Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I felt motivated to share this:

I was recently having a conversation with a friend and the topic of motivation to repent came up. I started out with an intended brief discussion about reading scriptures that sort of snowballed into this, so I hope you get something from it. I know I did. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The greatest motivation to repent is the knowledge that heavenly Father is beckoning you back. But you can't know that if you aren't actively looking for that knowledge. But when we aren't happy with ourselves we also aren't the most keen on being close to heavenly Father because it reminds us of our guilt. But God does not want us to feel guilty. Guilt is a negative emotion instilled in us by the adversary to keep us away from heavenly Father. God wants us to feel peace and joy. And for that reason he provided Christ as a sacrifice so that we wouldn't have to shoulder the burdens of our sins alone. But if we desire his assistance we need to ask for it. He won't force us to have our burdens made light. That would be contrary to the laws of agency. A lot of people have this idea in their head that Christ suffered so we could be made clean, which is true BUT it is only a half truth. The two-fold purpose of the  atonement is to allow us to be made clean AND to allow us to have a friend to help us carry our burdens. And that friend is Christ. When Christ suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, he wasn't only suffering the eternal consequences of your sins, he was suffering ALL the consequences of your sins. That means any temporal pain and suffering you feel as a result of your perceived failures was also shouldered by Christ in the garden. He is the only one of God's children who know exactly what you are going through, down to every last headache. When we are suffering, we tend to seek out others who have been through similar things because we feel like they understand us, and feeling understood and loved helps us to feel at peace with ourselves. But true peace can't come from other people, because those people are merely types and shadows of Christ. True peace and true joy come from the knowledge that we aren't alone. The knowledge that in this infinite universe, there is someone who understands us entirely. That someone is Jesus Christ. And by extension, our Father in Heaven. And despite that perfect understanding of our guilt and imperfections, He loves us more than we can comprehend. And nothing we can do will make Him love us any less. Because we are His children. We are his joy and His light and His glory. And nothing can diminish that.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Christ's Suffering, and God's Love

So, today at a church meeting we were reading from one of the manuals and one line in particular stuck out to me a lot. It was talking about repentance, and suffering through the repentance process and it said "Even as you feel the great pains of your rebirth, remember that His suffering, not yours, ensures your redemption from sin. Your sacrifice is only a humble reminder of his 'great and last sacrifice' (Alma 34:14) on your behalf."

This got me thinking about Christ's suffering and what it was that he suffered for us. Jesus Christ suffered everything for us. He suffered everything that we have suffered, are suffering, and will suffer, so that when we are in need of comfort, he can "succor his people" (Alma 7:11) and lift our burdens. So everything that we feel of our own suffering, Christ has suffered. But not only did He suffer what we suffered, he also suffered the eternal consequences of our sins, "which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit, and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink." (D&C 19:18) Suffering of this magnitude, for us, is insufferable, and completely unfathomable. We will never have to endure, nor will we ever be able to comprehend, what Christ endured for our sins. Our suffering, that so often seems so difficult and unbearable, is infinitesimally small, utterly insignificant, in comparison to what Christ has suffered for us.

This understanding led me to think of another of my favorite scriptures, Mosiah 2:21, which says: 

"I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another--I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants."

We are eternally indebted to God for everything He has given us, the greatest of these being the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our sins. Christ has suffered more than we can ever know, so much so that if we were to give every bit of our life to Him, we would profit Him nothing. That is love beyond compare! Just as we can never know all that God has given us, and we can never comprehend all that Christ has suffered for us, we will never be able to understand how greatly God loves us!

God loves us more than we will ever be able to love, or even dream of loving another person. Even the overwhelming love that we feel for Christ as we repent and come unto Him pales in comparison to the love that He and our Father in heaven have for us!

The next verse in Mosiah says:

"And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you."

All that God asks for us in return for all of His blessings and all of His love AND the sacrifice of His son, is that we live our lives in the way that he would have us live! How simple! How sweet! How utterly full of grace and love our Father is! And yet, we fail. We falter. None of us is ever able to live our lives in perfect harmony with God's will. Perhaps sometimes we simply need a reminder of Christ's suffering on our behalf. Is that not the purpose of the sacrament? Is that not why we are commanded to read our scriptures daily?

The Lord has given us a road map for life, and if we will sacrifice our selfish desires and turn our lives over to Him, we can do all that we can to repay God for everything He has given us. Of course our efforts will never come anywhere close to recompense for our blessings, but if God loves us more than we comprehend, wouldn't our best be enough to bring Him more joy than we can ever comprehend? If we receive joy and peace from keeping the commandments, how much more joy does our Father in heaven rejoice in our righteous choices?

In keeping the commandments, we become closer to God, and in turn, He becomes closer to us. Imagine the joy that will come from being so close to one with so much love for us! "Shall we not go in in so great a cause?"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This life is the time!

Today during my elder's quorum meeting, we discussed the post-mortal spirit world. Upon arriving at the topic of baptisms for the dead, we were posed a question, that I have been posed many times before. Why, if people will get an opportunity to hear the gospel in the spirit world, is it necessary for us to do missionary work in this life? Well my internal cogs started working, just as they had every other time this question had been posed to me. Every time anyone had asked me this question before, I was content to state, "Because repentance is easier in this life, while we have a physical body, than it will be in the spirit world, when we have no physical body." This answer had been sufficient to me for most of my life, but today it felt like it was lacking, like there must be something more. So after sharing these thoughts, I continued to ponder on the subject and a bit of greater understanding came to me.

Firstly, we know that those who have passed on from this life will have the same passions, appetites, and attitudes that they possessed in this life. We will be the same people we are on this earth. Those who are addicted to cigarettes or alcohol will still crave such when they pass from this life, however they will be unable to satisfy their cravings. This understanding of the post-mortal existence is not specific to members of the LDS faith, as is very elegantly illustrated by Dante's "Inferno", but in our day and age, it is a widely discredited view of the next life, particularly among people of my generation. Those of us who do understand this, however, recognize that there will still be need for repentance after this life if it is not achieved during our time on earth. Again, however, the question resounds, why must it be this life?

In order for us to understand the idea of repentance in the life after this, let us examine the process of repentance as it occurs in this life. Ultimately, repentance can be initiated for a number of reasons. A person could be repenting because they were discovered in their sins and are compelled to go through a repentace process. Perhaps a person fears the wrath of God befalling them. Perhaps they are concerned that they will be condemned to a lesser glory after this life if they do not do the things that are required. All of these are valid motivations for repentance, but are these motives catalysts for true, sincere, and complete repentance? The subjects of King Benjamin, in the book of Mosiah, chapter 5 verse 2, state that they have had a mighty change wrought within their hearts that they "have no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually". True repentance will yield these results. Would repentance under the above addressed motives be considered true repentance? Of course, repentance of any kind will bring us closer to God and can eventually lead to true repentance and ultimately sanctification, as the people of King Benjamin experience. However, the truest form of repentance grows out of a desire to serve God and to follow His will out of sincere love for Him and all that He has given us.

So operating with this understanding of repentance, we see that true repentance is coincident with absolute obedience, a principle that very few are capable of living, but all are capable of achieving if we so wish. But ultimately, if we are to succeed at this, we must DECIDE to be obedient. We must CHOOSE to follow God, no matter what. So this brings us to a deeper understanding of what people will go through after they have passed from this life. When people have passed on, they will have the same desires and attitudes they had in this life. Therefore, those who have cultivated and attitude of obedience to God and a desire to serve Him, will be received into His rest. Consequently, those who have cultivated an attitude of rebellion, or a desire to do wickedness, will still continue in opposition to God, despite being assured of His existence and His will.

In Chapter 46 of the Gospel Principles manual, it states that even during the millennial reign, people will continue to practice their religions of other faiths. How could people, knowing the truth, still continue to put faith in a religion that they have practiced their whole lives, when the Savior of the world stands before them as their supreme ruler? It has been said that people will ask God, during the millennium, if they can continue to practice their own religion. Why would this be so? Because the attitude that they cultivated was not an attitude of total obedience to the Lord. If their attitude was total obedience, they would forsake all their sins and incorrect interpretations and cling to the Rock of Salvation. Even among members of this church, there will be countless concourses who will remain in their stubborn ways and choose to cling to some of their sins.

Let us consider, for a moment, a statement made by the prophet Amulek in the book of Alma, chapter 34 verse 32. "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold, the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." What are our preparations? What are our labors? When we meet God, what will we need to be prepared for? When we come to see the face of God and stand to be judged, what are we to have performed with our labors? Of course, good works will be weighted against bad. But again, those who have repented shall have their bad works washed clean and the Lord will remember them no more. However, are good deeds that are performed under unrighteous motivations still considered good deeds? We can't be the judges of such. But one thing we can be sure of, if our hearts are one with God, then we, having been sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, will be received into His presence to dwell there for all eternity. And if our heart is not one with God, despite any good intentions and motivations, we are still in rebellion to His will, because we seek to follow our own will, or to become a law unto ourselves instead of following His law. And the turning of our will to God begins with an attitude of obedience. Therefore, our labors in this life, our preparations, must be to cultivate an attitude of total obedience to the Lord and His commandments.

So, why is it important for us to perform missionary work in this life if an opportunity for repentance will be given after we have passed on? Because this life is the time for us to learn to turn our will to God. We all need to be seeking in this life to turn our will to God's. Because when we are no longer possessed of a body, how are we to perform the things that are necessary to humble ourselves and turn our lives to Him? How can we choose to seek for things that are not of the world, when we are unable to partake of the things of the world? How can we exercise agency over physical appetites when we have no ability to succumb to physical appetites? And how can we choose to accept God if we chose to reject Him in this life?

Chapter 41 of Gospel Principles, the chapter about the post-mortal spirit world, begins by explaining that we will dwell in the spirit world until "...our mortal bodies will once more unite with our spirits, and we will receive the degree of glory that we prepared for." PREPARED for! Not the degree of glory that we earned, or that we deserve, but the degree of glory that we PREPARED for! That we CHOSE to obtain, by our actions, by our faith, by our obedience!

This life is the time for us to choose where we want to be, to perform the necessary labors for such, and to prepare to receive the glory that we chose to attain to! We have been given this life as a grounds for such preparation, and so have those of our friends who have not heard the gospel! They just don't know it yet! This is why missionary work is so important in this life! Let us all help our friends to prepare for the glorious day of the coming of the Lord, so that they, hopefully alongside us, will be able to stand before God and by their attitude of total dedication to the will of the Lord, enter into His rest, to receive the blessings of eternity that God seeks to give all of us! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Our Purpose. Our Focus.

Life's greatest questions have always been, "Who am I?", "Why am I here?", "Where did I come from?" And "Where am I going?". As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe that I know the answers to these questions. And that knowledge is what makes ALL the difference. The reason that these answers are so important is because their understanding holds the key to making the correct decisions in every situation we will find ourselves in during the course of our lives. Satan recognizes this and as such, we can see that he has made countless attempts throughout history to blind people to this knowledge throughout the years. He knows that if he can rob us of the understanding of these things, he can drag us down and claim dominion over our souls. 

Before we discuss why this knowledge is important, let me first explain what I believe to be the answers to these questions. I believe that each of us is a child of God. We all once lived in God's presence. We were created by Him and we are His literal offspring. He desires for each of us to be happy, and in order for us to achieve a fullness of joy and knowledge, we needed an opportunity to leave the presence of our Heavenly Father and experience sorrow and pain, and pass through trials. That is who we are. That is why we are. We lived with God before, and we will return to live with Him again when this life is through. (Of course, this explanation is very simplified, yet it is sufficient for the task at hand. Note that where we came from and where we are going are ultimately explained by who we are and why we are here, therefore the explanation of such will be forgone as it would ultimately be repetition of material.)

So again, the premise of my writings is that the understanding of such things is vital to our triumph over evil in our lives. To illustrate my point, let's examine the ultimate example of righteous living, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, Himself.

Firstly, "Who am I?" Why is the answer to this question so important? When Christ was thrice tempted of the devil, each temptation was an attempt by Satan to cause the Savior to doubt the answers to such questions. The devil uses the language "If thou be the Son of God", attempting to implant in the mind of Jesus that perhaps he wasn't truly the Son of God, as he most assuredly was, and that He should prove to himself and to the devil that such was true. Christ, knowing of course who He was, yielded not to such attacks and stood his ground against all the powers of the devil. Here we see the importance of the knowledge of who we are, else why would Satan have tried so desperately to plant such seeds of doubt? If we doubt, even for a second, who we are, and we are children of the Most High God, then we will undoubtedly fall to the temptations of the devil, who seeks "that all men should be miserable like unto himself". 

Second, "Why am I here?" This can be most beautifully illustrated by our Savior's suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. While Christ was in the garden, making atonement for the sins of the world, He cried out in agony asking for His Father to lift his burdens. Beneath a pain that none of us can ever understand, our Savior cried out for relief. Surely He had the freedom to choose whether to continue on in such an agonizing task, or to be free of the burden and leave us to our respective lots. Yet in recognition of His purpose in coming to earth, He chose to do the will of the Father, and he bore our sins. When the final debts had been paid, while suffering on the cross, when all of the necessary tasks that had been given to Him by the father were completed, Christ uttered in triumph, "It is finished" and gave up the ghost. Christ remembered always His purpose in life, and as such was able to endure all the necessary trials that needed to be endured for His purpose to be fulfilled. 

Christ set the ultimate example of righteousness. He showed us how to live, and he showed us what to do to live as He did. In our own lives, each of us will have temptations, just as the Savior did. And likewise, each of us will have seeds of doubt sewn in us that will attempt to make us forget who we are and why we are here. We are children of God. We are vessels of divinity. We have a mission to fulfill. Christ came to suffer for the sins of the world. We are here to help each other to come unto Him and receive the blessings of His sacrifice. If we always remember who we are and why we are here, we, like our savior Jesus Christ, will be able to stand firm in the faith and triumph in glory until the end. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Perceptions and outcomes.

A recent discussion with a good friend of mine prompted a bit of thought on this subject so I decided to blog about it! Cuz I always want to blog but I never actually do! So I guess anytime is better than never!

All points made in this post are generalized and are by no stretch of the imagination absolutes. Just as with any kind of diet, actual results may vary.

We have all heard the saying that says something along the lines of "Thoughts mold Actions. Actions mold Behaviors. Behaviors mold Habits. Habits mold Character. Character molds Destiny. Destiny molds Eternity." Anyone who knows anything about self improvement will tell you that it begins with your thoughts. Thought control. It is the key to self-mastery. But I want to add another link to the chain. Somewhat a precursor but more in the same realm as thoughts. "SELF-PERCEPTION MOLDS THOUGHTS".

I have been blessed enough to be a part of many conversations involving self-perception, and not specifically self-perception of a person's character, but of a person's emotions, living conditions, and any other self-related circumstances that could be perceived in one's mind. I have discussed many times how differing attitudes among differing people have led them to their current conditions of existence. Consider the rich and the poor. Generally speaking, although not always the case, the wealthy are wealthy because they see themselves as having potential to be wealthy, whereas the poor remain poor because they see themselves as poor. Those who accumulate wealth focus their minds on the prospects of the future, while the poor are often too focused on the worries of the here and now that they fail to see the potential they have to remove themselves from the situation they are in and into a better one. Consider education. A child who sees himself as limited in some way will always be limited by his own self-prophesy, while the child who see himself as having great intellect, whether it be true or not, will find himself to be successful in his endeavors. This "fact of life" has been recognized and understood for centuries. In this study I would like to present this specifically from a religious standpoint.

As a follower of Christ, I seek to follow his admonition to "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Of course I will never achieve perfection in my lifetime, but the principle remains to do all in your power to become who God would have you become. The thesis I would like to present is this: Those who see themselves as righteous followers of God will become such, while those who see themselves as sinners will remain as such.

Let's use addiction as a good place to begin. Addicts, regrettably, are great examples of this. Addiction is a vicious cycle. Addictive behaviors are in most cases a means of escape; an escape from the difficulties of life. These behaviors can easily rob an individual of self-esteem. Self-esteem is one of the most fundamentally important needs of human beings. So as behaviors become habits and habits become addictions, one loses a great degree of self respect. This in turn leads an addict to fall deeper into their addictions. The cycle continues in this manner (escape, despair, escape, despair) unless something is done to break the cycle. "Breaking the cycle" is achieved chiefly through two things: instilling a strong sense of hope and empowerment in the addict, and service. Addicts meet to discuss their hopes for the future, their vast potential to be stronger than they are, and they create a unity that gives one a sure knowledge that he or she can be free. This strengthens their self-perception. They see themselves as strong, capable, and they know that through Christ, they can do all things no matter how difficult they seem. Through service, they forget about their faults in the midst the many joyous faces of those whom they serve. They begin to feel important and their lives take on more meaning for them. So we see that the fundamental tools of addiction recovery are aimed at one thing: improving one's opinion of one's self.

These patterns that are observed are subtle. Often the addict doesn't realize that he or she is gaining a greater feeling of self-worth until long after their struggles with addiction have become almost nonexistent. They are even more subtle in our daily lives. Personally, my struggle is getting out of bed on time, or really getting to where I need to be on time in general. I know that I need to move more quickly in my preparations, but for some reason I just can't. Now some would say to me "that isn't a sin, it's just a weakness". I personally believe that all weakness and imperfection is sin. However this is not sin in the sense that people often see it today, as an act of ungodliness, but rather in the sense of the root meaning of the word sin which is "to miss the mark", the mark being perfection. (On a quick side note, being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I have often seen that we, as members of the church, fall into the cycle that I am speaking of more easily than many who are not of our faith simply because of this desire to seek perfection. Please be wary of this in your own life.) The fundamental problem in my weakness is that I recognize that I am always late and I feel that I don't have the power to pull myself out of it. I have often found myself speaking to my friends on the subject and saying "I just can't get out of bed on time ever!" This is a flawed perception of myself. I CAN get out of bed! Granted it is difficult, but remember that with God nothing is impossible. And although it isn't impossible, I fall victim to my own self-prophesy because I see myself as incapable or weak.

On the flip-side, one of my strengths is caring for people. I find it very easy to love people that I don't even know, because they are children of God. I didn't always used to be this way. But somewhere down the line I decided that I wanted to be the kind of person who was like that. I envisioned myself being as such. When situations arose that could have been turning points in my endeavors to become who I wanted to be, I chose the path of action that would lead down the road I wanted, even though it was seemingly the harder road to take. I made the decisions I made because of who I saw myself as and who I envisioned myself as becoming in the near future. So we see that in this case, my self perception molded my thoughts, which in turn molded my actions, and then my behaviors, and then my habits, and finally my character. In the future, we will see how it will mold my destiny. The power of self-perception is immeasurable!

So now to return to my thesis, if a person sees his or her self as a sinner, his actions will be those of one who feels he or she cannot do anything right. Likewise, if a person sees himself as one who is able to make righteous decisions, he will do so. Therefore our eternal destiny lies in our perception of our self worth! This is why a study of the Plan of Salvation that God has laid for us is of such importance! We are children of God! He created us in His own image! He commanded us to be like Him! He wants us to be filled with righteousness, ever increasing in light and truth until we come to bask in the glory of His presence! We have infinite potential to be more than we could ever imagine of ourselves! That vision of who we are, as His children, and who God wants us to become should be the driving force behind all that we do! If we will always see ourselves as God sees us, we will become who we are to become! If we will focus our thoughts on the parts of us that are in accordance with God's will, however few they may be, they will grow! As we see ourselves as being humble servants of God, we will become such, more and more, every day, by our own self-prophesy!

When I returned home from my mission, my mission president gave me these words of wisdom. He told me of a phenomena, that I have now come to know is referred to as "glory" or "brocken spectre" (yes it is brocken, not broken), that occurs when one stands upon a high place, surrounded by fog, with his back to the sun. As the sun casts his shadow upon the misty air, the light refracts through the fog and creates a rainbow, which forms around the shadow of the person. He told me that if I am looking in any other direction, I won't see what I am intended to see. But if my eye is single to the glory of God, I will see myself shrouded in the glories of heaven, and the love of a Father and His Only Begotten Son, who always see me with a rainbow wrapped around my shoulders. I know who I am and I know who I am to become. I know that as long as I remember what the Lord sees in me, I can and will become all that he wants me to be. I am a child of God and He loves me!

And you are too and He loves you! "Go thy way and sin no more." (John 8:11)