Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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.

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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.

 

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.

 

 

 

“Some Assembly Required”

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Bolts, washers, and end caps ready for packaging.

Probably every adult reading this has had the experience of buying something that needs to be assembled according to “simple, easy” instructions. And many have had the experience of getting part way through the task only to find that a key component is missing.
The parts list says: “Eight 5/16 X 5 ½” bolts. Eight ¾” washers. Eight tan plastic bolt end caps.” Now where was that last bolt? Let’s see . . . one, two, three, four . . . seven! Only seven 5/16 by 5 ½” bolts! Now how am I supposed to finish this???
Sound familiar? The absolute worst time for this to happen is on Christmas Eve. (I can remember making a metal shim out of a piece of copper so a bolt would stay in place and I could finish putting together a little boy’s tricycle before morning.)
Maybe all the bolts are there, but one hole is in the wrong place. Or maybe the bolt is just too big to fit.
So we mentally curse the dunderheads at the factory who left out that one bolt, or drilled the hole in the wrong place.
Well, this afternoon I found myself on the other end of the process. In fulfilling a volunteer service assignment, I ended up working in a furniture factory putting together the hardware packages—bags of bolts, washers, and bolt end caps—that go with a piece of assemble-it-yourself furniture. It is precisely the kind of work I never could have done for a living. It seemed mind-numbing at first. Back when I was 16, I had the opportunity to visit a Chevrolet assembly plant in Wisconsin. Workers standing on the assembly line used air wrenches to tighten the same two or three bolts in the car frame, then stepped away until the next frame moved into place, and repeated the same process over and over and over. Never! No matter how much it paid, I thought, I could never do that hour after hour, day after endless day. (Maybe that is why robots are doing so much of the work in factories these days.)
But this afternoon I learned several things: the work is not as mindless as it looks; I can make the assignment challenging; and my mind can accomplish others things at the same time.
The supervisor showed me how to do it: Line up eight bolts in a specially slotted board, count out eight washers and eight end caps, put them all in a plastic locking bag, roll up that bag and pack it into a storage bin, then start over. He opened a new box of bolts for me and left me on my own. Soon I was experimenting with different ways to do the job more effectively or quicker. Some things worked well, others didn’t. I found the system that worked best for me, got into a rhythm, and built up my speed. Before the end of the shift, I met the goal I had set for myself—use up that entire large box of bolts and start on a new one.
After some practice, I found I could multitask; my body and part of my brain were doing the job at hand while another part of my brain was turning over and fleshing out some new ideas.
Life can be like that. Certain tasks can seem mundane, boring, even useless, though they must be done for us to move forward. We can curse them and put them off, or we can accept the challenge, find our own ways to simplify and overcome them, then move on to things we feel are more productive.
But in meeting the challenge, we grow, and God makes us more capable of doing the things He wants us to do, the things that are most important for us to do on earth.
That is the way we move toward the perfection the Savior expects of us (see Matthew 5:48). We will never reach it here on earth, but here on earth is the place to learn how to go forward in eternity.

What Does ‘Perfect’ Mean?

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Do we focus on the withered edges, or on the beauty at the heart?

“Be ye perfect,” the Savior said,

like our Father in heaven.

It seems too bold a thought, at first,

And then—impossible!

How shall we aspire to this,

we mortals marred by flaws,

full of fears and weakness,

incapable of good at times

because we lack the will,

or stamina of spirit.

We do not have it in us

to conquer every sin,

or even our own doubts.

It seems sacrilege, damning pride,

to think the very thought

that “perfect” is possible.

 

And yet—it was His command.

There was no qualifying word,

no “if,” or “almost,” but only: “Be ye.”

He would not have said it

if the goal were beyond all hope,

or the mere thought forbidden.

 

What, then, does “perfect” mean?

The best of humankind

Is like the flower of summer,

with striking beauty at first sight,

but flaws and withered spots

on closer, careful view.

We cannot feed from

common mortal soil

without developing

earth-borne impurity of sin,

nor bask in burning sun

without the sometime searing

of our tenderest parts.

These flaws and lasting damage

we alone cannot repair.

 

And yet—it was a firm command,

with no deadline,

preceded by directions

to prepare us for the task.

Be meek and humble.

Hunger and thirst after good.

Be merciful, seek peace,

“let your light so shine”

that it brings glory to our Father.

Let go of even precious things

when they become stumbling blocks.

Love your enemies—yes,

even that is required.

 

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When we admire finished beauty, do we recognize that we are still in the bud?

We are not as He.

How dare we even think it?

And yet—how could we tell Him no?

 

He bought us with a price.

He will mend the flaws,

forgive the glaring sin

if we but offer up

our stubborn, prideful will.

In everlasting patience

He lets us do the work

step by daily step.

But in His command

is the direction to begin.

 

This is not a project

to be finished in a day,

nor in the coming year.

It will be consuming labor

for all eternity.

 

But in this task for coming eons,

we shall begin today.

Among Believers

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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.

Caught in the Rush-hour Traffic of Life

Crawling along in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, covering less than 15 miles in an hour, provokes some interesting thoughts. The first is, “I’m never coming back to this place. How can people have lives here if they have to commute like this every day?”
Another thought is that people caught in this colossal waste of time are indifferent to anyone outside the small enclosures of their vehicles, or worse, they are angry at anyone in their way. For example, the woman in the next car is busily texting while she creeps along. The guy in the plumbing truck behind us makes angry faces and gestures because I’m not going fast enough for him, and finally finds a way to creep past us on the side. The guy in the Mercedes weaving in and out of traffic cuts people off and risks involving others in an accident just so he can pull a couple of cars ahead.
Nope. I’m never coming back to Boston again.
But I shouldn’t blame Boston for this. I’ve been in similar situations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, São Paulo, London, Tokyo, and Accra. I’m not trying to drop names here; the point is that in today’s world, clogged traffic like this is a common human experience.
And where are we really when we’re all stuck in traffic?
In Tokyo, I saw a mother and daughter come out of a subway train walking side by side, each furiously texting someone else. If one had disappeared, I’m not sure the other would have known.
How often am I, and how often are you, self-absorbed like that? How often are we oblivious to anything outside our small enclosure of personal space?
I could not undertake to judge any of the people I saw in that situation. Maybe the woman texting in traffic was multi-tasking—arranging an activity for her daughter’s school or keeping in touch with a son home alone. Maybe the man in the plumbing truck was in a rush to get to someone’s broken water line. Maybe the man weaving through traffic had a family emergency.
And if I can’t judge the people around me, what should I be doing with my time? Maybe I ought to be thinking about how I could reach out to others.
That was part of the miracle of the life of Jesus Christ. He knew and tried to meet the needs of others around him, no matter His own needs or wants.
If I want to think of myself as one of His followers, perhaps I need to break out of the walls of my own little enclosure and think about how I could help others get through the stop-and-go traffic of life.

“It’s a Matter of Perspective”

How many times have you heard the saying? Some lessons in life and some insights do indeed depend on your perspective.

COB Flower 12My16_00180Those who know me know that I always carry a small, good quality camera with me, especially when Mrs. S. and I are out walking or traveling. (My children would be surprised to see Dad without a camera.) This way, I can capture moments that may come only once.

Yesterday, the flower in front of the downtown office building, spotlighted by the sun, made such a moment. It was another of so many wonderful gifts from Heavenly Father, who has the scientific expertise to design complex, interlocking ecosystems that support life on earth and who endows them with beauty at the same time.

The impact of the flower when I saw it was momentarily stunning—arresting. I was on my way to a meeting, but had to stop and take time to savor this gift.

From the perspective in this photo, the flower is beautiful. If I were to blow up the photo, you would easily see that the flower has tiny imperfections and small damaged spots. But why focus on those? Why not enjoy the effect of the whole?

Why not look at things as Heavenly Father, or our Savior Jesus Christ, would see them? Do we not each hope that Jesus, who paid such an excruciating price to own us as our Redeemer, will see us as the whole that we can be rather than focusing on the many imperfections we carry? Indeed, through Him, the imperfections can be erased if we put our roots down into His doctrine and accept the light of His Atonement in our lives.

Ducks 13My16_00188On this morning’s walk, I literally “got my ducks in a row” in one photograph. Disturbed by our near approach, the ducks formed up and followed their leader to what they considered safer ground. It was a metaphor captured in megabytes. It reminds me of the Savior’s comment that He would gather His followers as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them, if only we would follow. What is there in our lives that prevents us from following? Can we get that obstacle out of the way?

Duckling 13My16_00196One fuzzy little duckling we noticed on this morning’s walk was having trouble making its way around the large rocks on the lake’s shore. For the duckling, they were huge boulders. It would have been no great difficulty to move the rocks out of the way—but would that have benefited the duckling? Sometimes I think Heavenly Father watches lovingly as we labor with obstacles in our lives. He knows that this will help us learn and grow stronger. He wants us to ask His help. When we do, He may not remove the boulders in our path, but He will surely guide us as we learn to overcome them. The trials that may be painful for us now will bring blessings in the end. I do not say this just to dismiss difficulties with a platitude. I have had my share of painful trials, but I have lived long enough now to see some of the blessings that have come out of them.

So many things truly are a matter of perspective. We look, but are we seeing the whole picture?