Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Bottle of Wine and a Book of Mormon

I just might have made history! I have possibly become the first person to have given away a bottle of wine and a Book of Mormon at the same time to the same person! Looking back on my experience today actually seems a little bit funny and ironic at the same time.

We had a very nice, humble, Christian man come to our house to install new ceiling fans. He's come before and we enjoyed conversing with him, as well as the fact that he's very reasonable in terms of pricing. So we called on him again.

Well, long story short, we've had this bottle of Chardonnay sitting in our pantry ever since our anniversary. When the folks at the Marriott found out it was our anniversary, they very graciously surprised us in our room with chocolate covered strawberry's and an ice cold bottle of Chardonnay wine. We called to thank them for the gesture, and gently explained that we actually don't drink, so perhaps they would like to take the bottle back. (We thought maybe they'd switch it out for sparkling cider.) They just said, "Oh, that's okay, take it home with you and give it away". So we packed it away and enjoyed the strawberries.

Today as we conversed with our ceiling fan installer he mentioned something about he and his wife drinking wine, and we realized that here was the perfect person to give away the one and only bottle of wine to have ever graced our home! I thought he'd especially appreciate it since he was already giving us such a great deal on the installation of the ceiling fans. Plus, it wouldn't cost me any extra!

Well, an hour or two later he brought up the topic of religion. He asked if I was Christian (presumably because of all the pictures of the Savior hanging in our home). That got us started on another great conversation and I enjoyed learning about his experience with finding a church, but lamented with him about how he still feels confused. I took the opportunity to share some thoughts and some of my beliefs with him--specifically how we can go to God directly in prayer and the method of how God answers us. His faith has been growing as he's experienced this kind of prayer. I shared some thoughts that Alma shared in chapter 32 of the Book of Mormon about how we can experiment with certain aspects of the gospel, like prayer (or with the scriptures), and how our faith begins to grow, helping us to be less confused and to have a more sure knowledge. He was genuinely intrigued with comparing the word to a seed, trying the experiment to see if it is a good seed, and then how, if we nourish it, it begins to grow; then we know that it is a good seed. I realized that here was somebody who would be open and happy to receive a Book of Mormon.

He also agreed that it made perfect sense that Christ would have had prophets among other lands to teach His gospel to His "other sheep". He asked me to show him that scripture in John 10:16 after I quoted the Savior and explained that the people in the Book of Mormon were among His "other sheep". So I got out my Bible as well. It felt so good to have somebody interested in what I had to offer instead of not being interested at all, or interested only in debating! Here we were standing in the kitchen talking about Jesus and about our beliefs--and it was great!

As he gathered his things up to leave, I paused to take in the funny picture of a bottle of wine, a Book of Mormon, and his cash payment sitting together along with his tools. He's one of the most humble, nicest, and most interested guys I've met here. The ceiling fans work great, and today he went home glad and with a little bit more than he expected. And I have to smile as I think of the Spirit that was there--along with a bottle of wine and a Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June 18th--Happy Anniversary!

Too often in wanting to write a love note to my wife I let my fear of failure get in the way from trying. It's not really that I fear imperfect writing, but that my words wouldn't be sufficient to express how great she really is or do my love for her justice. Then I usually end up lamely lacking any love note at all. So today, June 18th, our anniversary, I've decided to cast my fear aside and try to say a very sincere "thank you" and "love you" at the same time...

Dearest Sara,
I can't imagine life without you. My greatest joy and yet my hardest challenge is to live worthy of you. I love you so much. Thank you for your true love and for believing the best in me. You deserve perfection in a spouse, and yet I'm unable to give it. Thanks for loving me anyway. You'll never know how much you mean to me. And I really mean that.

It's true that I too often resist getting "sentimental" or "romantic". Why do I do that? Is it fear of failure? Fear that I wouldn't measure up to what I wish I could give you? Forgive me. I'll try to have more faith. I'll try to learn to do better.

I also too often take for granted the marvelous spiritual journey that brought us together. That's one more thing that I'll try to include with all the other scriptural mandates to "remember"--because it's certainly one of the most powerful, poignant, and pivotal turning points in my personal "eternity".

You are so easily filled with joy. You genuinely are filled with light. Thank you for sharing in the journey of life with me. You are my everything and I'm blessed to be married to you.

I marvel when I watch you with our girls. You are the perfect mother. Our daughters don't even know how blessed they are. You're daily efforts often go unnoticed by mortals, and mostly me, but I know heaven smiles down on you and it fills me with gratitude and joy.

You're not only incredibly beautiful, but you're brilliant. And I love it when you sing. Your voice is almost sacred to me. I don't talk about it often because I don't want it to change how pure and angelic you sing. But I love it, and I love you!

This thing called life just wouldn't be fulfilling without you. I'm so glad that because of sacred promises and covenants made, we will always be together-forever. I'm so grateful to our Savior who makes that hope a reality.

So much to learn, live, love, and experience together. I can hardly wait to get started on the rest of our forever.

Here's to much fun, faith, and a fulfilling life in the years to come! Happy Anniversary! (The flowers made me think of you.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

What are the highlights from your blogging experience?

Reflecting back on the first six months of my blogging experience is a lot of fun. I'm "well pleased" that it has been such a great experience. I've learned a lot and I've gained a lot from the discussions and conversations I've been a part of, not only on this blog but on others. Here's a look at some highlights from my posts over the past six months:

My post Craig Jessop-Why this way? garnered the most comments on my blog and provided a forum to share thoughts and feelings as we all came to grips with the surprising announcement. It continues to get "hit" on daily by people all over the country still doing a google search for "craig jessop".

My Paradigm Shift-"Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling" marked a "coming out party" of sorts, for the first time using a blog to work through and share conclusions I had come to after becoming more "enlightened" by reading the landmark book.

"Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve" sets the tone I'd like to take as I live my life as a faithful, educated, Latter-day Saint.

Recent posts have been inspired by specific conversations on other non-LDS blogs about Mormons. How they have the time or desire to spend so much time trying to discredit the Church I have no idea. But I reach out to them in the spirit of Christ-like love trying to really seek understanding and perhaps alleviate misunderstanding (an ambitious goal, I know). Really, it's more for my own benefit.

For the most part, these conversations have been very stimulating for me as I think of how to articulate my faith both to believers and non-believers. In the process, my confidence and faith grow too. The first of these posts was I am a Mormon. I am a Christian, followed by Finding an Oasis of Understanding in a Desert of Criticism, A "Works Based Gospel"? You're badly mistaken, Worshiping Jesus differently does not equal "a different Jesus", Are you telling the truth about the Bible?, and the follow-up: "Upon Further Review": Faith and Works BOTH play a part.

I appreciate feedback and dialogue. It helps me not to feel like I'm just talking to myself. :)

What are the highlights from your blogging experience?

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Upon Further Review": Faith and Works BOTH play a part

After getting the chance to clarify that Latter-day Saints believe in salvation by grace and not that our own works save us, several people (one LDS and one from another faith) have questioned whether I'm giving the full story. Something that I originally felt was pretty clear cut can come across to others as more complex, and some actually accuse us of dishonesty as if we're holding something back.

In making the case that Latter-day Saints believe in salvation by grace I never said we don't have to do any works--that's obviously false. My whole premise was who's works should we rely on for salvation? That's obviously Christ. It's His merits (works), mercy, and grace that we rely on--not our own. However much we bring to the table, whether a dollar, fifty cents, a quarter, dime, or penny--it falls far short of the perfection required to enter the kingdom. God can't tolerate even a tiny bit of sin. Thus, we rejoice in the message of Redemption that comes only through Christ and his infinite atonement.

A la Stephen Robinson, I sometimes think of it as a mathematical equation in which I am a negative number and Christ is a positive infinite number. What is a negative number plus a positive infinity sign? A positive infinity, of course. (-x + infinity=a positive infinity). So we teach of coming unto Christ and forming a covenant relationship with him through baptism (by Priesthood authority, of course) so that when we are judged, we are not judged individually, but judged as one with Christ. In other words, we are made perfect in Christ. Our faith in Him leads us unto repentance.

A "works based gospel" that our critics accuse us of seems to denote that we can practically save ourselves once we've finished checking off all the "boxes" of obedience. Again--blatantly false.

Granted, he has still made it very clear that we must enter into covenants and ordinances with Him--that covenant relationship with the Savior is fundamental. The ordinances allow us to access Christ's full grace; to actually form the covenant relationship. I've already been promised the Celestial Kingdom because of my covenant relationship with Christ--on the conditions that I continue to keep, or stay in, the covenant--being willing to follow Him as best I can.

When Latter-day Saints take the Sacrament each Sunday to renew our baptismal covenant with Christ, we promise that we are "willing" to keep His commandments, not that we actually keep all His commandments. I would be a hypocrite if I promised that I always keep His commandments. ("If ye love me, keep my commandments" John 14:15). But I can in good faith say that I am definitely willing to do so! My heart is in the right place. I truly hunger and thirst after righteousness. I strive to love Christ more than anyone or anything else.

So He expects much more than belief in Him--He expects faithfulness to Him. Both Paul and James made that clear, though with alternate definitions of "faith". (Paul's definition of "faith" includes "works", ie: "faithfulness", where James' definition of faith was closer to "belief", hence the need to add that "faith (or belief) without works is dead".

We do works BECAUSE of our faith in Christ and BECAUSE of our love for Him--he has already blessed us with grace beyond measure. We DO NOT do works in order to merit his grace and to ultimately be "saved". Nobody merits or deserves his grace--that's what is so marvelous about the gospel, or good news, of Christ.

Then there's the whole perspective that only Latter-day Saints understand, that being "saved" is not the ultimate goal. Exaltation--the kind of life God lives--is the ultimate goal. But even that wouldn't be possible except through Christ.

It seems to be enough for some Christians to just get on the train--to be "saved"--but we want to ride the train all the way to the end of the tracks. As the "offspring" of God, we want to be "joint heirs" and become like Him. He wants us to become like Him too--we are his work and glory! (Moses 1:39). Now that is grace indeed!

So we also do works in order to become like Him--to close the gap--and to posses the same attributes of goodness and godliness and love. Again, that too is only possible through the atonement and grace of Jesus Christ. Our critics seem to want to jump to false conclusions and read into that far more than is even taught in Church. Mostly, I feel people rush to judgment based on their own limited understanding instead of setting aside judgement in order to reach a more full understanding.

In the interest of full disclosure, the question that a fellow LDS blogger asked me was:
"So when you say that nobody deserve's his grace, does that mean that his grace is universal - regardless of our behavior or choices? Thus all will be saved? I guess my point is to say that things are really not so simple sometimes. When we Mormons are asked:

Are we saved by grace?
Are we saved by works?

Simple yes or no answers do not give the whole story. The plan of salvation as we understand it is a lot more complex than how others understand it

My response was:

"I understand what you're saying about not having simple yes or no answers. Of course, to be able to answer the question you have to first understand if we're talking about universal salvation from physical death (the Resurrection), which would be "yes", or universal salvation from spiritual death, which would be conditional. (Of course, that's another discussion unto itself, ie: faith, repentance, baptism--the first principles and ordinances of the gospel).

I would imagine that this isn't a clearly understood point by a majority of Christians today--and perhaps even among many of our own."

As for the salvation by grace or works--that's not even a question. It's not one against the other, because "both" have a role--they're two sides of the same coin. If anyone believes that they can be saved without any effort, obedience, commitment, or response on our part, then we would disagree. And a life of good works will naturally follow being consumed by the grace of Christ. In other words, not every one that says "Lord, Lord" will get into the kingdom, but he that "doeth" the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21)--or at least do our best while relying on Christ. That's "all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). The good news is that whatever we manage to "do", it's done while we're already safe in the gospel harness.

The Bible is very clear on faith and works. In fact it seems so obvious to me that I can't understand how there can be so many different interpretations. (FYI: The phrase that we are saved "by grace alone" doesn't exist anywhere in the Bible). Both faith and works play a role. When Paul says that by "faith alone" we are saved--he's right, but its also clear that his definition of faith is not "belief alone" but "faithfulness". Both Paul and James were right. Both were apostles.

Just as a marriage covenant requires faithfulness to each other, so the gospel covenant requires faithfulness. Sure, I might not make the bed all the time (or at all), and I might forget to put the toilet seat down--I might even say a curse word once in awhile. But that doesn't end the marriage covenant. In other words, I don't have to be perfect alone, I just have to be faithful to my covenant relationship with Christ--"perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:33-34)--loving him more than anyone or anything else.

Mercifully, there's always the blessing of repentance.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Are you telling the truth about the Bible?

Someone not of our faith recently asked me a question I was glad to answer. He was under the impression that LDS people believe the Bible had been corrupted and wanted to know "just exactly how the Bible has been corrupted". I appreciated him for asking the question and for having the chance to respond.

My response is based off of my New Testament class notes with Stephen Robinson while I studied at BYU several years ago. He was a master teacher and his areas of expertise were Biblical Studies (New Testament, Christian Origins, History of Christianity), as well as LDS studies. He reads Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic—so he’s done his homework. Based off that class I learned some things about the Bible I didn’t know previously—some of which I used to try to answer the question and clear up any misunderstanding.

Our present New Testament dates back to about 367 A.D. when the books of scripture were organized. Sometime between 50 A.D. and 100/175 A.D. some “plain and precious” things were taken out. They were NOT edited or altered (corrupted?). They were just lost. Comparing the books of scripture to a file cabinet—some files were just taken out and lost completely. They weren’t edited—just lost. (For example, 1st Corinthians 5:9—that epistle was lost. Try to picture a letter to Loudicious, or a letter .5 to the Corinthians, versus the first letter that we know of.)

Now, in the copying of the copies of the biblical manuscripts, accidental scribal mistakes were made--that's just historical fact. Also, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, "scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views." Most of these alterations were relatively minor and did not affect fundamental Christian doctrine.

We ought to be thankful the monks preserved that which we have. That which we have (our present Bible) is largely correct—and apostolic. We testify of the miracle of the Holy Bible.

The second century church Hellanized the Bible. (They tried to make it fit into Greek theory). Now there are over 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. No two are alike. And there is no such thing as “the original Greek”, only scholarly reconstructions of what we think Paul must have written.

Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, and Greek as a second language. (One side note that I find interesting is that the word always translated “carpenter” in Greek means “architect, builder, contractor”. The Greek “Tekton” means builder. Thus, the “Builder” of the Universe was a builder by profession. (Jesus would have worked in wood and stone).

But the Bible as we know it today is largely correct. The truer LDS understanding is that there were completely lost books--like a file was just deleted from the computer and never was included in the Bible that we have today. Now certainly there are a few things that got changed up in the translations and in the copying of the original scripts, but the truth is we can’t know for sure how much or how many. So I thank God that we have what we have in the Holy Bible--I love the Bible--as well as the further “plain and precious” things contained in the Book of Mormon.