

Serving a mission, marrying in the temple, paying your tithing, and so forth are all important things, but none of these things is the ultimate goal of gospel discipleship.  Accordingly, the church does not teach that you have to follow a rote list of A, B, C, and D to get into heaven.  What the church does teach is simultaneously simpler and also more complex and elegant than that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

5 Scriptures to Help You Overcome Temptation

1.      3 Nephi 18:15, 18-19  Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;

The Savior is the only one who ever lived who was perfectly righteous.  Even though he was tempted in all the same ways that we are, he never gave in, and he faithfully followed His Father in all things, and he lived a wholly sinless life (see Hebrews 4:14-15).  This makes Christ the unopposed champion of resisting temptation.  Not only do we have his powerful example of obedience to guide us, but he also left us valuable teachings concerning how best to resist temptation and how to avoid it when possible. Given Christ’s sinless life and example, it makes sense to look carefully at the things he taught about resisting temptation.  Namely, he exhorted His disciples to “watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation.”

Why is it that constant prayer so effective a remedy in staving off temptation?  One answer has to do with the fact that the devil never sleeps.  He and his angels have nothing better to do than to try to lead you astray, and he is obsessed with your destruction.  I don’t know what it feels like to be sifted as wheat, but if Satan wants to do it to you, you can bet it’s not pleasant.  The only way to combat an enemy that never rests is to turn to God, who will never rest in providing and guiding us in the way to joy and salvation.   God is more powerful than the devil, and his voice can dispel the seductive tendrils of temptation.  We need Him in our lives, and prayer is the way for us to access God and His power.  That is why the devil works so hard to get us to neglect the habit and practice of prayer in our lives.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Why the LDS Church has the Right to Speak Out on Political Issues

Q:  Is it typical for the church to [speak out] for or against voting for something [specifically in letters regarding impending state votes on the questions of doctor-assisted suicide and the legalization of recreational marijuana]? Does the church feel like the congregations can't make informed decisions on their own without out an official statement? Do they believe that…we have to be spoon fed our opinions?
                                       
A:  The church does not endorse any particular candidate or political party, however:

“The Church does… Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church” (Official Statement on Political Neutrality, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org).

This has been the case throughout the church’s history.  For instance, the church expressed support for the so-called (and much praised) “Utah compromise” (Utah senate bill 296) which contained language designed to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination, while also protecting and preserving religious freedoms.  In the case of California Proposition 8, the church sent a letter to congregations in California encouraging members to get involved in efforts to pass the proposition, but the church was not directly involved, nor did it donate any money to those efforts.  Less recently, church leaders encouraged members to speak out against ratifying the proposed Equal Rights Amendment in the United States.  There are many other examples of the church urging members to speak up on one issue or another on “issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.”

Note the careful wording in the passage quoted at the top of this article.  The church reserves the right to “address” issues.  In the recent letter about marijuana, the strongest language used by the first presidency is that they “urge” the members to speak up in opposition to the legalization of marijuana.  (Note that nowhere in the letter is anyone specifically told to vote one way or another). That’s because such letters constitute counsel rather than commandment.  As such, they do not represent any kind of direct mandate to the members to vote one way or another.  That means that you are left to reason for yourself as to what the right course of action should be.  Even if they could force the members to vote a certain way, the brethren would not do it.

“Some may believe that reason is not free when religious leaders have spoken, but I doubt that any religious leader in twentieth-century America has such a grip on followers that they cannot make a reasoned choice in the privacy of the voting booth. In fact, I have a hard time believing that the teachings of religions or churches deprive their adherents of any more autonomy in exerting the rights of citizenship than the teachings and practices of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmental organizations, political parties, or any other membership group in our society.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Religious Values and Public Policy,” address given 29 February 1992, Brigham Young University Management Society, lds.org).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

5 Scriptures to Help You Overcome a Faith Crisis




1.      Ether 12:6  And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

If you are experiencing doubt, or even a crisis of faith, don’t despair.  All who desire a witness of the truth of the gospel must endure a trial of faith (or several).  Part of that trial is the expectation that we are to strive to cultivate faith before we obtain evidence that our faith is not in vain.  In fact, Paul goes so far as to preach that faith is, in itself, the evidence which we seek:

Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The apostle Peter taught that our faith will be refined if we maintain it even as we experience the fires of doubt.  If we love God, and believe in him, even “though now ye see him not,” we are promised that we will receive our sought after witness, the end (or object) of our faith. If you will stay faithful, even when “ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations [and trials]” (see 1 Peter 1:6), your faith will be rewarded, and you can "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

1 Peter 1:7-9  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:  Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:  Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

Monday, June 22, 2015

God's Truth Is The Truth, Even If You Disagree With It


I have noticed lately that there are many in and around the church who expect that everything that comes from God should be something with which they agree, and if they do not already agree with a teaching or doctrine of the church, then they assume that it must not come from God.  There are those who reject Christianity and/or a belief in God, because they cannot reconcile their own beliefs with those which are taught in the scriptures or by church leaders.  There are members that persist in disobedience to prophetic counsel because they cannot bring themselves to listen to counsel with which they do not agree.  Many insist that they would obey a given commandment if only they understood it, or they claim that they will live it just as soon as they gain a testimony confirming that such a commandment is true.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Answers to Hard Questions About The Fall of Adam


Why does the Fall matter?

I have noticed that many people find the story of Adam and Eve, and their fall from the Garden of Eden, to be a puzzling chapter in the story of our shared Judeo-Christian faith.  Many find it hard to account for because it doesn’t seem to fit with modern notions of the origin of our species.  Others struggle with the difficulties that arise over what seem to be difficult doctrinal issues surrounding the fall.  I have even heard Mormons refer to certain aspects of the fall of Adam and Eve as “deep doctrine” as if it is some incomprehensible mystery which cannot fully be understood or explained.  Even those who accept the importance of the Fall of Adam and Eve sometimes struggle with the full significance and meaning of the fall, because the fall is so complex in its ramifications, and the full meaning of the events and symbols used in the accounts of the fall can be confusing and may even be perceived as contradictory to our limited understanding.

Due to these and other difficulties, some are tempted to dismiss the fall as a mere fable, and one that is no longer relevant to us today.  However, this could not be further from the truth.  As modern day prophets have repeatedly pointed out, it is crucial that each of us gain a good understanding of the events and significance of the fall of Adam and Eve, and to do so is actually fundamental to fully celebrating one’s faith.

“Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ.

No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind.”  (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, May 1987, 85).

“The simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death—in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter—without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.”  (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Ensign, May 2015, lds.org).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How the Jewish Festivals are connected to Christ in the New Testament

Jewish Feast Days Associated With Important Events in the Gospel of John

What follows is a copy of my collection of quotes on the subject (along with a few of my own notes), and as such, there is very little original content included here.  Nevertheless, I thought that it might be of interest to my readers.

“One evangelist, the author of the Fourth Gospel, stands out as having a special interest in the Temple…As is so often the case in this text, what this evangelist seeks to provide is a radical rethinking of early Christian affirmations.  In the process, he appropriates imagery connected with the temple as a way of affirming his understanding of the significance of Jesus.

“A major vehicle for further connecting Jesus with the temple is the evocation of Israel’s sacred calendar, invoked at key points in the first half of the gospel” (Attridge, 2014).

Attridge, H. W., (2014). The temple and jesus the high priest in the new testament.  In Charleswoth, J. H. (Ed.), Jesus and temple: Textual and archaeological explorations. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.)


John 2:  Passover #1 Turning of water into wine at Cana & the first cleansing of the temple immediately precede Passover

“Four cups of wine mixed with water were drunk at different stages of the [Passover] feast (compare Luke 22:17, 20; 1 Cor. 10:16, the cup of blessing)” (LDS Bible Dictionary, “Feasts,” https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/feasts).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Parable of the Talents and Predestination

“No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Why Marriage, Why Family,” Ensign, May 2015, lds.org).

The Parable of the Talents which Jesus taught to His disciples in Matthew chapter 25 can be fairly instructive when considering the question of foreordination and election, and how it governs our placement in this world and our relationship to each other.

The Parable of the Talents teaches the importance of exercising righteous stewardship with those things that the Lord gives to us while we are in our second estate.  Even though each servant in the parable received differing amounts to start with, they were each expected to wisely manage the talents with which they had been entrusted, in order that the wealth could grow and increase in their care before they had to return what they had been given to the master.

We all start out with differing gifts in life, and some are seemingly given greater advantages and blessings in this life than others, such as being born into the covenant, or living in a country where freedom and prosperity reign instead of tyranny and strife.  We also come into life with certain abilities and talents which are innate, or which we developed during our life before we came here, and it may seem that some have received more natural talent or advantageous opportunity than others.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A More Excellent Way: Are Mormons Living the Higher Law?

WARNING:  This post contains several mentions of a word and subject which is probably unsuitable for children.

I spend a great deal of time writing, speaking, and answering questions about religion, so I tend to encounter the whole spectrum of Mormon doubts and problems (as well as the best that we have to offer) as I get to know people across the world and the church.  As I have interacted with other Mormons on questions of religion, I have noticed a certain tendency that I find especially disturbing.  Specifically, I have noticed that Mormons like to ask some variation of the “Is [blank] a sin?” question, which is usually accompanied by phrases like “It isn’t expressly forbidden by the general authorities,” or, “it isn’t spelled out in the scriptures (or the policy or manuals of the Church),” with the implication that unless it is spelled out explicitly as a sin, then it must be OK to do.  This attitude can only be called legalism, and it can be very dangerous.

Legalism:  Noun.  usage: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.”  (http://thesaurus.infoplease.com/legalism, n. d.)

Case in point, the following question was posted in a Facebook discussion group for Mormons in order to solicit responses for a podcast:

“I got into a downright weird conversation with someone on whether or not the LDS Church teaches masturbation as breaking the Law of Chastity.

His defense was that there isn't a section in the Aaronic Priesthood Manual or some such work (you know - the Fifth Standard Work) about masturbation and so it isn't a sin” (Joe Rawlins, Facebook post, April 9, 2015).

In response, one person stated that she has never viewed a proscription against masturbation to be part of the law growing up, and that she still doesn’t, and then she posted a link to the Wikipedia definition of the Law of Chastity (as taught by the LDS church).

Another person posted a talk from President Spencer W. Kimball which specifically stated that the law of chastity forbids “all sexual relations outside marriage,” including masturbation, to which the first person replied that she did not see anything expressly forbidding the practice in the youth booklet.

Several individuals argued back and forth about whether or not pornography addiction is an actual or fictional condition, and others made statements criticizing the church’s stance on the subject as being a relic of Victorian era hang-ups about sex, and/or misconceptions about the sin of Onan (as it is often referred to) in the Bible, even going so far as to post a link to an article from Wiktionary defining onanism (see Genesis chapter 38 if you really care to know more).  There was also a protracted argument among several individuals concerning the severity of the sin, and its ranking in comparison to the severity of certain other sins.  Of course the crux of the entire argument had to do with the fact that teachings forbidding the practice of masturbation are not clearly spelled out in scripture.

This whole argument is an example of the irritating legalism that has crept into the attitude of many church members:  "If it isn't specifically spelled out, then I don't have to do it, and if it isn't expressly forbidden then I can do as I please."  Or, more subtly, ranking or defining sins so that some seem less severe than others.  Legalism is a problem for members of the church because it can cause us to miss the whole point of the gospel (and commandment keeping) and the atonement of Jesus Christ, and cause us to become lost in a maze of petty bickering over tiny points of the law. Worse, "by looking beyond the mark" (see Jacob 4:14) we may cause ourselves (and others) to "stumble" and "fall" because of confusion over what is and isn't sin.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?


 
This post is actually a response to two questions, and as such it is organized into two parts:  First, why did Jesus have to die for the atonement to work? Second, why did Jesus have to die on the cross, as opposed to some other way? 

Q1: Did Jesus need to die on the cross? Had he already paid for our sins at this point or was it part of the atonement? And in what way?

A1:  Jesus did indeed need to die for our sins.  While Christ had made an atonement offering in the garden by His suffering and by shedding his own blood (acting in his capacity as the great high priest), the atonement was not yet finished.

The law of justice says that if a man sins somebody has to pay the price.  Fortunately, Christ paid the price for us, but the price is very high.

Alma 34: 9-12  For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.  For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.  Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another.  Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother?  I say unto you, Nay.  But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Does Foreordination Work?

Q:  If someone is preordained to do something...does this mean that they can still choose not to?  Or will they just do it regardless? Also, are people preordained to do good things as well as bad? Or is it the same concept as destiny?

A:  When speaking about this principle, I think "foreordained" is a better word to use when it comes to gaining a full understanding of the concept. I choose to stress the importance of the terms we use, because misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of foreordination have caused much confusion and disagreement among Christians in all ages, and even among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  However, foreordination is a doctrine which must be understood and taught correctly (and in the proper context), because it concerns where we came from, and what our purpose was in coming here.

“The combined doctrine of God’s foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads “least traveled by.” Yet it clearly underlines how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities. Isolated from other doctrines, or mishandled, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination.

“Yet, though foreordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose. It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal second estate is and can further encourage us in good works. This precious doctrine can also help us go the second mile because we are doubly called.”  (Neal A. Maxwell, "A More Determined Discipleship," Ensign, Feb. 1979, lds.org).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Making the Sacrament More Sacred

Why we Need to Understand the Whys and the Wherefores

The words we use matter.  We, as Mormons, often tend to use our own special definitions for gospel terms without always giving much thought to the reasons for using those specific terms, or to the particular meanings which may be contained in those terms.  Sometimes we as members even participate in certain church activities without giving much thought to the reasons why we are doing them.  This is especially true of the sacrament, which is one of our most sacred ordinances, and yet we tend to take it for granted because we observe it almost every week.

“The ordinance of the sacrament has been called “one of the most holy and sacred ordinances in the Church.” It needs to become more holy and sacred to each of us” (Hamula, 2014).

“Since we can partake of the sacrament every week, many take the ordinance for granted or fail to prepare properly for it each time. External disturbances may prevent complete concentration on spiritual things during the sacrament. Some do not understand the true nature of the sacrament.

Almost all Latter-day Saints could better use the ordinance of the sacrament to help purge their souls in preparation for eternal life. President David O. McKay stated: “The partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is one of the most sacred ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. Associated with it are principles fundamental in character building and essential to man’s advancement and exaltation in the kingdom of God. Too few communicants attach to this simple though sublime rite the importance and significance that it merits. Unfortunately, the form of worship is frequently an outward compliance without the true soul acknowledgment of its deep spiritual significance”” (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual, 2011, 71).

To the end that we might more fully appreciate and understand the deep significance of one of the most important parts of our worship, it might be helpful to break the term “the sacrament” down to examine its roots and to glimpse its full meaning.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

All About Armageddon

In the five years that I have maintained this blog, I have studiously avoided posting anything about the end times, the second coming, or the battle of Armageddon, for at least two reasons.  First, these topics tend to bring out the crazies on the internet, which I find incredibly tiresome.  Second, I have found that focusing too much on these subjects can cause everyday Christians to “look beyond the mark” (see Jacob 4:14).  By this I mean that it can often seem more exciting and interesting to speculate about the great and terrible events of the end of the world, which can seem safely removed from our everyday experience, than it does to contemplate the need to apply the simple principles of the gospel in our everyday lives.

On the surface, the simple and basic principles of the gospel, like faith, and repentance, and enduring to the end, can seem mundane and small when compared to the terrible glory of the end times.  It is also my opinion that these principles are often overlooked because the principles of the gospel require daily transformation, and self-evaluation, which can be difficult and uncomfortable, and therefore much less fun to consider in a priest quorum meeting than the “exciting” events leading up to the second coming of Christ.

I therefore preface this post by declaring that learning to live the gospel, and developing a relationship with God through the Holy Ghost, is more important than knowing the particulars of the events of the end times, or becoming an eschatological expert.  It is important to know "the signs of the times," but not at the expense of the "weightier matters," like justice, mercy, faith, and faithfulness.  If we are truly converted, through faithful obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then the last days need hold no fear for us.  If we have truly become converted as a disciple of Christ, we can look forward with anticipation, and without trepidation, for the day of His return, and there is no need to continually pore over and dwell on the accounts of the suffering and bloodshed that will come in the days leading up to His coming, especially if doing so causes us to lose sight of the truly important study and application of the gospel.

With that said, I chose to publish this post about Armageddon because I found that there is an everyday spiritual application which we can gain from a study of the terrible fighting that will usher in the coming of Christ.  While I spend most of this post outlining the events and conditions during the battle of Armageddon, I conclude it with advice concerning how best to fight the everyday spiritual battle which each of us must fight in order to stay true to the Lord and His gospel, and ultimately, to prepare for His coming.

My friend Shari asked me this question in an effort to deepen her knowledge so that she could answer some questions that her friends had concerning the end times.  What follows is an expanded version of my original answer.

Q:  Is the battle at the end of the world (Armageddon) going to be a physical or spiritual battle?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scripture Master Tip #21: Improve Your Reading Skills Overall


Improve Your Reading Skills Overall.

Practice reading more, as well as more often. Branch out in your reading habits. Read better books. Reading the scriptures is a good way to make yourself stretch and to improve your reading skills, but it isn’t the only way.  We are even counseled twice in the scriptures to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (See D&C 88:118 and D&C 109:7).

Seek out things of beauty and nobility like the works of Shakespeare. I would tell you to do that anyway, but I chose to emphasize the works of Shakespeare because Shakespeare uses language that is very close to the language used in the King James Bible, and his works will help you to get used to the language outside of a Gospel context.  Many of the greatest classics of literature can also do much to help you to improve your grasp of scripture by helping you to recognize and appreciate certain literary devices such as the use of metaphor, symbolism, allegory, foreshadowing, archetypes, aphorisms, allusion, and so on.  As you learn to appreciate these and the countless other literary devices which you will encounter as you read some of the best books, you will discover that the scriptures are great literature and that the prophets who wrote these inspired books regularly employed incredibly sophisticated literary devices in order to help us to better grasp the sublime truths they were attempting to communicate.  The scriptures will become so much easier to understand when you have developed the tools to fully grasp the many levels on which they were meant to be understood.

You don't necessarily have to be that ambitious at first though, especially if you struggle with reading.  What matters is that you learn to love to read, and that you read the best and most uplifting things, in order so you might come to more fully love and enjoy what you read in the scriptures.

Basically, if you want to improve your ability to read and understand the scriptures, you ought to spend more time improving your ability to read and understand everything.  This is best accomplished by reading the best books, but it is impossible to accomplish without reading.  What does improved literacy have to do with learning to love the scriptures?  Everything:
“Study after study in the last quarter-century has revealed that American Christians increasingly don't read their Bibles, don't engage their Bibles, and don't know their Bibles. It's obvious: We are living in a post-biblically literate culture.
Just as critical is the second word of the Bible literacy problem: literacy. Pew Research tells us that 23 percent of us didn't read a single book in the last year. That's three times the number who didn't read a book in 1978. Whether it's the Internet, video games, the TV or increased time spent on entertainment and sports, Americans are spending less time between the pages of any book, not just the Good Book” (Stetzer, 2014).
If you don’t like reading, you are going to have to get over it if you want to learn to understand the scriptures, because God chose to have his Prophets write his word down, which means that we’re stuck with reading. I’m sure that there must be a good reason behind God’s choice of format, because if you think about it, God could have easily made it possible for the scriptures to be recorded in the form of a movie (for instance) if he had wanted to, but he didn’t.

However, if reading is truly an obstacle for you, you may want to start in another format, such as audio recordings of the scriptures.
"Introducing elements of scripture stories through videos or pictures before reading can help readers who struggle with comprehension. Then, as they begin reading, they can concentrate on understanding principles or themes instead of tracking characters and plot lines.

"In addition, listening to audio recordings of scriptures or conference talks offers some readers focused support as they follow along in the printed text. Listening to a fluent reader can increase a struggling reader’s ability to comprehend unfamiliar texts and vocabulary. Church resources, such as LDS.org, offer scriptures and conference addresses as downloadable audio files that facilitate these kinds of reading experiences" (Coombs, 2014, pp. 63-64).
I have made several of my own suggestions for creative alternatives which you can use to approach the scriptures in Scripture Master Tip #7: Get Creative!

Even if reading is a chore for you, you need to make the effort to carefully and even lovingly study the scriptures.  "Learning to read takes practice, which includes taking risks" (Coombs, 2014, p. 63). Your spiritual well-being depends on your willingness to overcome your difficulty or discomfort with reading so you can reap the blessings of the knowledge, wisdom, and truth that are contained in the scriptures.  "reading struggles inhibit spiritual growth when they prevent individuals from studying the gospel" (Coombs, 2014, p. 62).

Don't be afraid to ask others for help to read and understand; it may be embarrassing, but it beats remaining ignorant of the most important truths known to man.  Also, remember to ask the Lord in prayer to help you to read and understand.  Even the greatest prophets and the wisest men need to ask for help if they truly wish to get the most out of what they read in the scriptures.  For more on this subject please read my article Scripture Master Tip #4: It's OK to Ask Questions!

If you do not have a particular difficulty with reading, but you have allowed yourself to fall out of the habit because you spend too much time watching television, or playing video games, or even just working, then you need to refocus your priorities.
“Don’t yield to Satan’s lie that you don’t have time to study the scriptures. Choose to take time to study them. Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media. You may need to reorganize your priorities to provide time for the study of the word of God. If so, do it!”  (Richard G. Scott, “Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” General Conference Address, Oct. 5, 2014, lds.org).
For those of us who live in the western world, there is no excuse for us if we choose to allow ourselves to remain scripturally illiterate.  Literacy overall is so high in our countries, and the availability of books, and ease by which we can access them today, is unprecedented in the history of the world.  It makes no sense for us to neglect these incredible resources, and it makes even less sense for us to neglect the scriptures, especially in light of the great sacrifices that groups and individuals have made to bring us the scriptures, or to bring us a version of the scriptures that we can read in our own language.
“In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.”  (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign, May 2010, 33).
“There is no excuse. It's not as if we don't have access. The average American—Christian or not—owns at least three Bibles. Even those who don't have one in their home can download it free to their smartphone or "steal" a Gideon Bible from a hotel room. The Word of God is more available than ever. People have died to bring us what has led to modern translations of Scripture, yet we are dying from lack of knowledge” (Stetzer, 2014).
Don’t die of thirst while lying next to a well of sweet water.  All you have to do is to reach for it, and the scriptures can come alive in your hands.  Don’t be afraid to do a little bit of work in order to unearth the unspeakable treasures that are available to all sincere seekers who choose to immerse themselves in the sweet truths of the scriptures. 
 “No one knows anything about Christ’s work simply by being born a member of the Church, and often he knows little about it after years of unmotivated exposure in meetings or classes. He must learn. And learning involves self-investment and effort. The gospel should be studied ‘as carefully as any science.’ The ‘literature of the Church’ must be ‘acquired and read.’ Our learning should be increased in our spare time ‘day by day.’ Then as we put the gospel truth to work in daily life, we will never find it wanting. We will be literate in the most important field of knowledge in the universe, knowledge for lack of which men and nations perish, in the light of which men and nations may be saved” (Hanks, 1969).
If you know someone who struggles with reading, and it is interfering with  their ability to build a strong testimony of the truths taught in the scriptures, these suggestions from the church magazines will be extremely helpful in finding ways to nurture and help them so that they too can experience the joy and satisfaction of studying God's word.

There are 20 Scripture Master Tips before this one!  You can start at the beginning with Scripture Master Tip #1: Just Do It! or you can work your way backwards from here and start with Scripture Master Tip # 20: Search, Ponder, and Pray .

References
Coombs, D. (2014). Nurturing testimonies by nurturing readers. Ensign. 44(12). p. 63  Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/12/nurturing-testimonies-by-nurturing-readers?lang=eng\

Hanks, M. (September, 1969). Theological illiterates. Improvement Era. 72(9). p. 42.

Stetzer, E. (October, 2014). Biblical illiteracy by the numbers part 1: The challenge. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/biblical-illiteracy-by-numbers.html

Monday, September 1, 2014

Why Did They Light Incense in the Temple in Bible Times?


 Q:  In Sunday school someone asked, "Why did they light incense in the temple in Bible times?" and not even the teacher knew.  Do you know?


A:  Most sources will tell you something along these lines:

"The smoke from burnt offerings rose into the heavens, representing our dedication to God. The incense represented people’s prayers rising up to God" (“Then Will I Go unto the Altar of God,” Ensign, February 2014, 66).

This is the symbolism that is used in Psalms 141:2 and Revelation 8:3-4:

"Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.  Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."

The symbolism whereby the smoke of the incense represents the prayers of the saints is a powerful one, and should help us to understand the importance of prayer in our relationship with God, but there is deeper symbolism which should not be ignored.  The burning of the incense to accompany an offering in the temple also had an important symbolic function that relates to the Savior and the cleansing and purifying effect (sanctification) of His atonement.

In Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to add incense (along with salt and some other things) to their burnt offerings in order that their offerings might be "of a sweet savour unto the Lord" (see Leviticus Ch. 2).  This had the symbolic effect of sanctifying the offering and making it acceptable to God.

This symbolism was understood by the people anciently, as it was part of the prayer which was offered by the priests and the people during the portion of the service in which the incense was lit.

"Be graciously pleased, Jehovah our God, with Thy people Israel, and with their prayer.  Restore the service to the oracle of Thy house; and the burnt-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept graciously and in love; and let the service of Thy people Israel be ever well-pleasing unto Thee" (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, 129).
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