Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflections On The Lord's Prayer




“In Luke it is recorded that one of His disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Jesus then gave a pattern for prayer that has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. The same is recorded in Matthew as part of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 6:9–13)” (D. Todd Christofferson,  “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, January 9, 2011.)

I have elected to use the version of the Lord’s prayer that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, as it appears in its most complete and most recognizable form in the Sermon on the Mount.  I have arranged the Lord’s prayer verse by verse in the order that it is presented in Matthew, and I have included my own commentary, along with selected quotes and scriptures that I have arranged so as to explicate each passage.  My comments are in red, and scriptures are in italics.

The Lord's Prayer is possibly one of the most famous and beloved passages of scripture in all of Christendom, and rightly so.  In it we have recorded for us the sweet and simple teachings of the Savior concerning the correct way to approach God in humble supplication.  Some faiths have enshrined this example of prayer as a prayer to be recited verbatim in worship as well as in personal devotion.  While I disagree that this was the Savior's intent in his teachings concerning prayer, I do believe that each of us might benefit greatly if we were to pause and weigh this prayer with greater consideration than we have typically done in the past.  The Lord's Prayer does not always receive the attention that it deserves, and I believe that the words of instruction and inspiration contained in this brief prayer merit deeper reflection, pondering, and meditation, to the end that we might more fully incorporate these teachings into our own prayers, and in our own lives.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Guide to 45 Self-Contained Book of Mormon Chapter Studies

Here is a list consisting of my recommendations for 45 self-contained Book of Mormon chapter studies. Each chapter focuses on a particular doctrinal principle (or several) and you can easily devote your individual scripture study to a single chapter (devotional-style).  I adapted my list from a similar list found in Preach My Gospel pages 47-48.  I did this at a friend's request, because she is approaching the Book of Mormon for the first time and she wants to learn the doctrine without wading through so much war and history.

To be clear, this exercise is not intended to disparage or downplay the importance of the war chapters in any way, nor is this list intended to be viewed as authoritative or comprehensive.  This is nothing more than a list of the doctrine heavy chapters that I happen to love the most, which I created in order to encourage my friend to read the Book of Mormon.  I encourage YOU to encourage YOUR friends to read the Book of Mormon, and if this list helps you to do that, then so much the better.  To that end, you can request a free copy of the Book of Mormon HERE.  For more on the value and purpose of the Book of Mormon check out my article: "4 Purposes of The Book of Mormon"

Each chapter that I have recommended includes a few brief highlights to explain why it is on the list, and a few special chapters are also marked **MUST READ**.  I have also included a link to a pdf version of this list to make it easier to print.

The Book of Mormon
Suggested Devotional-style Reading Course


Title Page & Intro

1 Nephi 8-11 -- Lehi and Nephi’s visions of the tree of life

2 Nephi 2 -- Individual Agency, Redemption only by merits, mercy, grace of Holy Messiah unto all those w/ broken heart & contrite spirit, The Fall of Adam **MUST READ**

2 N 9 -- Judgment, second death, need for/power of resurrection

2 N 25 -- Salvation by grace “after all we can do,” Law of Moses points to Christ

2 N 27 -- prophecy concerning the intent and coming forth of the Book of Mormon

2 N 28 -- The Great Apostasy

2 N 29 -- Bible and Book of Mormon both vital to salvation

2 N 31 -- Why Christ needed to be baptized, formal statement of gospel doctrine as requirement of salvation  **MUST READ**

2 N 32 -33 -- Power and function of Holy Ghost, Vital importance of prayer

Jacob 4 -- Function of prophets, need for revelation, purpose of law of Moses

Book of Enos (1 chapter long) -- Enos prays and experiences power of atonement

Mosiah 2-5 -- King Benjamin’s great address-too many highlights to list **MUST READ**

Mosiah 12-16 -- Abinadi testifies of Christ before his own martyrdom

Mosiah 18 -- Alma teaches the terms of Baptism & discipleship

Mosiah 27 -- Alma the younger is spiritually born again.  (all subsequent references to Alma will be to Alma the younger).

Alma 5 -- True conversion, Judgment day, Stripped of pride & envy?, Sheep of the good shepherd or not, How to gain testimony for oneself.  **MUST READ**

Alma 7 -- The power and particulars of the atonement **MUST READ**

Alma 11 -- Resurrection  **MUST READ**

Alma 12 -- Fall of Adam, judgment, spiritual & temporal death

Alma 13 -- Foreordination (election), The high priesthood and conversion, Life of Melchizedek, humility

Alma 22 (17-22) -- Miraculous Conversion of Lamanites

Alma 26 -- Ammon rejoices after conversion of many Lamanites, Natural man cannot know the mysteries of God

Alma 30 -- Alma contends with the Anti-Christ Korihor

Alma 32 -- Alma’s great sermon concerning faith **MUST READ**

Alma 34 -- the atonement and the end of animal sacrifice, exhortation to prayer, “This life is the time to prepare to meet God” **MUST READ**

Alma 36 -- Alma recounts his conversion

Alma 40 -- The doctrine of the spirit world, the mechanics of the resurrection  **MUST READ**

Alma 41 --  Judgment, “Wickedness never was happiness”

Alma 42 -- The Fall, This life is a time of probation, Justice and Mercy satisfied by atonement, Anyone who will come may come and partake of the waters of life

Helaman 5 -- Helaman teaches his sons Nephi and Lehi before they devote their lives to preaching the gospel, Christ not come to redeem IN sins, but rather FROM sins, Build on the rock of our redeemer, miraculous escape from prison in which God (not Christ) speaks

Helaman 14 -- Samuel the Lamanite prophesies of the birth of Christ, Power of resurrection, judgment, spiritual death i.e. the second death

3 Nephi 9-10 -- The resurrected Christ speaks to the Nephites from the heavens.  The sacrifices he commands are the sacrifice of a broken heart & contrite spirit

3 N 11 -- The resurrected Christ appears in person to the Nephites, introduced by God, the people witness that He is Christ by touching the wounds in his side and in His hands, gives authority to prophet Nephi and some others to baptize in His name, teaches correct form and manner of baptism, Formal statement of particulars of His gospel, condemns contention  **MUST READ**

3 N 12-14 -- Christ commissions 12 Nephite apostles, teaches “the Sermon at the Temple” which is a refined version of the sermon on the mount

3 N 15-16 -- The Law of Moses Fulfilled in Christ, “Other sheep I have”

3 N 18 -- Christ institutes the Sacrament & teaches significance & blessings of observing sacrament worthily, Power of (personal & family) prayer to protect from Satan, “I know my sheep, and they are numbered”  **MUST READ**

3 N 27 -- Christ explains why His church must bear HIS name, Christ’s resurrection brings all men to stand before God to be judged, formal statement of doctrines of Gospel, must be washed in blood of Savior to enter into kingdom, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”  **MUST READ**

Mormon 9 -- Sinners more comfortable in Hell than with God, redemption from the fall, miracles

Ether 3 -- The Savior appears to the brother of Jared, nature of Christ, faith to become sons and daughters of God

Ether 12 -- Hope maketh an anchor to the souls of men & faith=hope for a better world, receive not a witness until after the trial of your faith, w/o faith God can do no miracle, "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.  I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."  **MUST READ**

Moroni 7 -- How to judge for ourselves, miracles, Faith, Hope, and CHARITY **MUST READ**MUST READ**MUST READ**

Moroni 8 -- Condemnation of false doctrine of child/infant baptism, “The first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins”

Moroni 10 -- “Moroni’s promise”, Spiritual Gifts, How to become perfect in Christ **MUST READ**

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Abuse and Forgiveness: Reconciling Safety and Sainthood.

Q:  Have you ever had to cut ties with someone because they were either abusive, unhealthy or manipulative? How have you applied the Atonement and forgiveness?

A:  When I was young I experienced years of systematic emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my father.  After my mom threw my dad out and we got a protective order, many members of my ward kept putting pressure on me to forgive my dad and let him back in my life.  They even went so far as to help him to violate the protective order on several occasions.  I kept insisting that I had forgiven my dad, but they would invariably and solemnly declare that I hadn't truly forgiven him, the implication being that I was a bad person because I (and my family with me) would not allow him to return to our home.  As a teenager I experienced a lot of self-doubt and wondered if I was sinning because my local church leaders whom I trusted and respected had basically informed me that I was a bad person for not allowing an abuser to return to a position of power over me. (Included in this group were young mens leaders, bishop's counselors, etc. but NOT the Bishop--thank God for a righteous judge in Israel!)

Fortunately I am older now, and I am able to understand that these brethren had no idea what they were talking about.  I can say this because I have researched this subject on my own and I am happy to report that the church holds the opposite of that bad counsel to be true, and that the church rightly acknowledges that to allow such a person back into your life could be potentially dangerous, and detrimental, even in the name of forgiveness.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Hidden Atonement Allegory in Philemon

A Verse-by-Verse Break-down of the Atonement Symbolism in Paul's Epistle to Philemon

al·le·go·ry/ˈaləˌgôrē/
Noun:  1) A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
            2)  The genre to which such works belong.

The epistle of Paul to Philemon contains an incredibly rich allegory concerning the power of Christ to reconcile man to God through his atonement.  I feel that applying an allegorical interpretation to this letter reveals a particularly significant insight into the apostle Paul’s fully developed understanding of and teachings about the gospel (and the atonement) of Jesus Christ.

I present here a breakdown of Paul’s epistle to Philemon, with all 25 verses broken down verse-by-verse and presented in bold type.  Many (but not all) of these verses are also accompanied by scriptures that support and expound on the principle being taught in Philemon as well as by my own commentary (in italics).  I have provided all of this in order to make plain the allegorical meaning behind the text.


THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO
PHILEMON

1  PAUL, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,

The Zondervan NIV study bible has this to say in its introduction to the epistle to Philemon:

    “Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, a believer in Colosse who, along with others, was a slave owner...One of his slaves, Onesimus, had apparently stolen from him (cf. v. 18) and then run away, which under Roman law was punishable by death.  But Onesimus met Paul [apparently during Paul’s incarceration in Rome] and through his ministry became a Christian (see v. 10).  Now he was willing to return to his master, and Paul writes this appeal to ask that he [Onesimus] be accepted as a Christian brother ( v.17).”

2  And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:


2 Corinthians 5:20  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Understand that from this point on Paul is speaking in the person of Christ-that is, he represents Christ-both in the sense that as an apostle Paul is an actual representative of Christ, and more particularly that Paul figuratively represents Christ for the purposes of this allegory.  Philemon in turn represents God, the injured party who has the right (according to justice) to seek redress for Onesimus’ transgressions, which in this case (and for the sake of the allegory) means death.  Onesimus represents fallen man, or in other words, you and I.  He (and we) has become estranged from the Master through transgression, and without intervention (to wit: mediation) from another Onesimus (and we) have no hope of reconciliation with his (our) estranged master and therefore must face death as the rightful penalty for his (our) crimes.  Fortunately for Onesimus (and us), Paul does intercede and (in his role as Christ) pleads for mercy on behalf of Onesimus and beseeches Philemon to accept him back into his household once again on the condition that Paul will pay Onesimus’ debt.  Paul cites the debt which he merits from Philemon in order to incite him to have mercy on Onesimus.  Rome represents the fallen world, and Philemon’s home represents heaven (specifically God’s throne).

Remember:

Paul: Christ
Philemon: God
Onesimus: You and I
Rome: The fallen world
Philemon’s household: Heaven/God’s household and throne
Death: Hell/consequences of sin


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The True Meaning of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son


Q: Why is there more rejoicing in Heaven over the one who comes back, then the 99 that have done their best their whole life? Luke 15:7. I think there is something I am not understanding here, can anyone help me out?

A: **The conclusion of this answer is marked **SHORT ANSWER, and so you may wish to skip ahead and consult that before you read the rest. However my argument will make more sense if you read the whole thing through.

 In order to fully understand what Christ meant when he said: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" it is important to examine the scriptural context, which Joseph Smith explained is one of the most important keys for understanding the meaning of any of Christ's parables:

 “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? … To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus” (in History of the Church, 5:261).

This saying was Christ's summation of His brief parable of the lost sheep and His transition as He began another, similar, parable about a lost piece of silver. He follows both of these with the parable of the prodigal son. As I mentioned before, context is everything, so what caused Him to launch into this seemingly rapid-fire litany of parables?

Let's examine the beginning of the chapter for the answer.

Luke 15:1-2  Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

The Pharisees and scribes condemned Jesus because he taught and associated himself with publicans (who were considered to be racial traitors) and other people whom the Pharisees and scribes had judged to be sinners. Another such instance is described in more detail a few chapters earlier.

Luke 5:27-32  And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

You might be interested to know that Levi is also called Matthew, the apostle and author of the Gospel. After Christ called him to discipleship, Levi hosted a great feast in His honor, which naturally was attended by many publicans. As a publican, Levi probably did not have many friends who were not also publicans. Publicans were tax collectors for the Roman Authority (or more typically King Herod) in Judea, and those that were Jewish were looked upon as race traitors and enemy collaborators. Publicans "were detested by the Jews, and any Jew who undertook the work was excommunicated." (LDS Bible Dictionary, 755) That is the reason why the members of the Jewish religious elite classed publicans with sinners-they were literally anathema among respectable Jews.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"If There Is No God Why Be Good?" Secular Morality Vs. Christian Morality and The Dangers of Moral Relativism


In this post I examine some of the faults and flaws inherent to atheism and moral relativism, and I also examine the real reasons why Christians elect to do what they do.  I wrote this post as a general response to many things that I have heard and seen concerning morality, moral relativism, and the respective immorality of atheism and Christianity as viewed by either side of the morality debate.  More particularly, I wrote my post in direct response to a selection from Richard Dawkin's book The God Delusion.  While I do attempt to refute some of his conclusions, I find that he raises several valid points which are worth considering by religious people, agnostics, and atheists alike.

I have deliberately avoided addressing the arguments of atheists in the past, as I do not consider it to be a productive use of my time, especially since I think that atheists and religious people should agree to disagree and get on with making the world a better place.  I chose to address this quote from Mr. Dawkins in this post in part because I think that he promotes some false assumptions that even some Christians may think that they believe, but I wrote it mainly because I believe his argument opens the door for the discussion of an important Christian principle.

"If there is no God why be good?  Posed like that, the question sounds positively ignoble.  When a religious person puts it to me this way (and many of them do), my immediate temptation is to issue the following challenge: "Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment?  that's not morality, that's just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap in your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought. As Einstein said, "if people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.'  Michael Shermer, in The Science of Good and Evil, calls it a debate stopper.  If you agree that, in the absence of God, you would 'commit robbery, rape, and murder', you reveal yourself as an immoral person, 'and we would be well advised to steer a wide course around you'.  If, on the other hand, you admit that you would continue to be a good person even when not under divine surveillance, you have fatally undermined your claim that God is necessary for us to be good.  I suspect that quite a lot of religious people do think religion is what motivates them to be good, especially if they belong to one of those faiths that systematically exploits personal guilt.

It seems to me to require quite a low self-regard to think that, should belief in God suddenly vanish from the world, we would all become callous and selfish hedonists, with no kindness, no charity, no generosity, nothing that would deserve the name of goodness."  (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 259)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Enduring Power of Charity

Q:  What does it mean, in practical terms, that Charity endureth forever?

A:  I think that to understand what Mormon meant when he told Moroni that "Charity...endureth forever" as it applies to us, we need to back up a few verses and look at the attributes of charity:

Moroni 7:45  And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

When Mormon describes these attributes, he is not just describing the characteristics of an abstract principle, nor is he solely describing the attributes of Christ and His life.  Mormon details the components of the pure love of Christ to the end that we can learn what it takes to shape our lives and our selves to resemble the life and person of Jesus Christ.

Moroni 7:47  But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

The whole point of the gospel is to help us to become like Christ so that we can gain eternal life.  The crowning principle of the gospel, and the most enduring attribute and quality of Christ's life is charity, and unless charity becomes our most defining attribute and quality as well we cannot truly become like Christ.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Is the Church Sexist? Are Men and Women Equal in the Church?

My friend K.M. sent me this thought-provoking question.

Q:  How come there aren't women in higher callings of the church?  I suppose I'm somewhat already convinced that the church is sexist. Based both on what I've observed and experiences I've had.

A:  The article that I have included, and which follows this brief preface, is the revised and somewhat shorter version of one that I wrote in 2010 to address a more general question about sexism in the church.  But as far as higher callings go: the young women and relief society and primary general presidencies are some of the highest callings in the church, and all of them are filled by women.

One other thing that is not in the attached article that I feel that I should point out is the person who asked me the question that prompted the article was a woman who was an elder in the Presbyterian church when I met her.  Obviously she was somewhat disconcerted to find that she could not be an elder in our church.  She asked many questions on the subject, but it was only through attending our church that she came to see that women do many things in our church that nobody but the ordained pastor, or special people whom he (or the congregation) appoints, do in many other churches (Those special people may include people like the youth pastor, or deacons (which is a position which is typically accorded greater prestige in other churches), or the church elders, etc, depending on the church).

Women teach church classes, both in relief society as well as to mixed groups such as sunday school, youth classes, and primary.

Women address the congregation: in prepared sermons and also in witnessing (what we call bearing our testimony) and prayers given over the pulpit.

Women hold all manner of callings, from ward librarian to Stake geneaology specialist (or whatever they call it), and everything in between.  Some of these callings involve leadership on the ward or stake level with the youth, with the women's organization of the church, the children's primary, etc.

Women who are leaders are a major component of ward councils (which meet at least monthly to make decisions and assignments that effect the good and the progress of the ward), and in this capacity they are to act and serve as one among equals.

Women are entitled to all of the blessings of temple worship and covenants, and in the temple they usually participate in ordinances alongside with, or at least parallel to, men.

In the final analysis, this friend of mine found that she could do more things as a simple member of our church than she was allowed to do as an elder in her old church. In the following video, Sheri Dew, who is president and CEO of the Church-owned Deseret Book Company, and a former counselor in the general Relief Society Presidency (that means for the whole church), explains quite eloquently the contrast between LDS women and women of other faiths when it comes to opportunities to serve and to lead in the church.


By comparison, many Christian churches are much less progressive in their treatment of women, especially those that conform to groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention (for example), which "ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service."  (Jimmy Carter, "Losing my religion for equality", National Times, July 15, 2009).  In fact it was after hearing about controversy over this question that my friend asked me the question that initially prompted me to write the attached article for my blog.

A woman who follows my facebook page (Studying The Scriptures) posted this insightful comment in response to this article (the one you are reading), and I felt that it applied so well to the subject that I needed to go back and incorporate what she said into my article (I do so with her permission).  After all, when discussing gender equality in the church, it would probably be wise to consult an actual Latter-day Saint woman on the issue.

"There is no calling greater than Mother, in my personal beliefs.   Not even the Prophet can carry and bear children.  And for those women who are unable to have children in this life; the innate characteristics of nurturing, compassion, organization and unconditional love are as powerful an influence as any calling. The General Presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary are influential, carry great responsibility and spiritual power. I do not believe there is any sexism in the organization of the Church, but I do believe there are men AND women within the Church that are selfish and do not have any idea what "Christ-like" is all about."  (Michelle Lenz)

Someday I plan to write an entry on my blog about the divide between the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ (in any age) and what I call "mormon culture" which usually bears little resemblance to actual church doctrine.  I do not deny that some mormons persist in a culture of sexism, but you will find that those that do so are acting contrary to the teachings and practices of the Church.  I think that if you will examine the evidence that I have provided below you will see that if someone is actually living according to the Gospel, and according to the teachings of prophets both ancient and modern, then they will know and understand that to place women in a 'subservient' role is to come out in bitter opposition to the truth and the will of God.

Here is where the edited and slightly shorter revised version of my blog article begins.  HERE is a link to my original article.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Does God Always Have to Spell Things out For us?



I wrote this in response to a specific question, in which the person sought advice on how to know when
(and whether it is appropriate) to make your own decisions out of your own knowledge without asking God for specific instructions or permission every single time.  They made the point that not only do we have the right to make our own decisions, but that God insists on it.  They also wanted to know what to do when the answer to your prayer is "I trust you. You decide."

I approached my response with these two seemingly contradictory passages of scripture in mind:

Psalms 3:5-6  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.


D&C 58:26-28  For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.  Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;  For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.  And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Here is my response(with slight editing for clarity's sake):

A:  This is a principle that requires a degree of spiritual maturity to truly master. I think that the Lord expects each of us to "do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness" because he knows that it is important for our personal and spiritual growth that we learn to act as "agents unto ourselves". Indeed, in many cases God may leave each of us to follow our own natural inclination, but our natural inclination is not (at least initially) always to seek the right thing, or the things of God, and so this necessitates that we first experience a profound change of heart. It becomes our responsibility to change our nature (through Christ) in order to correctly apply this principle, because only as a true disciple of Christ can we gain enough knowledge through the practice of faithful and persistent obedience to recognize and act upon the right choice without needing to be told.  As we gain this knowledge we will be better equipped to recognize when our natural inclinations are in line with God's own will (and what is right) and when they are not.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Three Pillars of Personal Testimony

We live in a world in which we are constantly assailed by the trials, temptations, opinions, philosophies, creeds, heartache, betrayal, and grief that are a part of this life.  Some of these things are incidental to a life lived in a fallen world, and some of these afflictions can be attributed to the determined assault of Satan.  In light of the fierce trials and temptations that we are called upon every day to face, it is crucial that we learn to build ourselves "upon the rock of our Redeemer".

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Overcome Temptation and Trials: Why the Sunday School Answers are not Enough



There is a misconception about the so-called Sunday school answers (prayer and scripture study and church attendance) that I wish to dispel:

The acts of prayer and scripture study and even church attendance, while vital components in our personal efforts to become more like Christ, do not of themselves confer upon anyone any kind of talismanic protection, be that from temptation, trial, or depredation.

Case in point:  it is common to hear people who are presented with a grievous spiritual challenge such as same gender attraction, or an addiction of some kind, etc.  who declare that they feel that if only they could pray even harder and be even more diligent in studying their scriptures then they might be able to "fix" themselves.  Their hope is that by being "more righteous than righteous" they can somehow demonstrate to God the sincerity of their desire to be rid of the "thorn in the flesh" which plagues them.  They are inevitably disappointed in this effort, which often leads to disillusionment and frustration on their part, and more often than not this leads them to give up on themselves and/or the church, or even God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is it a sin if I don’t go to church? Am I a bad person if I do not attend church regularly?


We have been commanded to attend church and to worship God on the Lord’s day in many places throughout the scriptures. One of the Big Ten is to keep the Sabbath day holy. The author of Hebrews (v. Hebrews 10:23-25) enjoins us as Christians to:

...Hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Paul goes on to exhort us to: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

A more specific set of instructions is contained in Doctrine and Covenants section 59:7-12 where the Lord commands:

Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.

Just because we have been commanded to attend church doesn’t mean that you should attend church just because you are afraid that you will be punished for skipping church. Compulsory church attendance defeats the purpose of going to church in the first place. I have found that there is a tendency among members of the LDS church to equate regular attendance with righteousness. This is often accompanied by the implicit conclusion that those who do not attend church regularly must therefore be wicked in some way. While it is assuredly true that those who are truly converted (and who therefore are striving to be as righteous as a flawed mortal can be) tend to attend church as regularly as is within their power (out of a sincere love and devotion to God), it does not necessarily follow that those who attend church regularly are, by default association, righteous by virtue of their regular attendance alone.

"Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed. By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?" (Donald L. Hallstrom, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church", Ensign May 2012)
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