Monday, May 19, 2014

One Step At A Time

The walk of discipleship is not always easy.  Often, the Lord will only give you a small piece of the puzzle at a time, or only will let you see one step into the dark.  I suffer from an acute case of pride because I always want to be right.  When it comes to the word of the Lord, I want to make sure that I am doing what God wants me to do, and when I don't know for sure that what I'm doing is right, I have to really push myself to do it.

I recently felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone.  I felt good about the position I was taking, but there were risks in having the conversation.  A couple of days before I had to meet with this person, I got down on my knees and asked the Lord to help me know for certain that I was serving Him, that this conversation was what He wanted me to do.

He responded by showing me a sign to know that I was doing His will.  I was grateful for this, but I still didn't know why I was doing it.  And the Lord refused to tell me.  I had the conversation yesterday, and it did not go as well as I would have liked.  But after I had a good night's sleep and pondered the situation for a while, it dawned on me that this unpleasant conversation had indeed led me to my next step, and I could see why the Lord instructed me to do this.  This event led to someone's eyes being opened more widely to truth, and gave me an understanding of some things that will be coming in the future.  It also caused me to realize some things that I need to do to obtain greater blessings from heaven.

We all walk in this life one step at a time.  Sometimes we are given a view of many steps that we will take, or even an end destination.  Other times, we barely get a glimpse of the next step.  And the hardest ones of all are where we are not certain that the step we are supposed to take is even there.  We just trust that it is there.

Our Savior loves us and will help us through these times of trust, if we will just let Him.  I write this to remind myself more than anything else.  If He will give me an obvious sign just at the moment that I need it, He will give you what you need.  Trust Him and only Him.  He is the path, the destination, and the transportation.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Church Is Not The Church

I've said before that one of my all-time favorite quotes is from Rush Limbaugh.  He often says "Words mean things."  How true this.  Many words have certain connotations and evoke images and associations in our minds.  For example, when I speak of a "company," you probably imagine Ford, Wal-Mart, General Electric, or some similar corporation.  You might also imagine the company you work for.  In any event, you most likely think of an institution, because that is the most common way we think of companies in our enlightened, Western culture.

But consider that the word company is also used to describe a group of people.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines company as "a group of persons or things."  It is a correct definition, but probably not what you normally think of when that word is used.

In the world of Mormonism, the CHURCH seems to be central in our lives.  For many of us, particularly those of us who live in Utah and have been surrounded by the Church and Church culture for our entire lives, everything we do is probably influenced in one way or another by the Church.  Our friends and family relationships are also defined in terms of the Church.  Because of our association with the Church, we also have a unique vocabulary.  Elder, Brother, Activity Days, Young Men, Young Women, Relief Society, Bishop, President, ward council meeting, ward, stake, GA, Gs (for you oldsters out there), fetch, dang, green jell-o with carrots.  All of these words should evoke certain images and associations in your mind.

Well, that presents a problem.  There is a tendency to take words that have certain associations and meanings to them, and assume that those same meanings and associations are universal.  But consider the idea that the meanings and mental associations from certain words are not static in time or space, or from culture to culture.  I dare you to go to England or Australia and ask someone where you can buy a fanny pack.

It should come as no surprise that some words used in Joseph Smith's time carry a different meaning than they do today.  For example, the word "interest" meant something different than it does today.  (Which might prompt me to do a tithing post some time.)  Likewise, the first definition listed in the 1828 dictionary for the word "beetle" is a heavy wooden mallet.

The Book of Mormon is a book about a culture and civilization that is long dead. They descended from Jews, although the second generation had little understanding of the ways of the Jews.  There were also elements of Egyptian culture, and certainly the peoples already living on the American continents had their own cultures.  I think it is dangerous to assume that all the words we see mean exactly the same thing as they do today.

Well, finally I'm getting around to the subject of this post.  Church.  Church surrounds us in this modern culture, but I would like to suggest that when you read about the "Church" in the scriptures, that you should STOP thinking about the institution.  Like the word company, the word church ought to be viewed as a group of people.

Let's take a look at the scriptures that help us understand this:

D&C 10:67  "Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church."

Moroni 4:2  "And they did kneel down with the church, and pray to the Father in the name of Christ..."

1st Nephi 14:10  "And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth."

Clearly these are all examples of the word "church" being used to describe a group of people rather than an institution.  I would submit that EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of the word "church" in the Book of Mormon should be viewed this way.  What an astounding difference it makes.  It personalizes the commandments of the Savior.  It personalizes the love of the Father, the Son, and the various prophets in the Book of Mormon for the children of men.

God does not love institutions.  God loves people.  God loves YOU.  I bring this up because we as Mormons have this unfortunate tendency to define our relationship with God in terms of our relationship with the Church.  To echo the words of Dieter Uchtdorf, I urge you to "Stop it."  Your relationship with the Lord is independent of the Church.  The Lord's relationships with every man, woman, and child is independent of the Church.

Taking this stand can help us to have empathy and compassion for those who do not belong to our Church, or those who have left for one reason or another.  For some, the Church becomes a source of pride.  How often do we think we "the chosen people?"

This concept can also help us to unwittingly put the Church or its leaders between us and God.  You must have your own relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved.  Your relationship with the Church is not your relationship with God.  The fact that you have participated in ritual ordinances in the "true Church" does not get you any closer to Him who is your King.

Next time you go to "Church", consider that you are participating in fellowship with people, not receiving blessings from an impersonal institution.  Consider that you are gathering with your fellow men to build them up, to encourage them in their journeys to gain salvation, to help them.  You need not be part of a "Church" to do that, but you do need serve in the church.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Holy Ghost Is Not Better Than God

Denver Snuffer has said before (paraphrasing) that belief is associated with the Holy Ghost, faith is associated with angels, and knowledge is associated with God Himself.  I have pondered a lot about what this means, and today I had a bit of an epiphany while responding to a comment on a discussion forum.

There is a commonly believed idea that a testimony that comes from the Holy Ghost is superior to testimony that comes from angels or from the Lord Himself.  This idea is FALSE!  Do not believe it.  If you content yourself with the Holy Ghost without seeking the presence and testimony of God Himself, you damn yourself.

This idea goes at least as far back as Joseph Fielding Smith.  It is not surprising to me that he made the following comment:

“When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even of the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 2:151).

It would seem that the author had a different understanding of who and what the Holy Ghost is than I do.  How can he say that the witness of the Holy Ghost is greater than having Jesus Himself appear unless he has experienced these things and can judge between them?  It saddens me that this doctrine is taught in our gospel "doctrine" classes.  Oh, how the Lord must weep at this.  This  idea causes people to stop at a witness of the Holy Ghost rather than pressing forward to stand in the presence of the Son.  In essence, by following this belief you deny the fullness of the gospel.

This goes back to the comments on my last post about belief, faith, and knowledge.  If the Holy Ghost tells you that Jesus lives, you have belief. You believe that Jesus lives, but you have no proof. If an angel testifies that Jesus lives, you have faith. You have acted in such a manner that a being who has been in the presence of Jesus has testified of it to you. You have an eyewitness testimony, which is greater than mere belief. If Christ testifies that He lives, you have knowledge, you have proof that He lives because you have seen Him.

Which is better to you? For me, I will choose knowledge over faith or belief.   You cannot honestly say that it is better to know Christ from a distance (by the Holy Ghost) than it is to know Him in person. Knowing Christ is the very definition of eternal life. Until you KNOW Him, you do not have knowledge and you do not have eternal life.