Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Mormon Jesus and the Love of God

I loved this post. Loved it enough that I'm unapolegetically going to spotlight it by quoting the majority of it right here on my blog:

The Mormon Jesus and the Love of God

No [General] Conference would be complete without scary-looking street protesters, who congregate outside the Conference Center with large signs telling all the Mormons they’re going to hell, or that they’re leading others to hell, or that they’re too pro-abortion. (Those are my favorite. Dude, if you’re protesting that the Mormons are just too pro-choice, you’ve got WAY too much time on your hands.)

The irony about this is that most of these protesters hold up signs announcing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

I don’t think these people realize that there is not a single Mormon who would disagree with that. I posted this picture on Facebook, and a Mormon friend of mine likened this to a guy going to a polling place on Election Day and screaming to everyone in line, “YOU SHOULD VOTE!!!!”

I can remember on my mission coming across many evangelical Christians who condemned me to hell unless I was willing to accept Jesus into my life. Invariably, I would use the opportunity to, then and there, accept Jesus into my life. I would say whatever little prayer they had printed on their cards or flyers and then look them in the eye and say I agreed with every word in it. It still wasn’t enough. I remember talking to one family at their doorstep, who said I needed to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.

“Fair enough,” I said. “I cheerfully accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I recognize that I am helpless without Him, and that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I invite him into my life, and I know He is the only way to heaven.”

They stood there, flummoxed.

“Is that it?” I said. “Do I have to do anything else?”

“Yes, you do,” the mother said. “You need to repent of your Mormon faith.”

Yeah, okay.

See, that’s the problem. These guys insist that all you have to do is accept Jesus, and, presto, you’re saved. But if you say you accept Jesus and still want to hang with the Mormons, you didn’t do it right. If you press people hard enough on this, they’ll tell you you haven’t really accepted Jesus, you’ve accepted some other Jesus. The movie The God Makers, which was quite a popular Mormon-bashing film back in the ‘80s, constantly refers to Jesus as being separate from the guy the Mormons worship, who is repeatedly identified as the “Mormon Jesus.” The problem is that the Mormon Jesus is pretty much identical to the other Jesus – he was the Son of God, born to a virgin in Bethlehem; he grew up in Nazareth; he called twelve apostles and taught the Gospel, and then was betrayed and crucified on Calvary. Three days later, He rose from the dead, and He commissioned His apostles to teach his Gospel to all the world. Now, unless the Mormon Jesus did all this same stuff down the street or something, it’s pretty hard to distinguish between the two.

The problem is that Mormons believe Jesus did more than this. The Book of Mormon tells of His visit to the Lost Tribes of Israel, and Joseph Smith and other modern prophets talk of seeing Jesus on several occasions. So what these Christians are saying is that Jesus only did what is chronicled in the New Testament, and only the Mormon Jesus did all this extra, weird stuff.

So, when you get right down to it, the way to hell isn’t a lack of belief in Jesus. Apparently, the danger lies in believing too much about Jesus.

I’m not quite sure what to do about this. I can go into almost any Christian church in the country, and they’ll tell me things about Jesus that I will heartily agree with. I believe He did everything the Bible says He did. But I also believe Jesus is more than just words on a page. I don’t worship the Bible; I worship Jesus, who is not bound like the pages of a book.

I can recall quite vividly one of the first experiences I had that built my own personal witness of Jesus Christ. I was in a pageant at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles called III Nephi, which dramatized Christ’s visit to the New World after His resurrection. I was nine or ten years old, I think. I played one of the children who greets the Savior, and we were taught two songs to sing on that occasion – one was “I Feel My Savior’s Love,” and the other was “The Love of God.” I can recall feeling a very powerful witness that Jesus was real; that He loved me, and that He knew me by name. I can remember a testimony meeting right after the dress rehearsal, where one of the men stood up and said “That which you feel right now is the love of God.” He was right. I knew he was telling the truth, just as surely and plainly as I knew I existed.

The song “I Feel My Savior’s Love” was written for that pageant, and it has since become something of a staple among Mormon children. I’ve heard it a billion times. But I hadn’t heard the song “The Love of God” since the day I last sang it on the stage of the Shrine. That is, until yesterday, when a local choir sang it as a counterpoint to “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” And instantly, I felt that same sweet assurance, the power of the Spirit reminding me of the certainty I learned so long ago.

That which I felt was the love of God.

Maybe that means I’m damned for all eternity. Maybe the Mormon Jesus has deceived me. Maybe, maybe, maybe – but I really don’t think so. There are some things that sink too deeply into your soul to deny them. So when people yell at me and tell me that I need to believe less than I do in order to be saved, I’m afraid I can’t accommodate them.

Since when does God damn people for believing too much?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bart Ehrman: "Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Altered Scripture and Readers Who May Never Know"

A fascinating and educational presentation by Bart Ehrman, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clearly, he's an intriguing New Testament scholar. He's also the author of the best selling book "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why". (Review at Dave's Mormon Inquiry here). This lecture was given at Stanford University, April 25th, 2007.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Thou fool, that shall say: We have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible"

2nd Nephi 29:6 is usually interpreted to mean that there are some who will reject more of the Lord's words (ie: The Book of Mormon) because they're simply content with those which they currently have (ie: The Bible as we currently know it). Nevertheless, I'd like to suggest an alternate interpretation, just for the Latter-day Saints: We shouldn't ignore other versions of the Bible simply because we're content with the (King James) version we have.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the Church collectively should replace the King James Version as the authorized version. I'm merely wanting to share, from personal experience, that we can gain additional insight by incorporating another version into our personal study, along with the King James Version. Latter-day Saints have a great reverence for the Holy Bible, there's no doubt about that.

However, we don't really have much of a collective track record with other versions of the Bible aside from the KJV. True, there is the JST, but that's not really a "translation" in the conventional sense. It's more of an inspired commentary, some corrections, but mainly alternative ways of looking at verses that are quite correct. I hope that individually and collectively we continue to correct false ideas and tell the truth about the Holy Bible.

In the past year I've come across a couple of posts that have opened my eyes a bit. Perhaps others not quite as open minded to trying something new (or a more modern version) might find out that they do like green eggs and ham. Here was my food for thought:

Update the LDS Study Bible — Please!

Why the KJV?

After reading that first post I went out and bought a NIV (New International Version) bible and it’s been really enlightening. I’ve learned a lot–mostly from the additional resources it includes. But I found that I still actually enjoy reading the KJV better. I love the older language. It’s poetic, intellectually stimulating, and promotes thinking and revelation that I don’t get when it’s in common and ordinary English. So although I think we can be open to other translations of the Bible, I think I’m just personally biased with what I grew up with and I'll probably always prefer the KJV over the others.

I know that Elder Neal A. Maxwell read from at least the Revised Standard Version because I recently read a talk of his entitled “In Him All Things Hold Together” which is based off the text in Colosians 1:17 of the Revised Standard Version. The KJV says “by him all things consist”. Despite Elder Maxwell's example, there are probably still many LDS who are hesitant to pick up another version of the Bible. When I was younger, I think I was probably a little biased against other versions feeling that they were somehow less inspired. I’ve since come to know that great care was done to make the newer versions as perfect as possible based off the available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. I'm convinced the Lord blessed their efforts.

It's now my standard practice to compare seeming obscure verses with those from another translation. There are even online sites that pull up multiple versions of the same verse side by side, which is truly a modern opportunity to enhance biblical scholarship. Again, I don’t feel we necessarily should or even ever will adopt another version of the Bible, but that shouldn’t keep us from expanding our horizons a bit. (Elder Maxwell did it).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Endorsing the Call: Repudiate Racist Justifications for the Priesthood Ban

"At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why [the ban] existed."--Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

In Repudiating Racist Justifications Once and For All, respected LDS blogger "Papa D"/Ray, writes:

"Elder Holland's statements 'at the very least' and 'the least that we can do' imply quite strongly that there is more we can do. I believe that the 'more we can do' includes opening our hearts, minds, homes and church worship to ALL, regardless of race or ethnicity - or religious ideology or any other segregating factor. I think we need to be "no respecters of persons".

I want to give a loud AMEN to that.

Also, at the very least, we can share the following quotes (as Ray has done) with our fellow Latter-day Saints so that common racist justifications for the priesthood ban will never again be perpetuated as truth.

From last year's PBS documentary -

Elder Marlin K. Jensen:

Q. What is that folklore that troubles people?

A. “The essential idea is that somehow in the life before this life, through some conduct on the part of black people, they were less worthy and had to spend some probationary time waiting then for the priesthood to be given to them. I think it’s that idea that somehow they came here with some inherent disability, spiritually speaking, and that bothers them. It would bother me, too. And I don’t think it’s true. I think those were theories that were advanced, but I don’t think there’s any scriptural or doctrinal justification for them.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
“We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …”

Full text of the issue from that documentary:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
"Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more."
(”All Are Alike unto God” - BYU devotional - August 18, 1978)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (in the PBS interview):
"I can’t remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I had been troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school. I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years ’54 through ’71. I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. And I didn’t understand why; I couldn’t identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the action; I was confident that in the time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith."

Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988:
"Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

…I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

…Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent".

More from Elder Holland in the PBS interview:
"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place".

President David O. McKay in 1954:
"There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it".
--“David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” (I recommend the book)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bruce R. McConkie and "Our Relationship With The Lord"/Do Mormons Worship Jesus?

In 1982, Bruce R. McConkie gave a talk at BYU entitled Our Relationship with the Lord. I was not there in person (I was not quite two), but apparently, it has spawned a lot of confusion, both inside and outside of the Church. I have read it, and I just re-read it, to make sure my understanding was correct. My understanding is that in this particular speech Elder McConkie was warning against emphasizing having a special relationship with one particular member of the Godhead while neglecting the other two. It seems to me he was trying to teach about balance and proper perspective, but in doing so I think he ultimately ended up throwing things out of balance.

Rightly he taught that “there are, in the Eternal Godhead, three persons--God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Testator. These three are one--one God if you will--in purposes, in powers, and in perfections. But each has his own severable work to perform, and mankind has a defined and known and specific relationship to each one of them”.

The end goal of the gospel then isn’t to have a “special relationship” with one of the members of the Godhead (ie: Jesus), but to be brought back to the presence of the Father. I suppose you could say this is done by having a "proper" relationship with each of them. I don’t think Elder McConkie meant to de-emphasize the covenant relationship with Christ that gets us home to our Father in Heaven, but merely say “hey, don’t mistake the means for the end”.

I don’t get the feeling that Elder McConkie had a lot of patience with those who did not believe in the gospel just like he did, whether within or without the Church. I also doubt that he was ever accused of having the most tact. :) He was, however, definitely bold (harsh?); especially when he felt that truth was being challenged. Apparently there was a book out which persuaded some BYU students that they could or should emphasize a special or advanced relationship with Jesus while neglecting the other two persons of the Godhead, and he came down hard on that, to call out "heresy".

Naturally, we believe that the end goal of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to reconcile us with the Father—Christ is our Mediator. Thus, McConkie seems to emphasize here that it’s not proper to single out one member of the Godhead for some special attention. One could argue that he’s making a mountain out of a mole-hill, since when we worship the Son we worship the Father, and visa-versa. Truly, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost constitute the One God we worship.

Even McConkie admits here "that most scriptures that speak of God or of the Lord do not even bother to distinguish the Father from the Son, simply because it doesn’t make any difference which God is involved. They are one. The words or deeds of either of them would be the words and deeds of the other in the same circumstance." It’s just obvious in this talk that McConkie decides to focus on their distinct and separate roles, rather than their practically infinite unity. I can see how that can and has caused some confusion (inside and outside the Church), and that’s unfortunate.

One particular statement, however, may have done more harm than good. In my opinion he distracted from the heart of what he was trying to get at in this talk when he chose to use the words “we do not worship the Son”. Shocking right? Well, apparently he’s reserving a different definition of worship than even he has used on other occasions and that he admits, directly after saying it, that the scriptures even use. Perhaps he could or should have said that we do not worship the Son in the same role as the Father. Clearly, he's trying to differentiate degrees of worship and the different relationships we have with each person in the Godhead, but as he admits, it is a "fine line".

God the Father is our Father—we are his children. So when we pray, we pray directly to our Father in the name of Christ--just as Jesus taught; not directly to Jesus. (Even though a song of the heart is considered to be a prayer, and many of our hymns are in essence prayers to Jesus.) McConkie is, for better or worse, emphasizing the Father’s preeminence. But in that same talk he makes clear that while our relationship with the Son is "one of brother or sister in the premortal life", it is now "one of being led to the Father by him while in this mortal sphere". In the talk he elaborates on Jesus the Christ:
He is the Lord Jehovah who championed our cause before the foundations of the earth were laid. He is the God of Israel, the promised Messiah, and the Redeemer of the world. By faith we are adopted into his family and become his children. We take upon ourselves his name, keep his commandments, and rejoice in the cleansing power of his blood. Salvation comes by him. From Creation's dawn, as long as eternity endures, there neither has been nor will be another act of such transcendent power and import as his atoning sacrifice. We do not have a fraction of the power we need to properly praise his holy name and ascribe unto him the honor and power and might and glory and dominion that is his. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.

Even in his (infamous?) book Mormon Doctrine, under the heading “worship”, McConkie writes that:
The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; Ex. 34:14; Mosiah 18:25; D&C 20:17-19.) No one can worship the Father without also worshiping the Son. “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23.) It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worship the Son. “Believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.” (2 Ne. 25:16, 29.)

So, of course, it would be disturbing to any Christian, LDS or not, if somehow they stopped reading at one point in the talk and determined that McConkie was saying that Latter-day Saints don’t worship Jesus—but that is just false. It’s also false to say that Latter-day Saints don’t believe we should have a relationship with Christ—he was just saying we shouldn’t have one at the exclusion of the other persons of the Godhead; let’s keep things in perspective.

In my opinion, now and after all is said and done, the proper relationship we have with Christ is pretty special. That covenant relationship we have with Christ is our only hope--without Him we would be lost. Furthermore, He is the father of our spiritual rebirth. We become born again as His sons and daughters. And we need to be very clear on this point. Elder M. Russell Ballard, in a talk entitled "Building Bridges of Understanding", cautioned members of the Church:
We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the pre-mortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer. They believe that we view Christ as an implementor for God, if you will, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to biblical testimony about Christ's divinity…

Now we can understand why some Latter-day Saints have tended to focus on Christ's Sonship as opposed to His Godhood. As members of earthly families, we can relate to Him as a child, as a Son, and as a Brother because we know how that feels. We can personalize that relationship because we ourselves are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. For some it may be more difficult to relate to Him as a God. And so in an attempt to draw closer to Christ and to cultivate warm and personal feelings toward Him, some tend to humanize Him, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging His Divinity. So let us be very clear on this point: it is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant.

One of the great ways to learn about real Mormon doctrine is to actually learn the doctrine in the Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 25:29 states:
And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

Ideally, informed Latter-day Saints will correct the caricatures of this talk which have been spawned both inside and outside of the Church. Besides a Mormon Matters post, Offenders for a Word, Part 2 - Do Mormons Worship Jesus?, S. Faux at Mormon Insights has written a relevant essay entitled: Do Mormons Worship Jesus?. Even with a full understanding of the differences between traditional and restored doctrine, the correct and obvious answer is a resounding "yes".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Purifying Power of the Atonement

Thirteen days before passing away from cancer, Elder Bruce R. McConkie bore powerful apostolic testimony in his final conference talk: "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane".

Technically it should be titled "The Purifying Power of the Atonement", since it's not the Garden of Gethsemane that purifies, but Christ's Atonement. Moreover, the Atonement did not take place only in Gethsemane, but also on the cross of Calvary. Elder McConkie testifies: "While he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 p.m., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred."

In this classic talk he invites us to join with him in gaining "a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement", which Atonement is "the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity."

Candidly, Elder McConkie was wrong on some things during his lifetime, but on this he was 100% right. In the imperative matters of testimony bearing, and in his apostolic role, I admire him greatly. His last statement is even more powerful listening to him deliver it himself. I can't help but be inspired:
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.

I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Apostle's Easter Thoughts on Christ

First things first: The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this Easter statement today:
At this Easter season of hope and renewal we testify of the glorious reality of the atonement and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The empty tomb brought comforting assurance and provided the answer to the question of Job, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14).

Because of the Savior’s resurrection we will overcome death and become the beneficiaries of His mercy and grace. In a world of trouble and uncertainty, His peace fills our hearts and eases our minds. Jesus is in very deed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

We give our sure witness that Jesus is the Christ. Though He was crucified, He rose triumphant from the tomb to our everlasting blessing and benefit. To each member of the human family He stands as our Advocate, our Savior, and our Friend.

Amen. And now I am thrilled to be able to imbed a portion of Elder Holland's powerfully poignant address here:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Glorying "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Of all people, Latter-day Saints should be striving more to "talk of Christ", "rejoice in Christ", and "preach of Christ" (2nd Nephi 25:26). Thus, it was with great satisfaction that I listened to Elder Holland's "instant classic" conference address this past Sunday--"None Were With Him".

Two days later, there was an interesting write-up of the conference talk at another blog in which some of the ensuing comments brought to light that there are Latter-day Saints who don't understand the integral role of the cross in the Atonement. Some are under the impression that the Atonement of Jesus Christ took place ONLY in Gethsemane, but not ALSO on the cross. That some don't realize that the Atonement was worked out BOTH places made me wonder if there was any connection to the absence of the cross as a visual symbol of our faith.

I don't know exactly how, when, or even why we began to separate ourselves from the Traditional Christian world in terms of how we use (or don't use) the cross, but I do think there may have been an over-reaction in our attempt to be "different". I suspect we have a lot of LDS who have less than desirable feelings towards the image of the cross simply because they don't want to be mistakenly grouped with other churches, or perhaps because it just hasn't traditionally been a part of their worship experience. I understand those who have valid reasons why they wouldn't want to emphasize the cross. If I had a relative die in a car accident, I probably wouldn't want to wear a symbol of a car around my neck, either. But for me, the cross is different.

There is a statement on which says that
the cross is used in many Christian churches as a symbol of the Savior's death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also remember with reverence the suffering of the Savior. But because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith.

We may not use it as a symbol of our faith institutionally, but I've become much more open to it as a symbol of my personal faith in Christ. Paul says we are to glory "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

When I think of the cross, I "glory" in it not because it makes me focus on his death, but because it boldly proclaims that Christ has overcome death. It is a symbol of His magnificent Atonement--the greatest act of love ever shown. Like the sacrament, the cross is also an emblem of Christ's suffering, and "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude" as well as our submission to Him (see "The Root of Christian Doctrine").

Jesus suffered for all of our sins, pains, and infirmities. Gethsemane literally means "olive press", and in that garden, appropriately, the Savior was crushed by the weight of all the world's sins (and everything else effected by the Fall), as an olive on the wine press. But then all of that was repeated AGAIN while on the cross, while suffering a most painful death so that we too could overcome spiritual and physical death. What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha.

While I personally do not wear a cross, I would hope any stigma associated with it might be diminished. I personally have no problem whatsoever with those in or out of the Church who choose to wear a cross, not for show, but as a deeply personal demonstration of faith. Our next-door neighbors gave me and my wife a gift last year of a cross with a scripture engraved in it. I felt that was such a heart felt gift and I deeply appreciate it. It's small, but I have it sitting on my book shelf because of what it represents to me.
It has been said that our lives are to be the symbol of our faith, and I couldn't agree more. We are to "receive His image in [our] countenances" when we are "born of God" (Alma 5:14), not merely surround ourselves with symbols of our religion. Thus, perhaps institutionally we won't change much on this, and we probably shouldn't. The world would only view it as an attempt to be recognized as part of "mainstream" Christianity, anyway. For me, it's not about that at all--it's personal. Between me and my Savior, I deeply appreciate that symbol of salvation--and I glory in it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please"

Elvis' "A little less conversation, a little more action please" would have made a nice theme song for General Conference! Naturally we all end up taking away different messages which are customized by the Spirit and made significant for us personally. But the theme that keeps coming back to me is that all our faith is in vain unless we actually do something with it.

"Discipleship is not a spectator sport", taught President Dieter F. Uchdorf. "We cannot expect to experience the blessings of faith by standing inactive on the sidelines any more than we can experience the benefits of health by sitting on a sofa watching sporting events on television and giving advice to the athletes." Moreover, discipleship is a race of endurance--not a sprint, he said. "Ours is not a secondhand religion. We cannot receive the blessings of the gospel merely by observing the good that others do. We need to get off the sidelines and practice what we preach." ("The Way of the Disciple").

President Eyring quoted Alma 34:28: "Do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith."

I guess this is my "phone call" (hat tip Bishop Edgley) to repent, and make sure I'm walking the walk and not just talking the talk; perhaps starting with my home teaching record.

...."Discipleship is not a spectator sport."

1 Corinthians 13: 1-3:
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.

John 13:17:

"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In General, I like Conference

Actually, I LOVE General Conference. It's one of the things I love the most about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Spiritually speaking, it's like Christmas. I just get wrapped up in the "Spirit of the season"--or at least for about 10 hours this Saturday and Sunday.

Thousands to Attend 179th Annual General Conference

What Is General Conference?

General Conference Is Personal

The Blessings of General Conference