31 December 2008

Fasting and Prayer, Part 4

"Thy righteousness shall go before thee." What does this mean? I believe that this is related to the first promise, that the light of the Lord will be with us. His light will shine in our countenances. People, at some level, are aware of the light in a person's countenance. Some people are particularly radiant. Their good works, their righteousness goes before them. The Savior is a good example of this. He could not go anywhere without people coming to see Him, usually to be healed. His works were known throughout Israel. People will know and hear of our goodness, our righteousness, before they meet us, if we follow the teachings and commandments of the Savior. This promise also has a different meaning. The Lord not only is the source of our righteousness, He is Righteousness. It is He who goes before our face, protecting us from onslaughts by the enemy.

"The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward." To understand this promise, we have to first understand what the word "rereward" means. This an old military term that refers to the guard at the rear of an army. Armies not only scouted ahead to watch for enemies, good armies also had soldiers on guard at the back of the army to watch out for flank attacks from enemies. The Lord will be both in front and behind us, protecting and guiding us. Such is the promise of faithful fasting.

"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer." This is a statement. Isaiah does not state, "If you call, the Lord might answer." We are promised that the Lord will answer. The Lord always answers our prayers, even if the answer is "No" or "Wait." He doesn't look at the caller-ID and say, "Oh no, Jared's calling again. I'll pretend I'm not here." He is there for us.

"Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am." This is the same as the last promise. However, when we cry, when we are hurt, or sad, or ashamed of what we have done, the Lord matches our tears with His own. When we cry out, when we are lost and scared in a dark forest of despair, the Lord hears and responds. Are we listening for His voice?

29 December 2008

Fasting and Prayer, Part 3

Those who faithfully fast have been promised great blessings. "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in." (Isa. 58:8-12).

There are so many blessings in there that it is important to understand each one separately. First, we are promised that if we faithfully fast and share our substance with the needy, our light will break forth as the morning. The light of the Lord will shine in our countenances. We will be included in the great spiritual army of Zion, which army "looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners" (Song of Solomon 6:10; see also D&C 5:14). The radiance of the Lord will shine round about us.

Second, we are promised that our health will spring forth speedily. There are known health benefits from fasting regularly. Additionally, the Lord here promises us that as we are faithful in fasting, we can be healthier than we were - spiritually and physically. This promise reminds one of the promise in the Word of Wisdom, which is also related to eating: "And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones.... And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint" (D&C 89:19,21).

27 December 2008

Church Disciplinary Councils

I'm going to again interrupt my posts on fasting to include some information about Church disciplinary councils. While searching the LDS website for a completely unrelated topic, I ran across a link to an article by Elder Ballard that was published in the September 1990 Ensign. I believe this article is a must-read for all Church members. Elder Ballard explains clearly why the Church has disciplinary councils, what happens in them, and what happens as the result of them.

Here are some highlights from the article:

"When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings."

"Informal Church discipline [by a bishop] may negate the need for formal disciplinary action. Since repentance and reformation are the primary objectives of any Church disciplinary action, the bishop may feel that the person has done or is doing everything necessary to repent and that a disciplinary council would serve no useful purpose."

"On the other hand, the spirit of inspiration may move the Church leader to convene a disciplinary council, particularly if the member holds a prominent position in the Church. In the scriptures, the Lord has given direction concerning Church disciplinary councils. (See D&C 102.) The word council brings to mind a helpful proceeding—one of love and concern, with the salvation and blessing of the transgressor being the foremost consideration. Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name" (emphasis added).

"The First Presidency has instructed that disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest, or apostasy. A disciplinary council must also be held when a prominent Church leader commits a serious transgression, when the transgressor is a predator who may be a threat to other persons, when the person shows a pattern of repeated serious transgressions, when a serious transgression is widely known, and when the transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices and false representations or other terms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions."

"The bishopric, in consultation with the stake president, has the responsibility and authority to hold disciplinary councils for all ward members. However, if excommunication of a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is thought to be a possibility, the matter is transferred to the stake presidency, who, with the assistance of the high council, may convene a stake disciplinary council. An appeal of a decision of a ward disciplinary council goes to the stake presidency and high council. Any further appeals go to the First Presidency."

"Those who sit on the council are to keep everything strictly confidential and to handle the matter in a spirit of love. Their objective is not retribution; rather, it is to help the member make the changes necessary to stand clean before God once more."

"Decisions of the council are to be made with inspiration. A council can reach one of four decisions: (1) no action, (2) formal probation, (3) disfellowshipment, or (4) excommunication."

"After the rebaptism of a person who has not been endowed in the temple, his or her membership record shows the original baptism date, with no reference to the excommunication. A man who previously held the priesthood but was not endowed should generally be ordained to his former priesthood office. Again, his membership record will show his original ordination date, with no reference to excommunication. A person who was endowed in the temple before being excommunicated may regain priesthood and/or temple blessings only through the ordinance of restoration of blessings. This is a special ordinance performed by a General Authority as directed by the First Presidency. Afterwards, a new membership record is created, showing the original dates of baptism, endowment, sealing, and (if applicable) priesthood ordinations—with no reference to excommunication."

"The trauma of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church will likely never be fully understood by those who have never experienced it" (emphasis added).

"To members and leaders of the Church who know of a brother or a sister who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated: Love him or her without judging. Be sensitive and thoughtful without prying."

"To you who have come back into full fellowship in the Church: Welcome home!"

"To you who have not yet returned, who may still be struggling with the hurt and haven’t yet felt the healing: please allow yourself to feel the love that the Lord, his presiding authorities, and your friends in the Church feel for you. We are aware of your pain, and we pray for your healing and your return."

Here is the link again to the article. All disciplinary action should be done with love and concern for the transgressor. The return to full fellowship and membership should be encouraged and supported. Disciplinary councils can be and are fearful things for most people undergoing the disciplinary action. The Lord knows this and loves those who have strayed. He wants them to return to the fold. I think that most (or all) Church leaders try to be as the shepherd who left his 99 to carry the 1 back to the fold when dealing with those who have sinned. With sincere repentance, all the blessings they had - and more! - before will be theirs.

Again, I urge all church members (and anyone else who is interested) to read Elder Ballard's wonderful article explaining the process of Church disciplinary councils.

24 December 2008

Remembering the True Meaning of Christmas

In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in fighting, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words still resonate strongly today in our tumultuous world. People cry for peace but peace is rarely found. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to make people despair - and many do. Many feel that hope is lost; that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men." The answer for all this despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. It is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in starlight.

In the most humble of circumstances, the Prince of Peace, the King of Heaven and Earth, was born. He came with no great fanfare, other than the witness of angels to shepherds and the witness of a star to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important years - 33 of them - in the history of the world.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas time, I pray that we all might remember who Christmas really is about. The LDS Church has a webpage devoted to the True Meaning of Christmas.

Christmas should not be about getting, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life - His whole life - for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give our forgiveness unto others if we feel that they have wronged us. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, "For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure" (Source).

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We should rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We should do the things that the Savior would do - help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even in our lack of abundance) with those around us.

Here is a beautiful video the LDS Church produced that explains the true meaning of Christmas.

I pray that in our world there will be peace this Christmas season. While we may not be able to bring an end to war, we can do our part in promoting peace by having peace in our families, our homes, and our hearts. May we keep the pealing of Christmas bells always in our hearts. May we always remember that "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/ With peace on earth, good will to men!"

23 December 2008

Fasting and Prayer, Part 2

The book of Isaiah contains many plain and precious truths of the gospel that have rarely been expressed as succinctly and beautifully by other prophets. There is a reason that Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the scriptures. There is a reason the Savior specifically told the Nephites to read his words. In Isaiah chapter 58 we learn much about the law of the fast, about fasting. Isaiah criticizes those who "fast for strife and debate," (Isa. 58:4) who fast for the wrong reasons and are irritable and short-tempered. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves for little benefit. We are more likely to "exact all [our] labours" (Isa. 58:3), or in other words, make sure others know we are suffering. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount. "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." (Matt. 6:16). Then the Lord continues with how we should fast. "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly" (Matt. 6:17-18).

Returning to Isaiah, we learn more about fasting. When we fast we should bow our heads down and express sorrow for sins, becoming penitent before the Lord. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" (Isa. 58:6). Through fasting we can free ourselves from the bondage of sin. We can be free from oppression and lightened of burdens. The yoke we use to pull our heavy cart of sin can be replaced by the Lord's, which is easy and light [see 2 Ne. 15:18; Matt. 11:30].

Isaiah continued with things that we should do in conjunction with fasting. "Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. 58:7). When we fast, we should also help feed the hungry and care for the poor and clothe the naked. That is what our Fast Offerings do today. They go to those in need in our ward, then stake, then the wider church. Through our offerings, we literally can bless the lives of our neighbors. Fasting gives us opportunity to stop focusing on ourselves so that we can focus on those around us.

21 December 2008

Fasting and Prayer, Part 1

The Lord commanded Jeremiah to prophesy to the people "upon the fasting day" (Jer. 36:6), indicating that the Israelites had special days of fasting. To the House of Israel it was one way to show sorrow, especially sorrow for sins, "the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them...and stood and confessed their sins" (Nehemiah 9:1-2). Fasting is a way to show humility and contrition before God, "But as for me, when they [enemies] were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom" (Psalm 35:13). As an aside, this verse also reveals David's character - he mourned when his enemies were ill and treated them as he would a friend or brother (see Psalm 35:14). In the book of Joel we find another example of sorrow and fasting, "Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God" (Joel 2:12-13). Is fasting really about mourning and sorrow? It is if you are expressing sorrow for sins or for unfaithfulness to the Bridegroom; however, fasting can also be a thing of great joy.

"And on this [the Lord's] day thou shalt do none other thing...that thy fasting may be perfect, or in other words, that thy joy may be full. Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer" (D&C 59:13-14). This seems quite at odds with how fasting was portrayed in the Old Testament. However, fasting is not only a way to show humility and sorrow but it is also a way of showing devotion to God and personal mastery over the flesh. It is a way to worship God. What could be more joyful than worshiping God?

Fasting is a commandment, "Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth" (D&C 88:76). It's not something we should take lightly. Another commandment we have received is to read the words of Isaiah [3 Ne. 23:1; see also Mormon 8:23].

17 December 2008

A Video of Forgiveness

Seth Adam Smith put together a little video of a portion of Pres. James E. Faust, who until his death was a member of the First Presidency and an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pres. Faust shared a touching story about the power and example of forgiveness.

Pure Thoughts, Part 8

The lack of purity in thought and heart is what keeps the Church and its members from being as Enoch's Zion. Robert Millet explains this,
"There is [a] matter that prevents many of us from enjoying the Spirit of the Lord in our lives as we might: the tendency to live on the edge, to play percentages with God, to tempt fate and to place ourselves in circumstances that can contribute to our spiritual undoing. There are those who want to see how far they can go without going all the way; those who want to drive the vehicle as close to the edge of the cliff as possible with no intention whatever of falling; those who cunningly creep up on the flame with no intention of ever being burned; those who want to enjoy all the privileges of Babylon but at the same time keep their citizenship in Zion intact. I promise you that there is no lasting happiness in such approaches to life, but rather a type of moral or spiritual schizophrenia" (Robert L. Millet, Selected writings of Robert L. Millet, p.351).

As we purify our thoughts and hearts, we will become a Zion society like that described by the LDS hymn:

This earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

We read that Enoch walked with God,
Above the pow'r of mammon,
While Zion spread herself abroad,
And Saints and angels sang aloud,
In Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Her land was good and greatly blest,
Beyond all Israel's Canaan,
Her fame was known from east to west,
Her peace was great, and pure the rest
Of Adam-ondi-Ahman. (Hymns, #49)

We must be pure of mind and heart so we can as a church become a Zion society. We must build Zion within each of our homes and within each of ourselves. As we hike through life, we need to partake of pure water, whether it is gathered in purity from springs or taken from other sources and filtered and cleansed. As we purify our minds, we are sanctified by the Spirit of the Lord and are blessed individually and as families.

15 December 2008

Reflections of Christ

At this Christmas season, I thought it especially appropriate to post a video about the Savior. Here is a lovely slideshow of photo impressions of the Savior's life and teachings. Also feel free to visit the artist's website.

Pure Thoughts, Part 7

The Savior explained in the Sermon on the Mount a blessing that comes from purity: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). But what does having a pure heart have to do with having purity of mind? There are many references in the scriptures to thoughts residing in the heart. For example, "My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart" (Job 17:11) and "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matt. 15:19). Our thoughts and our desires are inseparable. We can thus take the words "thoughts" and "heart" as nearly synonymous. This belief is why the ancient Egyptians considered the heart to be where the soul and mind resided. In their mummification process they thus removed and discarded the brain and preserved the heart. So if we replace "heart" with "mind", the beatitude will read "Blessed are the pure in mind: for they will see God!"

There are other blessings that stem from being pure in heart. This state brings citizenship in the Lord's society. Elder Cullimore said:
"Zion is defined by the Lord as the 'pure in heart.' The Lord said, '… let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.' (D&C 97:21).

"Since Zion is defined as the 'pure in heart,' those who make up Zion must be free from worldly practices and indulgences.

"President Lee said to us…that 'The rule by which the people of God must live in order to be worthy of acceptance in the sight of God' is indicated in this scripture: 'For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.' (D&C 82:14.) ("Strengthen the Stakes of Zion," Harold B. Lee, Ensign, July 1973, p.3.)

"President McKay referred to Zion as the pure in heart and said: '… the strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members, then the testimony of Jesus abides in the soul, and strength comes to each individual to withstand the evils of the world.' (Conference Report, October 1911, p. 58.)" (James A. Cullimore, "To Be in the World but Not of the World," Ensign, Jan. 1974, 119).
President McKay's statement is profound: "The strength of this Church lies in the purity of the thoughts and lives of its members." That places a large responsibility upon each of us. We just learned what Enoch and his people accomplished! They were all pure in thought and thus one with each other and the Lord. Because of this they were taken into Heaven. If we are pure in thought and heart, we may be received, sooner or later, into Heaven.

13 December 2008

Pure Thoughts, Part 6

Impure thoughts deaden our spirits but why else must we watch our thoughts? The Savior enlightens us through His intercessory prayer: "I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth…. Neither I pray for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me though their word; That they all may be one…even as we are one" (John 17:14-22). Thoughts that are in conflict with God's cannot lead to unity with Him. Impure thoughts cement our separation from the Savior and the Father because they are not sanctifying. Isaiah taught: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD" (Isa. 55:7-8; emphasis added).

This is not to say that our thoughts cannot be like the Lord's; His thoughts are just not like the natural man's. If we forsake and remove our unrighteous thoughts, we can approach the Lord, just as Moses removed his shoes to approach the burning bush (see Ex. 3:5). So we need to have purity of thought in order to be one with the Father. This is also what the Lord revealed in Doctrine and Covenants section 88: "Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you" (v.68-69). From these verses we learn that idle thoughts, which are not necessarily evil, but might fall under the category of superfluous, also need casting away. Impurity of mind is not only the commission of impure thoughts but also the omission of pure ones. Pure thoughts are those of the truth, which includes the word of God. Whether we covertly think impure thoughts, or merely let our minds idle away, we are not pure in thought.

11 December 2008

Pure Thoughts, Part 5

While profanity is offensive to the Spirit, pornography is the paragon of impurity. It is the most base distortion of something that is the most holy. It drags the sacred into the sordid sludge of sensuality. Pornography is not only the exploitation of its purveyors but also that of its partakers. Those who read, view, or explore pornography quickly are caught in the silky threads of its tantalizing web; these threads are not easily broken, especially as the web - the addiction - continues to grow in strength. Pornography however, easily leads to broken hearts and homes. It deadens the senses, weakens the mind, depresses the heart, and desensitizes the spirit. Those who partake of pornography often get stuck in a cesspool of further sin. The images and words of pornography can replay endlessly in the mind, shutting out more noble thoughts.

Elder Scott states:
"One of the most damning influences on earth, one that has caused uncountable grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages is the onslaught of pornography in all of its vicious, corroding, destructive forms. Whether it be through the printed page, movies, television, obscene lyrics, the telephone, or on a flickering personal computer screen, pornography is overpoweringly addictive and severely damaging. This potent tool of Lucifer degrades the mind, heart, and the soul of any who use it…. The tragic pattern [of addiction] is so familiar. It begins with a curiosity that is fueled by its stimulation and is justified by the false premise that when done privately, it does no harm to anyone else. Lulled by this lie, the experimentation goes deeper, with more powerful stimulations, until the web closes and a terribly immoral, addictive habit is formed.

"How can a man, particularly a priesthood bearer, not think of the damage emotionally and spiritually caused to women, especially to a wife, from such abhorrent activity? The participation in pornography in any of its lurid forms is a manifestation of unbridled selfishness" (Scott, Ensign, May 2000, p.36).

It is best to never approach this idol of Babylon; but for those who have worshiped at the dark altar of pornography, there is, mercifully, a light given to those afflicted by and addicted to it—the atonement of the Savior provides a way to leave the pit and wash clean of the filth. Repentance will lift the spirit and purify the mind. We should always have on our breastplates of righteousness and have our "loins girt about with truth" (see Eph. 6:14).

09 December 2008

Pure Thoughts, Part 4

Some of the impurities that can enter our minds include: profanity, vulgarity, and pornography. I'll first focus briefly on profanity. We learn the meaning of profanity from John S. Tanner: "Profanity…means literally, outside (pro) the temple or shrine (fanum). Profane language drags sacred words out of the sanctuary and into the marketplace, making a mockery of holy things. It uses in a thoughtless, sacrilegious, or impious way terms usually graced with sacred significance, thus violating the Lord's injunction: 'That which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care.' (D&C 63:64). Profanity, a close cousin to blasphemy, describes the kind of speech that is often called 'swearing'" (Ensign, Feb. 1991, p.30). So, profanity is treating the sacred as if it were secular; it is being light-minded in contrast to pure-minded. We must do as King Benjamin taught, we must watch our thoughts and not take or treat spiritual things lightly.

Joseph F. Smith condemned profanity among the members of the Church when he said,
"We should stamp out profanity, and vulgarity, and everything of that character that exists among us; for all such things are incompatible with the gospel and inconsistent with the people of God. Language, like thought, makes its impression and is recalled by the memory in a way that may be unpleasant if not harmful to those who have been compelled to listen to unseemly words. Thoughts that in themselves are not proper may be exalted or debased by the language used to express them. If inelegant expressions should be eschewed, what shall be said of profanity?

"The habit … which some young people fall into, of using vulgarity and profanity … is not only offensive to all well-bred persons, but it is a gross sin in the sight of God, and should not exist among the children of the Latter-day Saints.

"I say to the fathers and mothers of Israel, and to the boys who have been born in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: I say it to men and boys throughout the world, as far as my words may go—I plead with you, I implore you not to offend the Lord, nor to offend honorable men and women, by the use of profanity" (Teachings, Joseph F. Smith, p.374).

07 December 2008

Pure Thoughts, Part 3

There are many ways to keep our minds away from satanic influences and thoughts; most of us learned as children to hum our favorite hymns should bad thoughts enter our minds. I have to add that humming your favorite hymn may actually be counter-productive. If you hum a hymn to get rid of bad thoughts, the hymn becomes associated with the bad thoughts and serves as a trigger for the thoughts. This means that the next time the hymn is sung or heard, you might think the inappropriate thoughts. I recommend this tactic be used sparingly with frequent changing of the hymn. Additionally, it is best if the hymn is sung (it can be silently to yourself) because singing the words will help push out bad thoughts more readily than simply humming the melody will. Many of us learned this scripture in seminary about the importance of keeping our thoughts pure: "But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not" (Mosiah 4:30).

There are many "how to" guides for keeping our thoughts clean and our minds pure, but knowing the "how" without the "why" is like participating in rituals at church without conversion. For example, it is important for a child to learn that partaking of the sacrament is essential; however, as she grows older she should also learn why we partake of the sacrament and not just that we do. Without a conversion to the "why" of doing something, life-long endurance is nearly impossible.

So why are we commanded to keep our minds pure? Why should we shun vulgarity and pornography? At a basic cognitive level, it is because when we think unclean thoughts, we cannot and are not thinking of spiritual things, since we cannot have two thoughts at once. But that is hardly a sufficient explanation or reason for conversion or salvation. Purity is a mental and spiritual state. It is keeping unholy thoughts out but it is also more than that; the word also implies being free of superfluous substance, just as 24 carat gold is free from other elements. So purity is not just freedom from contaminating objects, but also freedom from all additives, even if they might be good, or at least neutral, things. That is why we cannot be too focused on good things if we leave the weightier matters undone (see Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk on this topic). Purity is a process; it is becoming cleansed of all imperfections; thus, that which was impure can become pure.

04 December 2008

Revisiting Mormon Coffee

A while ago I stated I'd post more about a particular website that is critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some of its doctrines. My blog is not meant to be inflammatory; I'm not acting as apologist for the LDS Church. My posts are meant to be essays that I might use for Sacrament Meeting talks (although I haven't scrutinized the doctrines within them as closely as I would if I were giving these as Sacrament Meeting talks). However, I stated I would comment again about the Mormon Coffee website so this post is me upholding my word.

First I want to note that as a member of the LDS Church, my views are biased towards the Church. Does that mean that I cannot think rationally about my faith? Certainly not. However, I will always err on the side of trusting the living prophet and the majority of the Twelve Apostles (as well as personal feelings that come from the Holy Ghost) if I am unsure of something. If the Church has no official position on a topic, I will not form a solid personal "doctrine" on that topic. I will form (or not) opinions but will only share them as I see fit and then only if I make it clear that they are opinions.

That being said, the writers of the Mormon Coffee blog are people who, regardless of their past or present relationship with the LDS Church are not believers of Mormonism. I could be wrong, of course, but nothing I have read on the site has led me to believe that any of the articles are written by members of the LDS Church who are fully invested in LDS faith and doctrine. This means that, however balanced some of the posts may be, the authors are biased against the Church. This means in matters that seem perplexing or contradictory, the authors are not going to give the LDS Church (or church leader or doctrine) the benefit of the doubt, at least in most cases. I point this out so all are aware of the biases of all authors, myself included.

With a quick perusal of the site one finds many quotes from early church leaders. Brigham Young is a favorite early church leader to quote, as is Orson Pratt. I'll quote from my previous post and go from there.

"There are numerous posts that seemingly point out inconsistencies and shifts in church doctrine over time, as if this somehow hurts the church. The LDS Church is founded on modern-day revelation; on the belief that we have a living prophet who is the only one authorized to receive revelation for the entire church and to authoritatively interpret the scriptures and speak for the Lord. If some doctrines did not have to change over time in response to the times, why would there be a need for a living prophet?"

I have never read an article or post critical of Mormonism that did not largely draw from quotes from long-dead (or at least non-living) church leaders. Why is this? Some argue that what church leaders say today is censored and does not represent raw Mormonism (whatever that means), it represents politically-correct Mormonism. I will not discuss the merits or lack thereof of this argument. The only thing I'll say is that we live in a world where words are easily recorded and widely distributed. What someone says can be all over the world within minutes, unlike even 15 years ago. All public persons are (usually) more careful with what they say in public (and in private).

So, why quote past prophets more than living ones? It's to try to show inconsistencies. However, what the living prophet says always has precedence over what was said in the past. Does this discount past scripture or prophecy? Usually not, but new revelation having precedence over the past was the way things worked in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. The Law of Moses was a change to what had previously been taught. Jesus came and fulfilled the Law of Moses and stated that there was no more need for animal sacrifices and many of the other rites of the Law of Moses. Peter received revelation that he should preach the gospel to all people and not just Jews, like Jesus did. Paul received revelations and taught new doctrines. In more modern times, the LDS Church (in the 1890s) stopped practicing polygamy. In the 1970s, all worthy males, regardless of race, were allowed to receive the priesthood. Church doctrine can and do change over time.

This is why using random quotes from Brigham Young or Orson Hyde or Bruce R. McConkie, which may be interesting from a historical standpoint, is not a completely valid way to "critique" the doctrines and beliefs of the LDS Church. It's like people who use random scriptures from the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) to attack Christians or Christianity in general. Besides, what a prophet or apostle says or writes is not always official church doctrine. As I wrote earlier, only the current living prophet has authority to teach and give the official church position on a matter (another apostle sometimes speaks for the prophet though). The Lord's house is a house of order.

Did I address the issue completely? No, but as I stated earlier, my blog has a very narrow focus at this point and this is not the forum to continue the discussion beyond one more response.

In this post, the following was written.
"Perhaps Mormons could consider this scenario. A powerful and influential group has begun collecting the names of Mormon pioneers and martyrs. They are compiling them into a database which is accessible to researchers worldwide and will likely continue to be accessible for hundreds of years. This database includes records for each Mormon who has given his or her life, or sacrificed in another significant way, in consequence of their determination to remain faithful to the Mormon Gospel. Attached to each name is a letter of resignation from LDS Church membership, sent by proxy to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"Though the letters are written and sent only to provide these departed ones the opportunity to leave Mormonism and join another church if they so wish, do LDS descendants of these Mormon pioneers merely shrug off their ancestors’ proxy resignations without another thought? Are Mormons not concerned about what future researchers may find and mistakenly believe about these LDS heroes?

"I suspect Latter-day Saints would be very upset over Mormon pioneer proxy resignations from the LDS Church. They may even believe it to be an injustice to the memories of their loved-ones which, of course, is a devastating injury to everybody concerned."
I know I'm taking that quote out of its broader context, and the author states that the issue is complicated, but the scenario put forth in the post reveals that semantics are the issue (i.e., what Mormons call "giving the opportunity to accept baptism" this author is calling "giving the opportunity to reject their previous faith"). As I said, it's semantics. Mormons performing baptisms for the dead is compared to sending in proxy resignations from another belief or religion - giving dead Mormon pioneers an opportunity to resign from the LDS Church. Why would that be offensive? As an LDS Church member, if someone cared enough about my dead ancestors to perform a baptism or some other ritual on their behalf in the hopes that it would give them the opportunity to accept it, I'd be honored. My ancestors have free will, they can choose for themselves.

Further quoting the author, "Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley told the Associated Press that baptism for the dead is only an offer of LDS Church membership–which deceased individuals are free to reject. 'So there’s no injury done to anybody,' President Hinckley said. This lack of sensitivity amazes me."

First, calling President Gordon B. Hinckley insensitive reveals that the author was not familiar with him - he was one of the most sensitive people. He did more to build bridges with other religions, faiths, and people than any previous church president. He was someone who really understood others. This author doesn't really try to understand the LDS viewpoint though (okay, maybe she does but she does not give the LDS viewpoint more than cursory acknowledgement). If she had, she would hopefully understand from the LDS perspective that it is the height of insensitivity for us not to perform these baptisms. Is that arrogance? Arrogance is in the eye of the beholder; I certainly do not ever perform proxy work for the dead out of arrogance. If someone sees what I do as arrogant, that is ascribing motive and feelings to me that I may or may not have. People see what they want to see in others. On top of that, we (collectively as a church) have been commanded by the Lord to do this proxy work. So, as members of the LDS Church, we go against God's commandments if we do not do this work.

I will not address the issue of whether or not Holocaust victims' proxy temple work should be done - that's a separate matter. That is all I will say on these matters because I do not want to turn this website into something other than a series of gospel essays by one LDS Church member who does not and cannot speak definitively for the LDS Church.

02 December 2008

There is no man more beloved than Joseph Bitner Wirthlin

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin passed away late last night (December 1, 2008). Although I did not know him personally, he always came across as one of the most soft-spoken and gentle people. I never really appreciated his talks until Pres. Merrill Bateman (it could have been Pres. Samuelson, I'm not positive), president of Brigham Young University, stated that once the conference issue of the Ensign was released, he and his wife always read Elder Wirthlin's talk first. After this I started paying more attention to his talks. They are always amazing and full of charity. His talks are also powerful, which his soft manner and voice belie.

Here are a few recent quotes of his that brought strength and comfort to me.

On adversity:
"But whenever my steps led through seasons of sadness and sorrow, my mother’s words often came back to me: 'Come what may, and love it.' How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness." (Source).
On sorrow and trials:
"It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With all the pressures and demands on our time and the stress we face each day, it’s little wonder we get tired. Many feel discouraged because they have not measured up to their potential. Others simply feel too weak to contribute. And so, as the flock moves on, gradually, almost imperceptibly, some fall behind. Everyone has felt tired and weary at one time or another. I seem to feel more so now than I did when I was younger. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, even Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be tired. I do not wish to underestimate the weight that members of the Church bear upon their shoulders, nor do I minimize the emotional and spiritual trials they face. These can be heavy and often difficult to bear. I do, however, have a testimony of the renewing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the Lord 'giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.'" (Source).
On debt:
"This is simple counsel but a powerful secret for financial happiness. All too often a family's spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress. Those who live safely within their means know how much money comes in each month, and even though it is difficult, they discipline themselves to spend less than that amount. Credit is so easy to obtain. In fact, it is almost thrust upon us. Those who use credit cards to overspend unwisely should consider eliminating them. It is much better that a plastic credit card should perish than a family dwindle and perish in debt." (Source).
On kindness:
"Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes." (Source).
On judging others:
"Each one of us will travel a different road during this life. Each progresses at a different rate. Temptations that trouble your brother may not challenge you at all. Strengths that you possess may seem impossible to another. Never look down on those who are less perfect than you. Don't be upset because someone can't sew as well as you, can’t throw as well as you, can't row or hoe as well as you. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves." (Source).
I hope that we will all take the time to reread some of Elder Wirthlin's words and live by his teachings. He was a man who exuded kindness and charity. As Elder Holland stated at the October 2008 General Conference, "Within the ranks of the general authorities of the church, there is no man more beloved than Joseph Bitner Wirthlin. We praise him for living the sermons he preaches." Elder Wirthlin's words, stories, and love will be missed. I am happy though that he is now reunited with his dear wife.

Pure Thoughts, Part 2

Bishop H. Burke Petersen further explained: "When we were born in the earth, our minds and thoughts were clean and sweet and pure—unpolluted by the harmful impurities that are around us that become a part of the experiences of this life. In our infancy our minds are free from unrighteous and unwholesome thoughts. We are innocent and untouched by most of the harmful effects and influences of Satan.

"Our mind, which is like a tremendous reservoir itself, is capable of taking in whatever it may be fed—good and bad, trash and garbage, as well as righteous thoughts and experiences. As we go through life, we may be exposed to stories, pictures, books, jokes, and language that are filthy and vulgar, or to television shows and movies that are not right for us to see or hear. Our mind will take it all in. It has a capacity to store whatever we will give it. Unfortunately, what our mind takes in, it keeps—sometimes forever. It's a long, long process to cleanse a mind that has been polluted by unclean thoughts." (H. Burke Peterson, "Purify Our Minds and Spirits," Ensign, Nov. 1980, 37)

The brain is immensely efficient, able to process large amounts of information in a short time. While the brain has only a limited capacity for conscious processing, the brain receives a lot more information than we are aware. This is why we need to surround ourselves with only those things that uplift. However, the brain cannot actively process very much at once. In other words, we can only really think of one thing at a time, even if we can jump back and forth between ideas rapidly. This may be one reason why we are told to pray always–so we don't have time to let our minds wander to places they shouldn't go.

Elder Maxwell taught, "The human mind is remarkably retentive. We must be careful of what we allow in our mind, for it will be there for a long time, reasserting itself at those very times when we may be most vulnerable. Just as harmful chemicals heedlessly dumped in a vacant lot can later prove lethal, so toxic thoughts and the mulching of the wrong memories in the vacant corner of the mind also take their toll" (Elder Maxwell, The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p.346).


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