Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Drift From God in Churches

Yesterday, I read a talk given by Harold B. Lee in the October 1963 General Conference.  The talk is entitled, This is Our Gospel.  I found this talk on the LDS Scripture Citation Index site.

What caught my attention from this talk were his quotes of a couple of newspaper clippings he read. 

Below are the quotes he cited in his talk.

A short while ago in Philadelphia I was handed a clipping from a Philadelphia newspaper reporting a statement made by the Associate Secretary General of the State of Churches of the Assembly of National Churches representing thirty denominations. The article was entitled "Drift from God in Churches." I shall read but a few sentences:

"American churches in many cases were described today as being too 'public relations conscious'—more eager to please the crowd than to please God."
* * * * *

"Many churches, yielding to secular practice have become public relations conscious. There is as much if not more concern for the attractiveness of the package and the effectiveness of the marketing techniques than for the quality of the product."
* * * * *

"Modern churches too often have put the accent on secular yardsticks of success—size, statistics and outward attractiveness—rather than spiritual dedication."
* * * * *

"Many congregations would rather have a minister who is a 'good administrator and promoter' than one who is 'a loyal and humble disciple of Jesus Christ, a thinker and a fearless prophet of the sovereign and redeeming Lord.'"
* * * * *

"Too many people speak vaguely of the need of `faith and religion' rather than of the real need—of God, of a `return to the Father.'"
* * * * *

Then I picked up a clipping also while I was in Philadelphia about a year ago from Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, president of the Union Theological Seminary, in which he said this, as quoted in the paper:

"A sharp and strange contrast between the upsurge of religion and a decline in morality was noted by Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen . . .

"It is a disturbing, confounding contradiction that the revival of religion has no parallel resurgence in morality. If the complex and illusive data could be plotted on a graph, it would show curves of religious vitality and of moral health moving in opposite directions.

"Thus far, the return to religion in our day has produced no corresponding moral fruitage. It raises the question as to the quality and worth of the religion.

"Either there will be moral revival flowering from religious revival, or the latter will fritter into futility. And our final state will be a religious sterility to match the moral anarchy.

"Interest in religion appears to be at an all-time high, with church membership over 100 million, but delinquency, (I remind you) immorality, and social confusion also are at peaks."

As I made note of those articles I thought to myself, it is time for us to make a critical self-analysis of ourselves to see how much of this applies to us as a Church and to us as individuals.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Persecuted

Matthew 5:10-12 reads, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

3 Nephi 12:10-12 reads, "And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

"For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets before you."

The words and order are a bit different in these verses (between Matthew and 3 Nephi), but the ideas and concepts are the same.

Definitions ...

persecute: afflict, torture, torment; worry, badger, vex, bother, pester
revile: to assail with contemptuous or approbrious language; address or speak abusively

Observations ...

I particularly liked the sentiment of this Christian blogger, who said, "Believers who allow the corruption of the world to filter into their lives eventually become a weak testimony of Jesus Christ. Their values and behaviors run too closely alongside those whose lives are given over to all manner of selfishness and moral perversity. Christians who do not hold to their faith typically are not persecuted, for there is no reason to be. They are not making a loud enough stand against the systems of the world to merit being silenced."

"Unfortunately, when Christians lead this kind of life, they may not be experiencing adversity for the sake of the Gospel, but neither are they experiencing the blessing of living a life of genuine righteousness. Satan has no need to harass those who have strayed from the Word of God; they have already been rendered ineffective as witnesses for Christ, and therefore are no longer a spiritual threat to him."

With that said, I think it is logical to use persecution as a yard-stick to measure your own life - to see if it is righteous or not.

Harold B. Lee once noted that the evidence of a the true church is found in persecution.  He cited Matthew 5:10-12 as well as Luke 6:26, which reads, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets"  (link to his talk).

And lastly, this quote comes from a John Piper sermon from 1986:
"So we can see why a life devoted to righteousness or godliness will be persecuted or reviled or spoken against.
If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people's love for free sex.
If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
If you pursue self-control, your life will indict excess eating.
If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
And if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you."
(link to full sermon).

The point of the above is to show that by living a righteous life, you attack (stand in direct opposition to) the worldly pursuits of indulgence, luxury and pride.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9 reads, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

3 Nephi 12:9 reads, "And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

Just as with the "pure in heart" verse, the Book of Mormon version adds the word "all".

In my mind, a peacemaker is someone one tries to prevent fighting and quarrelling.  It is someone whose heart aches as other people contend.

The blessing for being a peacemaker is to be called a child of God (as opposed to seeing God).

In doing a little internet searching on this topic, I came across this picture:

peacemaker during Greek riots Sept 2011

This image represents a real peacemaker - someone who, individually, is trying to calm the unrest (picture source).

Do we do the same in our homes?  Do we strive to bring a voice of calm to a heated discussion?

I'm always impressed with people who can have a spirited debate, but then turn on a dime and crack a joke and essentially diffuse a volatile situation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 reads, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."

3 Nephi 12:8 reads, "And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

As Mormons, we often associate the concept of "pure in heart" with the concept of Zion.  We will often cite 4 Nephi 1-18 as the model for Zion and the pure in heart.  As I noted yesterday, Spencer W. Kimball gave a talk about being pure in heart.  His talk was essentially about how we, as a church, can bring about Zion on earth.  Even the Book of Mormon version of this Beatitude adds and extra word - "all".  Instead of "the pure in heart", the Book of Mormon version reads "all the pure in heart" connoting social order rather than an individual admonishment.

Today, I did a general search on this beatitude - knowing full well that most hits would not come from LDS related pages, but rather from Catholic or Protestant related pages.  I like to do this with the Beatitudes to see other opinions and insights into Christ's teachings.  This search revealed that the "pure in heart" Beatitude is more generally viewed at the individual level than at the congregation level.  It is more equated to the concept of sanctification.

The first stop in my Internet search took me to an article by Eric Simpson entitled The Pure in Heart Shall See God.  He talked about fragmented and whole hearts.  Hearts can be fragmented by many things such as serving Mammon or other desires.  While the pure in heart have hearts that are whole and that are committed and centered on Christ.  To accomplish this one must pray and fast often.  The author connected the teaching of prayer to the concept of Nepsis.  I had never heard of this before, so I searched on Nepsis.

Wikipedia's entry states, "Nepsis (or nipsis; Greek: νῆψις) is an important idea in Orthodox Christian theology, considered the hallmark of sanctity. Nepsis is a state of watchfulness or sobriety acquired following a long period of catharsis."  To me, this is essentially the concept of sanctification as taught in the LDS church.  Later in the same wiki entry on nepsis, it talks about nepsis in Eastern Christianity.  In that section it states, "As the Christian becomes purified, in time he reaches the stage of illumination. At this point, the contemplative life begins, and watchfulness takes on a whole other meaning. Ultimately, the goal of the Eastern Christian is called theosis, the "deification" of man. According to St. Athanasius and others, "God became man so man can become god.""

A search of this phrase was quite revealing.  Of course, there are a number of wiki entries, but there are also other single-page essays on this topic.  One article on The Catholic Exchange, entitled Is Man to Become God?, brings up the things I learned in my Humanities class at BYU - that the idea man could become like God was openly discussed a long, long time ago.

Practically speaking, what does all this mean?  To me, it means I am not pure in heart as I've not seen God yet.  Is it possible?  I think it is not only possible, but it is our duty to become pure in heart.  I've learned that to be pure in heart requires, first, a desire to have a pure heart.  Second, a pure heart not only is clean, but it is single to (focused only on) Christ and the glory of God.  Third, to achieve purity of heart, we must pray often, fast often, meditate, think of Christ and His teachings and strive to act in accordance with those teachings.  We are to attune our desires and will to God's desires and will.  Lastly, this process takes a lifetime of daily commitment.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nauvoo and Bishop Hill

I love the Internet and all the fascinating things you can learn from the people who post on it.

In this morning's study of the Beatitudee "blessed are the pure in heart," I was lead to a talk given by Spencer W. Kimball entitled Becoming the Pure in Heart.  In that talk, he quoted Joseph Smith who said, "the greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concentrated effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise."  I had never read that quote before and it fascinated me in light of what Obama said several weeks ago - "you didn't build that."

I searched on the Joseph Smith quote and came to this link: A Tale of Two Cities (of God): Bishop Hill and Nauvoo by Myron J. Fodge.  In this article, Fodge provides greater context of the quote used by Kimball.

The quote came from a statement by the First Presidency on January 8, 1841.

"The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise. The history of all past ages abundantly attests this fact. In addition to all temporal blessings, there is no other way for the Saints to be saved in these last days, [than by the gathering] as the concurrent testimony of all the holy prophets clearly proves, for it is written, 'They shall come from the east, and be gathered from the west; the north shall give up, and the south shall keep not back.' The sons of God shall be gathered from afar, and his daughters from the ends of the earth."

The statement in its entirety, can be found here.  This link notes the statement was released January 15, 1841.

The rest of the article by Fodge, is quite fascinating.  He describes the two approaches to perfection as demonstrated by the Mormons in Nauvoo and the Janssonists in Bishop Hill.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Merciful

Matthew 5:7 reads, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."

Nephi 12:7 reads, "And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

This teaching is as clear as any teaching can be; yet the practice of it can be difficult.

I won't expound on this one too much, other than to point out a recent and popular talk given in the April 2012 general conference.

The Merciful Obtain Mercy by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness

Matthew 5:6 reads, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

Nephi 12:6 reads, "And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost."

To me, hungering and thirsting for an object simply means having an intense desire for that object - really wanting it, whatever 'it' is.  So, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, means to have an intense desire to be righteous.

And what does rightous mean?  It means being upright or moral - being good, honest or fair.

The difference between the Matthew and Nephi versions is interesting.  In Matthew, those who desire righteousness are simply filled.  While in the Nephi version, they are filled with the Holy Ghost.

The phrase 'filled with the Holy Ghost' reminded me of D&C 121:45-46, which reads, "Let they bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven."

"The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever."

Now - to go down this trail a bit more - scepters are symbols of power or authority or dominion.  Therefore, it seems that if you desire (really desire) righteousness, that you will be filled with the Holy Ghost - He will be your constant companion; always there to advise and guide you.  And as He is always there to advise, guide and comfort you, your power and authority will be derived from righteousness and truth.  And since your power and authority are founded on righteousness and truth, there will be no need to compel that which is in your kingdom - all things will gravitate to you naturally.

The ultimate lesson to be learned here is to train your desires on righteousness.

Reference Links
wikipedia entry for scepter
wikipedia entry for was (a type of scepter)

Other Worthwhile Reading Material
He Hath Filled the Hungry With Good Things by Jeffry R. Holland
Nourishing the Spirit by Dallin H. Oaks
Spiritual Nutrients by James E. Faust

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Meek

Matthew 5:5 reads, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."

3 Nephi 12:5 reads, "And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

It was timely that I read and studied this beatitude today.  I need much meekness - especially after a 'conversation' I had last night.

Neal A. Maxwell, who relentlessly focused on discipleship throughout his life, dissected the topic of meekness in a talk he gave just over 30 years ago today: Meekness - A Dimension of True Discipleship.

The talk should be read in its entirety - several times.  But I will copy a few poignant excerpts into this post.

"if one needs any further persuasion as to how vital this virtue is, Moroni warned, 'none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart.' (Moroni 7:43-44).  If we could but believe, really believe, in the reality of that bold but accurate declaration, you and I would find ourselves focusing on the crucial rather than the marginal tasks in life!  We would then cease pursuing the lifestyles which, inevitably and irrevocably, are going out of style!"


"God, who has seen billions of spirits pass through His plan of salvation, has told us to be meek in order to enhance our enjoyment of life and our mortal education.  Will we be meek and listen to Him?  Or will we be like the Gardarene swine, that pathetic example of totus porcus - going whole hog after the trends of the moment?"


"Since God desired to have us become like Himself, He first had to make us free to learn and to experience; hence, our humility and teachability are premiere determinants of our progress and our happiness.  Agency is essential to perfectibility, and meekness is essential to the wise use of agency - and to our recovery when we have misused our agency."


"Meekness ... is more than self-restraint; it is the presentation of self in a posture of kindess and gentleness, reflecting certitude, strength, serenity, and a healthy self-esteem and self-control."


"Granted, none of us likes, or should like, to be disregarded, to be silenced, to see a flawed argument prevail, or to endure gratuitous discourtesy.  But such circumstances seldom constitute that field of action from which meekness calls upon us to retire gracefully.  Unfortunately, we usually do battle, unmeekly, over far less justifiable things, such as 'turf.'


"there are some things worth being aroused about, as the Book of Mormon says, such as our families, our homes, our liberties, and our sacred religion.  (see Alma 43:45.)  But if all our anxiety amounts to is our so-called image, it's an image that needs to be displaced anyway, so that we can receive His image in our countenances. (see Alma 5:14)."


"the meek are not awestruck by the many frustrations of life; they are more easily mobilized for eternal causes and less easily immobilized by the disappointments of the day."

"Because they make fewer demands of life, the meek are less easily disappointed.  They are less concerned with their entitlements than with their assignments."

"When we are truly meek, we are not concerned with being pushed around, but are grateful to be pushed along.  When we are truly meek, we do not engage in shoulder-shrugging acceptance but in shoulder-squaring, in order that we might better bear the burdens of life and of our fellow beings."

"Meekness can also help us in coping with the injustices of life - of which there are quite a few.  By the way, will not these experiences with mortal injustices generate within us even more adoration of the perfect justice of God - another of His attributes?"


"Meekness means less concern over being taken for granted, and more concern over being taken by the hand.  Less concern over revising our own plans for us and more concern about adopting His plans for us is another sure sign of meekness."


"There are, brothers and sisters, ever so many human situtations in which the only additional time and recognition and space to be made available must come from the meek who will yield - in order to make time and recognition and space available for others.  There could be no magnanimity without humility.  Meekness is not displayed humility; it is the real thing.  True meekness is never proud of itself, never conscious of itself."


"The meek use power and authority properly, no doubt because their gentleness and meekness reflect a love unfeigned, a genuine caring.  The influence they exercise flows from a deep concern: 'No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion , by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.' (D&C 121:41)"


"even if our being meek results in our being abused in this world, we need to remember that we are being fitted for chores in another and better world - one which will be everlasting, not fleeting."


"You will see far more examples of those in desperate need of meekness than you will ever see of the truly meek being abused."


"Yes, there are real costs associated with meekness.  A significant down payment must be made.  But it can come from our sufficient supply of pride.  We must also be willing to endure the subsequent erosion of the unbecoming ego.  Furthermore, our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt.  As Ezekiel said, one's task is to 'make you a new heart and a new spirit.' (Ezekiel 18:31)  There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay.  Yet since we cannot be 'acceptable before God save [we are] meek and lowly in heart' (Moroni 7:44), the reality of that awesome requirement must be heeded!  Better to save one's soul than to save one's face."

As I read this talk, and especially toward the end, the only image in my mind was that of the Savior shrinking not before the bitter cup (see D&C 19:18).  He was given to drink and he drank ... and did not shrink.  He was meek and did His father's will.  He took it.

To play a variation on the phrase, just do it, I offer the phrase, just take it.  If you are pressed to go a mile, then go two - just take it.  If your coat is taken from you, give also your cloke.  If you are cursed, hated, abused, judged wrongly, persecuted, condemned, accused, thought ill of, pushed to your wits end ... just take it.  Did not Jesus take all of this?  Are we not to be perfect, like Jesus?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

On the Brink of a New Era of Prosperity Enabling Wider Sharing of the Gospel

In talking to my dad last week, our conversation, as often is the case, shifted to politics and the economy.  I told him my blunt opinion: that if the current policies and direction of the country are reversed and that if the energy industry is allowed to fully pursue the abundance of resources in America, that virtually all our current national problems would be solved (see recent NYTimes article on this subject.  The sentiment of the article is not unique; this opinion has been stated many times in many places.)

He responded by saying something very interesting.  He mentioned that my niece recently attended a YSA conference in California and that Elder Ballard talked about how one of the greatest challenges facing the youth today will be dealing with prosperity.  Elder Ballard also said that this new prosperity will help further spread the gospel throughout the world.

I found a video of this talk on youtube ... click this link to jump right to the point where he begins to discuss, at length, the topic of prosperity and the gospel.

"America's New Energy Reality" by Daniel Yergin