Building understanding in 2017

My goal for 2017

A new year is upon us, and a new thought has entered my heart and mind. Ever since I was a youth, I’ve encountered people who want to save me from my faith, but who demonstrate an absolute misunderstanding of my faith. I’ve heard what I believe from the mouths of those who seem to only understand my beliefs through the lens of their own ideas. It’s like listening to someone from Paris describe New York while looking at it through a toilet-paper roll, standing on only one street corner. To me, their description of my faith sounds absurd.

This year, I’d like to help clear up some misunderstandings, for those who are willing to actually understand my faith. If that is you, then I welcome you, and hope that I can share my ideas with love. I have absolutely no desire to confront your faith. My goal isn’t to convert you (I’ll talk about that this year too.) My effort for 2017 with this website will be to present some aspects of the Mormon faith that seem to be skipped-over, misunderstood, or ignored by other Christians who want to correct but don’t want to comprehend. It’s my prayer that those people will find this website, and have a desire to actually expand their thinking.

Another hope for 2017

In conjunction with the goal stated above, I have a hope for 2017 that I pray will be fulfilled. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair share of animosity concerning my religion, I recently discovered that I harbor some fear in my own heart. I fear that as I reach out to understand the faith of other people, an effort that I sincerely want to make more fully, I will be rejected, even abused. In 2017, I want to overcome that fear.

In 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley, a man that I recognize as a prophet, said this:

“We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work’”

Recently I have pondered on what it takes to recognize the good in all people. What does it take to recognize the good in all churches? If I am to ask people to bring everything that is good and join me in my faith, then I feel I need to understand what is good in their faith. To do that, I need to reach out and understand.

In 2017, I hope and pray to find a way to overcome my fears and experiences, and attend more worship services of other faiths. I hope and pray that I’ll be able to talk frankly and honestly with people, and that they will feel safe doing the same with me. Through those efforts, I hope to gain and to give understanding, and to end the year stronger and more rooted in my faith than I ever have been.

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Mormons and the Symbol of the Cross

jesus-crucifixion-cross-forgiveness-golgotha_1154682_inlYou might have noticed that LDS chapels don’t have a cross on top of them, like some other Christian churches do. LDS people don’t tend to wear crosses as jewelry very often, nor do we tend to decorate with them. Because we are different from some in this regard, it is a subject that is worth spending some time and energy on.

It is important to understand that Christians in general, that is to say all of the churches and groups that profess a belief in Christ, don’t necessarily agree on the use of crosses in jewelry or decor. In various sources online, you can read about the history of the use of the cross, which is more colorful than one might imagine. The early Protestants viewed the cross as a symbol of pagan idolatry, for example, and did not use it. The early LDS church used crosses in monuments and in decor. The use of the cross has changed over the years, as the perspective of different denominations has changed.

The Bible doesn’t give a lot of direction as to the use of symbols of faith. We have the 2nd commandment, which instructs us not to create and worship idols. But not all symbols are idols; take for example the brazen serpent that the children of Israel were asked to create. In regards to the word of God, the important thing seems to be that we avoid worshiping created objects, and focus our oblations on God.

The “Mormons” of today, by and large, adopt a more culturally influenced approach when it comes to the use of crosses in jewelry and statuesque decor. While the early LDS church had no problem with crosses, the 20th century brought a few prominent church leaders that strongly opposed the use of the cross. Their viewpoints were adopted by the general congregation as directives, and the church ever since has discouraged the wearing of crosses. There is no scripture nor official doctrine to support that cultural perspective, but it is nevertheless the “standard” in the current generation.

It is interesting to note that the LDS church and its members don’t have any problems with paintings of the cross or Jesus on the cross. Such paintings are created by Mormon artists frequently, and can be found hanging in LDS homes, and LDS buildings. Mormons do not find the cross offensive. Though the cross itself was a device of torture and death in the time of the Romans, we recognize and understand that today it has become a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The cross of today is a reminder of what our Lord did for us. Along with His suffering on the cross, Mormons like to focus on His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Both of these events represent, to us, the pinnacle of the earth’s creation, the great atoning sacrifice.

I have heard it said by those that don’t wear a cross that they feel it represents only the death of Jesus. I have heard it said by those that do wear one that the empty cross represents the resurrection and the new life of Jesus. I have heard it said by those that do not wear a cross that it is an instrument of torture. I have heard it said by those that do wear a cross that it represents what Jesus was willing to suffer on our behalf.

Rather than judging the motives of others, or worrying about what anyone chooses to wear in living their faith, my prayer is that we can all begin to more fully recognize that we are trying to be worshipers of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to understand everything that I understand because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To my brothers and sisters who choose to wear a cross as a symbol of their faith, I extend my full and complete acceptance and all of my love. Your expression of faith are beautiful to me.

If you come to our chapels and worry that the cross is not displayed, I invite you to turn your attention to the paintings of Jesus Christ that you will find in almost all of our builds and in almost all of the homes of our members. I invite you to open our hymn books, and note the hundreds of songs about our Lord and Savior. And if you choose to wear a cross, know that you will be welcomed and loved.

What is Mormonism?

Many people have heard of “Mormons,” but not everyone knows what that really means. To summarize, “Mormon” is a proper name of a person that was born around 300 A.D. This individual compiled a variety of records into a single volume, which was translated and published in 1830 as “The Book of Mormon.” People who believe in the contents of that book were derisively nicknamed “Mormons” in the 1800’s.

Those “Mormons,” of which I am one, are actually Christians who believe in Jesus Christ, the Bible, Prophets, Apostles, etc. We belong to a church called “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” distinguishing ourselves as members of the same Church that Christ organized, but in modern times. We often call ourselves “LDS” or refer to the “LDS Church” for convenience, but even that detracts from the simple fact that we belong to the Church of Christ, or the Christian Church.

That being said, even some Christians still don’t understand or perhaps believe that a “Mormon” can be a Christian. They recognize that we understand certain points of doctrine differently than they do, and draw arbitrary lines in the sands of Christianity to exclude. In my own personal experience, some members of other Christian groups don’t understand what we “Mormons” believe at all.

The LDS Church has noted that “the Church has the responsibility to publicly and clearly articulate its official teachings.” Since the church has already done that themselves, I will not regurgitate everything they said here. Instead, I invite you to read the article linked below for yourself. If you have questions, I invite you to ask them here using the link at the top. I’ll do my best to provide my own insights and understanding.

Mormonism 101: What is Mormonism?

Obviously, I am simply a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I don’t speak for the Church officially, nor can I possibly answer every question or concern. What I can do is testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world. I can testify that through His Holy Spirit, we can all know that we are children of God. I can testify that Jesus Christ died for each of us, and that we can all take part in His love and grace.

I can also hope and pray that my fellow Christians will understand my heart, and join hands with me in my belief in the Savior, in sustaining and defending the faith in an ever darkening world. We can all work together to make the world better, and to spread the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Why did Jesus Christ come to earth?

If I could suggest one article for everyone reading this to look at, it would be this one entitled “Accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” While I certainly learn and grow from sharing my thoughts on this blog, nothing I share is particularly unique; I really just strive to share some of my beliefs, and some of the Gospel as I understand it, in hopes of reaching out to those who don’t quite understand my faith. The article linked above is more than my ramblings can offer- it is clarity and authority on the most important subject known (or unknown) to man.

In the Christian world, we often talk about being more like Jesus Christ. Frequently, we’ll choose an attribute or teaching of Jesus Christ to emulate, and work toward understanding it and practicing it in our lives. Currently, I’m attempting to study charity, or “the pure love of Christ.” In so doing I hope to find ways to obtain more of this attribute, and ways to exercise it in my life to the benefit of all around me, and to the benefit of my own soul.

But what I find is that I fall short. And so this week, with my own goals in mind and with Easter upon us, I asked myself “what are the reasons that Jesus Christ came to the earth?” His entire life was a grand act of charity, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice, the atonement.  Jesus Christ died for us, so that we might be freed from the burden of sin, and capable of returning to our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ also lived for us. He could have perhaps accomplished the atonement in some other way, without the public ridicule, torture, and abuse. But he did not. He came among His covenant people, and lived. He was born among them. He grew up among them. When he was of age, he taught among them, healed them, and worked with them. He organized His church among them. He showed them “a more excellent way.”

Jesus Christ lead by example. When we strive to obtain the attributes of Christ, do we stop and realize with gratitude that we are following an example, a pattern that was set forth in clarity and with humility and purpose? We see through a glass, darkly, and yet because of Christ’s charity, we don’t always have to walk in darkness. We have someone to follow.

As I celebrate Easter, in spite of my failings and shortcomings, I want to remember that Christ came to this earth not only to die for my sins, but to show me how to live. I want to keep His teachings forever in my sight, and always strive to live up to them. That will include picking myself up, sometimes day after day, month after month, or even year after year, and try to do better.

I am thankful that in all of this, I am not alone. I know that Jesus Christ Himself has an interest in seeing me succeed, and that He will help me through the Holy Spirit. I pray the same for everyone else out there that has any desire whatsoever to do better or be better than they are.

Charity, the pure love of Christ

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Paul taught the church exactly how important charity is. I honestly can’t read his words without being moved, nor without pondering on the absolute magnitude of what he says. Certainly as Christians, we desire to have faith, understanding, knowledge, and prophecy. What follower of Christ wouldn’t like to have the faith necessary to do all things for Him, even moving mountains if needed? And yet we could perhaps have all of those things, and if we didn’t have love, we would be nothing.

And what true follower of Christ doesn’t strive to help the poor, and give up their time and energy and resources to do what Christ asks of them? And yet if we do all of this without love, we are nothing.

For those who read here but are not of our faith, I invite you to read the words of Mormon on charity. The words were recorded about 400 A.D. by Mormon’s son Moroni, and they were among the last words recorded by this man before he died. Mormon addresses his words thusly in verse 3:

Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.

That is to say, these words are for all who believe in Christ and his grace. To me, that means that these words are for all of Christianity. The chapter is one of the best in the Book of Mormon, and it truly speaks to those who have faith in Christ. As the chapter closes, Mormon has this to say concerning charity (emphasis added):

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail-

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.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

Charity is the Greatest Gift

Mormon taught that charity is the greatest gift of all. When we’re looking at spiritual gifts, we must not overlook charity. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 we see a list of spiritual gifts that Paul taught the church about, but too frequently we forget that chapter 12 was followed by chapter 13, in which Paul taught about the greatest gift, or what he called “a more excellent way”! It is no mistake that Paul’s teachings on Charity follow his teachings on spiritual gifts; charity is the greatest spiritual gift we can seek.

With that in mind, I feel it is important to apply the teachings in chapter 12 to the teachings that follow in chapter 13. Specifically, Paul taught that:

  1. Spiritual gifts are given to one that all may benefit, and not just for the benefit of the one with the gift.
  2.  Spiritual gifts are “given” and not earned. They are literally gifts from God. We can strive to develop them, and we can ask for them in prayer, but they are gifts given according to God’s will.
  3. Spiritual gifts are given, received, and used through the Spirit.
  4. Spiritual gifts are given to the Church of Christ.
  5. We are not to boast or feel more important because of our gifts.

So as we seek the “more excellent way” of charity, we should remember that charity is a gift, give and exercised through the Spirit, for the benefit of others, and is always coupled with humility.

Pray for Charity

Mormon taught that we should “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” that we might receive the gift of charity. Though our “works” can certainly help change our hearts, true charity is a gift. When we strive to do all the will of the Father, by following His Son, we will develop a heart that is ready to receive that gift. We will also be eligible for the companionship of the Holy Spirit, which is the only way we can receive the gift and use it.

We must pray for the gift of charity, with all the energy we have.

Act with Love

As we go about our days, interacting with our fellowman, we need to make sure that we’re acting with love. Our actions may be bold or mild, immediate or longsuffering, reproving or commending; but no matter what we’re doing, we need to do it with love. Our Savior gave us the ultimate example throughout His life here on earth. He was bold, strong, and deliberate. He worked hard, taught forcefully, and withstood evil. Yet everything he did, and every interaction he had, was filled with love for all men.

It is my prayer that I can remember His example, and that I can pray for that spiritual gift that can lift others more than anything else. It is my testimony that we can all do this.

 

 

 

Boldness with Love

In the Book of Mormon, 4th Nephi chapter 1, we read about a people who for about 200 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, lived in harmony. In that chapter, it notes that “there was no contention among all the people, in all the land.” In fact, in that same chapter, it notes that lack of contention three different times. In verse 15, we find out why: “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.”

In my last post, I introduced the topic of standing up for truth. In this post, I’d like to talk about the importance of having a heart filled with the love of God as we stand for truth.

Christ taught us very clearly that we are to “love one another” (John 13:34) and even that we are to “love our enemies” (Matt 5:44). Now, those we witness to, or even contend with, are not necessarily our enemies, nor should we necessarily consider them as such. But even if it came to that, it is not an excuse to not have love in our hearts for all those around us. Christ left us no room to say “I don’t need to love that person.”

Ultimately, any time we stand as a witness for truth, we should be doing it with love. When Christ boldly withstood the Pharisees, He must have hoped that His words could in some way help that “generation of vipers.” Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33 testify of that hope. These Pharisees were children of God, and candidates for salvation. When Christ was asked to judge the woman taken in adultery, He corrected her gently and instructed her to “sin no more,” but it is entirely clear that His heart was full of love and compassion for her. All of Christ’s actions testified of His eternal love for all of us, even the ones that require correct, judgment, and act as “vipers.”

In our own lives, we might find it necessary to stand up or truth, or even to correct. When we do, we should be sure to start from a place of love. In Hebrews 12:6 we learn that God corrects those whom He loves. The verse testifies that the correction of love is in fact a witness that God loves us! How much more should our correction and testimony, when needed, be a witness of our love, always.

I believe that it is not only OK to be bold, it is sometimes critical. There are those in the world who need to hear a bold message, or they will never be reached and their hearts never softened so that they can understand the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf. If we are too concerned about fights, debates, and even contention, to stand as witnesses of Christ, we’re missing an opportunity to show our love for those around us. It is certainly not as easy for us to do all things properly, as Christ did, especially when it comes to emotional interactions. But we must do our best, and we must do it with love.

Standing for Truth

Jesus Christ said (Matt 10:34-36):

34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, with its precepts, promises, and commands, is by nature a polarizing thing. It sets people “at variance” with each other as a result of it’s requirements. If you look at these verses from a historical perspective, you note that Jesus was talking to people who would be abandoning their religion and traditions, alienating themselves from their Jewish society. But even today, without that context, the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to “set at variance” those who call themselves Christians, with many others who do not agree with their ideals.

I’ve often wondered why some people who are not Christian have such a problem with those who are. For whatever reason, they can’t leave others alone to worship as they choose. In the Book of Mormon there are a few verses that I believe help characterize this enmity

2 Nephi 28:28 And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.

1 Nephi 16:2  And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

Each of us knows, in some degree, the difference between right and wrong. When we stand in opposition to what we know, we are fighting against truth. Enter pride, what has been called the “universal sin.” In Proverbs 13:10 we read:

10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.

Through our pride, we contend. We contend with our own thoughts and understanding, we contend with other individuals or groups, and we contend with entire religions. Rather than leaving others to worship as they might, we feel the need to argue, fight, and sometimes even oppress and persecute others.

The question I ask myself is one that many Christians ask themselves in some form: how do I combat persecution, and when is it right to stand for truth as a defender? I would like to address that in a future post, because I believe that the topic deserves more attention than I am presently capable of giving it. I believe that the battle between good and evil is a battle, and that it has existed since the foundations of this World. I believe that we must fight, and be valiant in our efforts against evil. I don’t know how that concords with the way Jesus Christ intends for us to treat those around us. Certainly, we can love and still correct, we can be humble and still be firm.

I look forward to any comments that anyone may have, and to broaching this topic more in the near future.

 

Desire, Will, and Action

Desire

I recently wrote about “desire” – an internal “want” to long, hope, or wish for something (Webster).  More specifically I wrote about a “desire to do good continually.” I wish to expand that thought to include more depth and meaning, and to express more of my own desires for growth in a more cohesive way.

In Proverbs 3:13-20 it reads (KJV, emphasis added):

13 ¶Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.

14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.

15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.

16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.

17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.

19 The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.

20 By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.

The biggest challenge I encounter when meditating on the “desires of my heart” is how I might direct and control them. It is one thing to say I wish to desire only good, but in reality my weak human heart desires much more than just good. From time to time I find that my desires aren’t what they should be. Sometimes I desire to be lazy, sometimes to shirk my duties and responsibilities, sometimes to get something for nothing. I know what it means to “desire good” but I don’t always know how to focus that concept.

The scriptures above show me my that my desires should be focused on getting wisdom and understanding. According to Solomon, there is nothing I could desire that would be of more value that wisdom and understanding, and in fact nothing that even compares. Wisdom and understanding are likened unto a “tree of life,” which we learn the symbolic meaning of in 1 Nephi 11:21-22 (emphasis added):

21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

Notice how the word “desire” helps correlate these two passages. We should focus our desires on wisdom and understanding, which are a “tree of life”; and we see that the symbolism of the “tree of life” is in the love of God, something that is more desirable than anything.

Going back to Proverbs, it is amazing to note that in verses 19-20 we see that the heavens and earth were founded and established through wisdom and understanding. What power and potential! And if all things were made by the Word, which is Jesus Christ, as John stated, then that Power could also be Jesus Christ. What better evidence of the love of God toward men than Jesus Christ, and what better symbol of understanding and wisdom to focus the desires on!

Will

To me, desire and will are interconnected, but not the same thing. A linguist may argue, but speaking strictly of spiritual interpretation, I view desire as something that is born in my heart, and will as the solidification of desire. First I desire something, then I decided and it becomes my will.

Jesus Christ taught many things, but one thing that he taught repeatedly was this (John 6:28, KJV, emphasis added):

38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

The Savior taught this over and over, that He was here to do the will of the Father, that he could only do the will of Him who send Him, and “thy will be done.”  We were shown the example of One who would always do the will of the Father, and we were told to do likewise (Matthew 7:21, KJV, emphasis added):

21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

During perhaps the most difficult time of His mortal life, that is the suffering in the garden and His death on the cross, Jesus Christ demonstrated just how far his will was swallowed up in the will of the Father. While He accomplished the atonement, the single most important event in all of eternal history, Jesus said (Matthew 26:39,42, KJV, emphasis added):

39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

What I find interesting in these sacred verses is that during this incredibly difficult ordeal, Jesus Christ demonstrated a desire for things to be different, but an absolute will to do what the Father asked. He pleaded for the Father to “let the cup pass,” yet remained dedicated to doing whatever the Father required.

Action

Action is where our desires that have solidified into will find expression. Action is where our thoughts demonstrate themselves, and our accountability becomes complete. To paraphrase a multitude of wise ideas that I’ve read from many authors, what we do is the ultimate measure of who we really are, the manifestation of our character.

When I set out to meditate, pray, and ponder on “desire” and “will” it was really because I wanted to find a way to change my “actions.” I realized that trying to change my actions is like trying to hack at the leaves of a tree in order to remove it from your yard. The leaves take care of themselves if you hack at the trunk. We change our desires, then our will, and then our actions.

But what happens when we have big ideas, grand desires, yet our actions don’t ever fall into place? I encounter this frequently, especially in projects and efforts that are protracted or delayed. At the beginning of the undertaking I am full of energy and prospects. But then as time goes by, I lose steam. Sometimes, I even lose the will to act.

In the Book of Mormon there is a remarkable young man named Moroni. In about 74BC, at the age of 25, Moroni became the leader of all the armies of his people. He was a righteous man that turned to God for his direction, and who looked forward with faith to the coming of Christ. In all that he did he was valiant, active, and committed.

Between the years 74BC and about 57BC, Moroni lead his armies through several great wars against a people that hated his own, and that did not believe in God. In the course of those battles, Moroni’s people themselves had internal conflicts that lead to the temporary overthrow of their government. During that time, Moroni and his armies did not receive the support, both in troops and in supplies, that the government was obligated to provide.

In response to the want and lack of their armies, and before he was aware that the government had been overthrown, Moroni sent a letter to the leader of the government in which he corrected him for his lack of action. The story is a phenomenal one, with many great insights, but I wish to only touch on a few words. For those that would read the whole account, you can read it here (read chapters 43-63, but the letter mentioned above is in chapter 60.)

As I read chapter 60 recently, my attention was drawn to a few verses in particular. Remember, in this letter he was demanding that the government maintain the armies, and send supplies and help. He was also correcting the government leaders for their inaction, and asking them what the cause for their laziness was. Note some of the wording as I pull a few verses out of context (Chapter 60:10, emphasis added):

10 And now, my beloved brethren—for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings—

When I read this it hit me: we can’t wait for something external to “stir” us to action. We ought to be stirring ourselves. Verse 11 continues:

11 Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.

Here we see that Moroni was pointing out that we can’t just sit around and expect God to do everything for us. We can’t expect God to solve our problems or make our lives better, if we’re not willing to act, or to stir ourselves. The idea came up again in verse 24 of the same chapter:

24 And now, except ye do repent of that which ye have done, and begin to be up and doing, and send forth food and men unto us, and also unto Helaman, that he may support those parts of our country which he has regained, and that we may also recover the remainder of our possessions in these parts, behold it will be expedient that we contend no more with the Lamanites until we have first cleansed our inward vessel, yea, even the great head of our government.

The phrase “being to be up and doing” stood out to me. It’s the same idea: we have to act, stirring ourselves, and be doing good, not just thinking about it. He touches the idea one more time in verse 29:

29 Behold it is time, yea, the time is now at hand, that except ye do bestir yourselves in the defense of your country and your little ones, the sword of justice doth hang over you; yea, and it shall fall upon you and visit you even to your utter destruction.

Again, Moroni is demanding that these people “stir” themselves. In my own life, I think I wait for motivation to come from an external source, and then when that motivation comes, I expect it to continue indefinitely, giving me the desire to act. In fact, reality is quite different. Motivation may come from external sources from time to time, and desire might burn brightly at the beginning of a work, but neither motivation nor desire should be required for us to “bestir” ourselves in doing good.

My hope in learning these things is that I might be able to take the good things that I know I need to do in life, and do them. I hope to be able to use my desires, will, and abilities to stir myself into action, without waiting for anyone else to do it for me. I pray that I might be able to hold on to my inspirations, personal revelations, and even my dreams and aspirations, and propel myself forward in doing all that I can to achieve them. I know that this is God’s will for me on this earth, to become more like His Son, to help others, and to do all that I can do, and I know that He will help me in my efforts.

 

FDREL122 L03 Lyman

Desire to Do Good

To paraphrase a variety of philosophies, writings, and even scriptures that touch on the matter, I would like to put forth the premise that our thoughts become our desires, and our desires eventually become our actions. The book “As a Man Thinketh” takes this a few steps further to observe that our actions eventually become our habits, and our habits become our character. For the purpose of this topic, I would like to focus on the birthplace of our life’s works: our desires.

I believe that most people, in most things, are basically good. But I also believe that we all “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) I don’t believe that those sins and shortcomings are born in an instant, or spring up out of us spontaneously; I believe that our desires have to be in the wrong place first, before we sin.

In about 124 B.C., a people that had been taught about God’s laws and instructed in everything relating to the Gospel came to a critical point in their faith where they had to truly choose in their hears whether the would do good, or not. They were asked outright how they would choose, and they chose to follow God. In the Book of Mormon, the book of Mosiah Chapter 5 verse 2, we can read why they so chose [emphasis added]:

…because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Now, these people didn’t start out with a desire to do good continually. They first had thoughts, instruction, and experience. And finally, the Spirit of the Lord changed their natures, their desires, toward good. The end that they arrived at is one that every Christian seeks, and one that I am seeking continually.

Like all humans that roam this earth, I have sinned and fallen short. I have been in places where my thoughts and desires were not good, but evil. I have experienced those things, and I can honestly say they never lead to joy or happiness. Regardless of how the world views good and evil, my own thoughts, learning, and experience burn an indelible impression of good versus evil in my heart. I know for sure that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10)

Luckily, I have also learned that I have the power to control my actions. That power starts in my thoughts, and then extends into my desires. My goal is to become like those who have had a “mighty change of heart” and have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” To achieve that goal, I realize that I must start with my thoughts, and then my desires.

As I work on controlling my thoughts with the aim of controlling my actions, and even my habits and character, I am coming to realize that I have metrics and indicators that can help me along the way. Specifically, my desires can be a measure to me of how well I am doing at controlling my thoughts. If my desires are in the wrong place, then my thoughts are in the wrong place, because that is where my thoughts are born. If my desires are wrong, the solution isn’t to fight against my desires (though, that may certainly be required as a stop-gap measure), but rather to determine where my thoughts have gone wrong, and make the correction there.

At a level, all of my desire is to do good, and live with God after this life. Much of what I aim for flows from there. But at another level, I fall short. That is my nature, as it is the nature of all that are here in this life. For that, feeling bad will do almost no good. Instead, I intend to feel good about my overarching desires, and work diligently on the rest of my desires that are in opposition to that, starting with “the thoughts of my heart.” I know that as I do that, I will come closer and closer to my Savior, and the example He has put forth for me.

 

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Moments of clarity on life’s path

As a microcosm for our decision making and consistency, let’s look for a brief moment at some statistics about how people move through their college experience. It is notable that statistically about 50% of people entering college have not even decided on a major. After choosing a major, 50% to 70% of all college students will change that major at least once, and the majority will change it at least 3 times before graduating. When they are done with college, less than half pursue a career that is related to their major.
We walk a path in life, much like we walk a path through college. We don’t always know where it leads, and we can’t always tell in the beginning specifically where we want to end up at the end of the path. Frequently our path changes as we progress, mature, and learn.
One of the greatest challenges we may is having clarity on life’s path. For a variety of reasons, we can’t always see the end from the beginning. Sometimes our lack of clarity comes from a lack of effort on our part, or a lack of conviction. Other times, our lack of clarity comes as a result of the efforts of the enemy of our soul, who constantly strives to cloud our path with darkness.
Imagine with me that you are walking on a path, and that you can see a small way in front of you, but that most of what is around and ahead of you is clouded with a thick foggy mist. You trust you are on the right path, and you set off on the path that you expected would take you where you wanted to go, but you can’t see the end. In a moment, the mist parted suddenly, and your path was clear and illuminated far into the distance. This lasted for only a moment before the fog closed back in around you, but for that instant, you had a clear vision of where you were going, and of the path you were on.
As I pondered on this post, my mind was drawn back to some concepts that I’ve read in the scriptures. First, I’d like to quickly walk through some scriptures in the New Testament, that help us understand the idea of a clouded path and how it occurs:
1 John 2:11 – the idea that spiritual darkness can “blind our eyes”
John 12:35 – the idea that darkness “can come upon us” and that “he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.”
Luke 1:79 – the idea that we can “sit in darkness” in “shadow”
Luke 22:53, Colossians 1:13 – the idea that there is a “power of darkness” or that darkness can have power over us
John 3:19 – “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”

The Book of Mormon drives the point home perhaps even a little more clearly. I’d like to share just two scriptures from that book, that present and explain the idea of a “mist of darkness” that can cloud our path through life. Both of the following are metaphorical:

1 Nephi 12:17
And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost
1 Nephi 8:23
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
This “darkness” or these “mists of darkness” that are around us are real. They are a function of the reality that we are here on earth to “walk by faith” and to be tested, to see if we will do as the Lord asks us to do. Sometimes the mists are caused by our sin, and sometimes they are caused by the enemy of our soul. They are his tool.
Moments of clarity are real as well, but they are by definition only momentary. The fog can encircle us again after we’ve had these moments of clarity, and can cause us to question whether or not we are on the correct path. Unlike our physical senses such as our sight, which once having seen the end of the path we can trust almost completely even if vision is obscured, we have a much harder time trusting the memory of our spiritual experiences. When our moments of clarity are gone, we have to have faith that they were ever real to begin with, and that faith pushes us forward.
Even though we can’t expect to walk the paths of life with a constant burning clarity, we can pray for clarity when we need it, and expect that God will answer that prayer. Once He has given us that clarity, even if it is only for a moment, we can call upon the memory of that gift from Him, and ask Him to renew our faith in that clarity that was once given.
I know that God lives, and that He cares about each of us. I don’t always have clarity in my purpose or path, but at times, God has revealed my path to me. I believe that He cares what I do with my life, and that he loves each of us and cares about each of us in the same way. If we will lean on Him more fully, in prayer and trust and faith, he will light our path so that we won’t have to walk in darkness.