Tag Archives: Christianity

This Is Christianity?

A few weeks ago, I stood looking bigotry in the eye and wondering how someone comes to think and behave that way. What makes it possible for someone who has feelings and some kind of sense of self-worth to treat others as though they are scum who should be eliminated from the earth?

The place was the Nauvoo Pageant, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in Nauvoo, Illinois, a town from which the Latter-day Saints were once driven by mobs. The scene was the entrance to the pageant. Protesters and hecklers stood on the public street, just off of Church property, taunting, insulting, and confronting people arriving to see the historical pageant.

Protesters 3Ag17_01717B

I’m grateful I can rely on Jesus Christ to judge my Christianity, and not on someone who is willing to consign me to hell without knowing my heart.

One man used a megaphone to shout taunts such as: “All Mormons are going to HELL!” as well as slurs like “Mormon ___________!” or “Mormon _____________!” (insert a name here for a man or woman who is gay). It was evident from his demeanor that he was using those slurs in the belief they would offend people.

Not far away were a couple of other people handing out literature designed to look like it was connected with the pageant. In truth, it was a collection of criticisms, half-truths, and distortions of LDS doctrine. I have read their literature before and investigated the claims. All of those claims have either been disproved long ago, or cannot be either proved or disproved because they are misrepresentations. The people handing out this material want it understood that they are separate from the people with the megaphone; they will tell you they are simply there in the service of Jesus. I would like to ask how they feel they are serving Jesus by handing out material that they know, or should know, is misleading.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. There is certainly room for good people to disagree on questions such as how grace is applied in our lives, what awaits us after this life, and how we should receive and respond to inspiration from the Holy Ghost. I respect anyone’s right to have a different view. It is a basic tenet of our faith that all men and women have the God-given right to exercise their own agency in religious beliefs and practices. Among the 13 Articles of Faith that define basic LDS beliefs is this one, number 11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men [and women] the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This idea is embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. And yet some seem to feel that this freedom should be applied only to certain selected religions.

I am always grateful to be among believers in God, and I have no difficulty working amicably with anyone, whether or not they believe as I do. I respect their right to worship, or not, as they see fit. I believe we are in truth all brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God, and we owe each other respect on that basis. And if that is not enough, we ought to try to live in peace together as residents of this planet.

But I have difficulty understanding those antagonistic protesters. Do they go home at night telling themselves, “I served Jesus today by screaming insults at people and trying to destroy their faith”?

The only way I can explain their behavior in my own mind is to realize that those people are haters, and members of my church happen to be their focus. If there were no Mormons, they would focus their hate on Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, foreign immigrants, Democrats or Republicans, or some other handy group. They simply need someone to hate—someone on whom they can focus their anger—because deep inside they are not right with God, and not even right with themselves.

Their actions cannot be, either rationally or spiritually, the actions of people who follow a loving God. This cannot be Christianity—not as taught by Him who said, “Love one another” (John 15:17).

I feel sorry for those protesters, and I’m sure this statement would anger them. As we watched them out in the street one evening, the sheer theatricality of the man with the megaphone made me laugh. He saw me, and focused his wrath on me: “You laugh now, but you’ll burn in HELL!”

What a sad, pitiful way to spend one’s limited time in this life—trying to destroy someone else’s faith instead of trying to demonstrate what it means to be a follower of God.

 

Among Believers

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02977B

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Our worship service was a bit different last Sunday. It involved seven people balanced on the edges of beds or on hard chairs in a small hotel room in St. John’s, New Brunswick. We came from three different countries and four different faiths.

What the seven of us had in common was belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him on the Sabbath. We met in that hotel room at the invitation of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois traveling with our tour group. He followed the order of worship he would have followed at his pulpit back home that day.

Those of us in that room could have found doctrinal differences, I am sure, if we had chosen to discuss them. Instead, what we found together was comfort in the knowledge that through the Lord Jesus Christ we all may be forgiven of our sins and become better followers of His.

In several cities during this trip, my wife and I have seen many people who appear to be wandering aimlessly in life. They seem to know how to fill their days with activity, but not how to fill their lives with growth and useful experiences.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02991BAnd yet we have met others who find fulfillment in giving of themselves. In our tour group, these included the outdoorsman who has spent many years in lifesaving on Australian beaches, and the teacher who uses music to help young people through their educational and emotional struggles. The minister and his wife are also among those people who purposefully give to others. While he and I might have differences on theological themes, I have to admire his willingness to share the knowledge of God with others. In that he is an example to me.

In high school, an agnostic friend of mine once said that Hell is every church’s gift to every other church. He was too cynical, I think, and too inexperienced to see how good can draw people together no matter what their backgrounds. I believe in a loving, caring Heavenly Father who will reward every one of His Children for the good we do, no matter what church we attend.

On a personal level, some doctrinal differences matter very much to me. I dare not minimize the principles of faith to which I am committed. Belief in those principles has shaped every crucial decision in my life. Trying to live those principles is making me a better disciple of Christ. I will hold them dear even as many in the world abandon them, and even if my beliefs are challenged and mocked.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02982BBut I do not believe that God reserves His blessings only for those who share my doctrinal views and my church affiliation. Experience teaches that there are many upstanding people of other churches—or of no church—who are intent on doing good to those around them. Surely God will answer the prayers of any of His children who desire righteousness. Often we mortals simply need to work on understanding the wisdom of His answer, be it “Yes,” “No,” or “Follow the counsel I have already given in my holy scriptures.” Sometimes the answer may be, “Are you ready to follow the direction I will give you through my Holy Spirit?” Jesus Christ wasn’t just leading us on when He taught that if we ask in faith, we will receive (Matthew 21:22).

So on a Sunday far from home, we were grateful to be among a group of believers—people who believe in asking for His blessings, and who have the faith to receive.

A Lesson in Turning the Other Cheek

Miguel's view

Miguel’s view

Lessons in being a disciple of Christ can continue throughout our lives. That’s a good thing, I’m sure, but some days it seems that the more I learn, the more I see how far I fall short.

Yesterday I learned a good lesson from my friend Miguel. (And to protect his privacy, I’m not using his real name here.)

Miguel showed me something of what it can mean to turn the other cheek.

The first time I met him, he lived in a nice home in the hills above the city—a place he had built as a refuge for his family. It was a lovely place. I enjoyed a few days of peace with them there. How fortunate they were, I felt, to have such a place.

Now he and his wife, well into their “golden” years, live in other circumstances. Their home was taken from them cruelly by someone who coveted—a former business associate Miguel had trusted. A little deception in the office, a little forgery, and my friend and his family found themselves being evicted from their nice home.

He speaks about it matter-of-factly now. There was nothing he could do.

I don’t know if he protested, or if he fought. I would have. But he seems to be at peace with it now.

I’m sure I would still be whining, “But he can’t get away with that! It’s wrong! If people can get away with cheating others like that, then what protection do the law and society offer?”

Some people would be asking “Why?” after something like this happened to them. I have learned that “Why?” is usually useless after the fact—a waste of time. The situation simply must be dealt with, and worrying about the why is unproductive.

But I am not good at letting go when injustice is involved. How can we let someone get away with cheating another innocent person? If society tolerates that, are we not also guilty? Are we not guilty of letting the thief abuse one of Heavenly Father’s children who did not deserve it?

But now we are skirting the dangerous swamp of deciding who “deserves” evil and who does not.

My friend Miguel is wiser than I. He seemingly does not spend any time occupying his mind with past hurts. The man who cheated him may need to carry that baggage into eternity, but Miguel knows that he does not.

He still has the most important things in his life—a strong family, a woman of great spiritual strength beside him, his faith that God loves him. He still looks outward. Getting burned did not make him fearful of extending himself to others. He still serves.

Would I be able to do that? I’m not sure. And this worries me a bit, because that is exactly where the road of discipleship leads.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

In the hills above Guatemala City.

 

Why I Believe

NativityThe longer I live, the more it seems to me that those who truly believe in God—those who live as though they are actually going to meet Him someday—are generally happier and more productive in life.

They could respond easily to the admonition of Peter to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Admittedly, I have been shaped by different experiences than other people, but still, it is difficult for me to understand why some people do not believe in God, especially because there seem to be so many things that testify of Him.

I cannot comprehend atheism. It seems to be the most ignorant and most superstitious of all philosophical positions about God—ignorant because it stubbornly refuses to pursue certain avenues of learning about Him, and superstitious because it clings desperately to the need to be right. After all, the alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate.

For a time in high school, one of my best friends was an agnostic who was steeped in science. He said he did not know whether God exists, but nothing in his experience convinced him that Deity was involved in the affairs of mankind. That seemed at least a rational position; he could not affirm the existence of God because he did not know from his own experience.

But it is a big leap from there to the assertion that God does not exist. Every atheist’s argument that I have ever heard boils down in the end to this: “I know that God does not exist because I have not seen him.” That is supposed to be convincing? The most effective, most rational answer I have ever seen to the atheist’s assertion is this from a prophet in the Book of Mormon: “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God . . . ? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only” (Alma 30:40).

A god by definition does not have to respond to man’s demands to prove Himself. Yet all I know of Heavenly Father suggests that He is willing, even eager, to testify of Himself to us, His beloved children—on His own terms.

I am reminded here of the scientific method. When scientists set up experiments to prove or disprove a hypothesis, they try to take into account all the factors that could influence the outcome. They recognize that there may be influences they do not yet understand or have not seen. And yet, with regard to knowledge about God, some will record the result of the experiment without actually carrying it out—without taking into account the factors of faith that would be crucial to knowing God. They say, in effect: “There could not possibly be anything about this situation that I do not yet understand.”

The arrogance of that is almost stunning.

My high school friend and I agreed it would be impossible to “prove” the existence of God by any mortal means.

And yet I know that God exists.

Some would ask if I have seen Him, or heard His voice.

No, I have not seen His person or heard Him speak to my mortal ears.

But I have heard Him. He has answered my pleas very specifically and spoken to me in my heart in ways that were incontrovertibly true. Sometimes He has done it through other people, sometimes He has done it directly. But no one else could have known the specific questions in my heart and mind, nor could anyone else have answered in ways that were so undeniably beyond mortal capability.

Will I share the details? No. Those answers are sacred to me. They were gifts to me alone to strengthen and guide. They would not apply to everyone in general, and I will not risk sharing them with anyone who may not treat them as sacred.

But I will promise you that you can get answers for yourself. All you have to do is set up an experiment in faith that admits the possibility of God. If you truly want to know, He will answer you in His own way—in the way that will be most understandable and plain to you—and in His own time. (I think I can also promise that if you go into such an experiment with the attitude “This isn’t going to work,” you will be right.) You may be surprised at the result of your experiment in faith. My high school friend eventually became a Christian, though I never heard from him how that happened. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis once considered himself agnostic. His conversion to Christianity and deep faith are a matter of public record.

God would never compel you to believe; that isn’t His way. He allows us freedom to choose what we will believe and how we will act—with the understanding that we will eventually be accountable to Him. But as a loving Father, He is eager to respond if we extend our trust to Him.

Of course we can use the freedom He gives us to live our lives trying to ignore Him. If we do this, we can never know with any mental or spiritually certainty that He is there.

But please do not tell me that you know He is not there because you have not seen Him. That is no evidence. That is arrogance.