A Case for Gratitude

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Many are familiar with the story of the ten lepers recorded in Luke 17. How the Savior met ten men with a disease that ruined both their bodies and their ability to function in society. The Savior invited these men to show themselves to the priests, something forbidden by the Law of Moses since they were “unclean”. The men were healed “as they went” because they acted in faith, a great principle for another post.

This story, however, continues when one of the men turns back after the miracle. We are impressed by the man who was just given his life back, and instead of jumping right back into that new life returns first to recognize the One who gave it. Because of this act of gratitude, the Savior explains that this man isn’t just physically healed, but is now “whole”.

What is less known is the obscure parable recorded just before this experience. Luke tells us that the Savior commands His disciples to forgive those who offend, even if it happens multiple times in a day. The disciples recognize this to be a difficult standard, so in verse 5 they plead, “increase our faith!”

What follows is a less than straight forward parable:

7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

In Bible times, a master and a servant have an agreement. The master supplies all the necessities of life, as the servant faithfully attends to the agreed upon duty. The master doesn’t need to give special thanks because they are both doing what was agreed upon beforehand.

So what does this have to do with increasing faith? It seems the Savior has two subtle messages on this: do your duty, and recognize that you are always in debt to the Master. These things increase faith. But why?

Faith is trust. So, first off, doing your duty allows access to the promises which increases trust in the Master for keeping those promises (again, a post for another time).

But this only happens if we take time to realize the source of our blessings. Otherwise, we become like the nine lepers whose healing was only skin deep. We only get the initial blessing. Only the one who recognized enough to return was made whole. Or, we can say, his faith was increased to completion.

The Lord lets us in on His Divine Nature by expressing what gets Him the most upset.

21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
D&C 59:21

So I guess you can choose your reason for being grateful. I’ve got mine, but it sure takes a lot of effort.

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Doctrines vs. Policies

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an easy target for attack because of our claim of living prophets. As the Savior said anciently:

“…ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets…I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city”. (Matthew 23:29-34)

Fortunately, we live in a day where murdering a prophet is difficult to get away with. But the attempted silencing of prophets is alive and well. There are several strategies of the Adversary to accomplish this end. Prophets can be discounted in the minds of some people by character attacks, misrepresenting their message, or conspiracy theory (among other things).

Within the membership of the church, Satan seems intent to get people to question prophets any way he can. I’ve noticed that one way he seeks to accomplish this is by confusing doctrine with policy. A doctrine is an eternal, unchanging truth. A policy is an official application of doctrine. Elder Dallin H Oaks (a prophet and apostle of Jesus Christ) explained how those who preside are given keys to direct policy and administration, but only the Lord can reveal new doctrine.

A common example of this confusion was with the priesthood restriction on black members of the church that ended in 1978. (A great explanation of this policy can be read here.) This is often misunderstood as a doctrinal change, when it was, in fact, a policy change. It was never taught by a leader of the Church that this restriction was eternal. There were plenty of opinions and attempted doctrinal explanations offered (none of which were authoritative), but it was always understood that “the long promised day” would come when all worthy males could hold the priesthood.

This misapplication then leads some to conclude that a seemingly similar change could happen with same sex marriage or women ordination to the priesthood. Since both of these changes wouldn’t just be policy changes, but would in fact be doctrinal changes, they run contrary to the eternal nature of doctrine. A man has always been meant to marry a woman. Men and women have always had different roles to play in the plan of salvation. Both of these doctrines are clearly taught in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World“, a document that was set forth by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (whose unity in this document fulfills the scriptural requirement of establishing doctrine. See D&C 107:27. See also 27:2, 7).

There is no long promised day in either of these instances. That’s not to say we have everything revealed on these subjects, as I’m convinced we have much more to understand about both. But the foundational direction is set, and it will not be moved. Unfortunately, I see members of the church who look sideways at any prophetic teaching that runs counter to their personal, political, or societal philosophy. They conclude, “oh this is just like blacks and the priesthood, just wait and they’ll come around.” According to a revelation given the day the church was organized, this is a dangerous mindset.

“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”
(D&C 21:4-6)

It is my hope that the honest in heart will not be deceived by these snares of Satan. We live in a day of living prophets. If scriptural history teaches us anything, it is that following prophets has always been the test of faithfulness.

We are given enough to believe

jm_300_BOM2.p-P5.tiffOne of my heroes in the Book of Mormon is a man named Samuel. Not because of what this epic painting portrays, especially when you consider he’ll cast himself off that wall (maybe that cape is a flying squirrel suit, you never know).

He’s my hero because of who he was. What the scriptures gives us about his background is actually quite limited. All we know is that he was a Lamanite (meaning he was ethnically different than his traditional enemy Nephite audience). What the scriptures say about him after his wall sermon is equally limited. All the record says is that he went back among his people and was never heard of again. Yet I’m given enough insight into who this man was simply from this event recorded in scripture about him.

1. Helaman 13: 3– He was both willing and able to stand and say whatever the Lord put into his heart. (This is different than simply “winging it”, as this ability requires paying a price. See DC 11:21)

2. Helaman 13: 26-29- He declared truth that was very unpopular to the people he was teaching. He told them what they needed to know, not what they wanted to know.

3. Helaman 14- He was entrusted with the assignment of revealing specific signs concerning the birth and death of the Savior that no other prophet revealed. I’ll talk more on this later in the post.

4. Helaman 16:1-7–  He was willing, but not required to give his life. The Lord very miraculously spared it. (It’s even more miraculous if the wall he was on was more like 10 feet rather than 100 feet.)

These different points of example are enough to write a post on alone. But in this post I want to discuss the signs Samuel was privileged to reveal.

Why does God produce signs when sign seeking is said by the Savior to be the thing that an “evil and adulterous generation” seeks after?

The answer is given by Samuel in Helaman 14:

28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—

29. And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. (emphasis added)

In other words, there is a difference between sign seeking, and sign watching. And that difference is faith. There will always be given enough reasons to believe, enough evidence to choose faith. On the other hand, there will also always be enough reasons to doubt, and choose unbelief. This way, our freedom to choose stays in tact. Since this life is a test to see whether we will choose God or not, we are given enough reasons either way to choose according to where our heart really is.

Recently the Church came out with a new gospel topic page on DNA (you can check it out here). The article is very careful to explain that the Book of Mormon was never meant to be proven by science. A witness that this book is true must come by faith, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4-5). On the same token the Book of Mormon also cannot be disproved by science. There will always be enough reasons to believe if a person chooses to.

President Boyd K Packer (a modern apostle) said:

Science is seeking; science is discovery. Man finds joy in discovery. If all things were known, man’s creativity would be stifled. There could be no further discovery, no growth, nothing to decide—no agency. All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation. Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery.

(“The Law and the Light,” in The Book of Mormon:Jacob through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, eds. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1990), 1–31. emphasis added)

Last night my 19 month old daughter was inconsolable. She has been sick, she hasn’t been eating well, she’s teething, it was king of a perfect storm. Our first bout with her came just as we were preparing to go to bed at 10pm. We stayed up with her for about 30 minutes until she calmed down. Then at about 1am she was once again inconsolable. It was my turn, so I got up with her. She didn’t want to be held and she fought me. I held her tight and gave her a priesthood blessing. She was asleep by the time I was done. I’d like to say she slept the rest of the night, but she woke up once more asking for milk, or “milt” as she says it. But then she went back to sleep. Now I know not all blessings are so immediately answered, but this one was. There is room to say, “it was a coincidence, she just needed to be held, that’s why she fell asleep.” But there is also room to believe that a blessing was answered upon her head by the authority of the priesthood I hold. That’s the one I choose to believe.

An average Mormon guy’s perspective on homosexuality

00 no on 8So this subject has been on my mind for years, and I’ve wanted to write on it, but then it got all heated with what happened in December in Utah and I’ve been hesitant to write on a sensitive topic during a sensitive time. My goal with this blog is not to have debate, or to get controversial. But my goal is to offer an average Mormon perspective on all sorts of things. As with all my other posts, I do not represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I’m fully responsible for these thoughts.

The doctrinal premise for the way Latter-day Saints view same sex marriage involves a plan God has for our salvation. We believe that we lived before we were born. In this premortal life we lived with God who is our Father, and He taught us all about who He was, and who we were, and who we could become. We had the same gender there as we do here. We have unique rolls and responsibilities based on our gender. He taught us His plan which would require us to come into a mortal test where we learn by our experience the good from the evil. Here we must walk by faith, and deal with our fallen condition. Here we would prove by our choices whether we want and can handle the fullness of what God is willing to give us.

Then we were born. Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, our condition is fallen as well. This doesn’t mean that we were born sinful, we do not believe in original sin. But we were born carnal, sensual, and devilish- although innocent for the first years of life. Satan is not allowed to tempt us for our first 8 years but we are still left to deal with our fallen nature. As we grow in accountability, we will sin. We will yield to temptation in varying degrees and severity. We all have tendencies and weakness that can only be overcome in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

If we endure to the end of our life, relying on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and participating in the covenants and ordinances of His gospel (or for those without a full knowledge of Christ’s gospel- living a good, honorable life, and accepting the gospel in its fullness in the spirit world) then we will overcome our fallen condition. Then we can inherit our full potential as sons and daughters of God. This includes an eternal marriage of husband and wife which extends beyond this life.

With this doctrinal foundation laid, I can now talk about same gender attraction. In our premortal condition there was no homosexuality. Coming into this fallen world produces all kinds of conditions. Whether a person is “born that way” or not misses the point. We are all born fallen. Our mortal test is whether we will rely wholly on the Savior, and accept His gospel. I understand that for a person with same gender attraction, this is a severe test indeed. But there is hope. There is a plan. There is always a choice. All the blessings of the gospel are available to them. But God’s laws are unalterable, and “wickedness never was happiness.”

Where does that leave faithful Mormon’s? Honestly I think it’s good that we struggle with our feelings on this issue. Extremes in either direction are inappropriate, whether that be permissive Mormon’s fully embracing the redefinition of marriage in the name of equality, or mean Mormon’s viciously attacking or dismissing those with same gender attraction as lost souls on their way to hell.

I feel we should love as much as possible. We should want to accept as much of these people as we can without accepting a homosexual lifestyle. We should be kind and attempt to understand what they’re going through. I think our hearts should break over the way we must vote on same sex marriage because we truly love these people. But we should stand with the Lord, and with the Apostles that represent Him on Earth by loving these people enough to stand by truth. We should try to explain that truth by what has been revealed to prophets and leave alone the cultural speculations which are not part of the church’s doctrine. We should trust God and His plan.