Monday, January 18, 2016

Building With The Bricks That Are Thrown At You

Sometimes I feel bad for people who don't have 'nose-to-the-grindstone', soul wrenching difficulties very often.  Yes, I know, this probably sounds a bit masochist right off, but I'll explain.  Extensively.

No I do not rejoice in pain of any kind, physical, emotional, financial, social, spiritual, mental, etc.  It really bothers me, to a point that makes it almost impossible for me to endure, to see others suffering, especially those I love most.  But what I have seen happen in my wife's life and mine as a result of exercising faith during difficulty makes me realize how much further behind and ignorant I would be if I hadn't seen the level of contrast that comes as a package deal with holding on to Christ in the midst of that much affliction.

In Truman Madsen's lectures on the prophet Joseph Smith, Truman says: "Let us now do a close-up of the personality and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. May I begin with the comment of the late Sidney B. Sperry, who was perhaps the Church's most knowledgeable Hebraist. He studied years ago with some of the world's renowned scholars at the University of Chicago and then came to Brigham Young University, where he remained for his entire career. One reason he studied ancient languages was to gain the advantage of reading in the earlier source materials. Because of his scholarly achievements, some of his colleagues spoke of him as "the accomplished SBS."  Early in his life, he said, he had aspired to know more about the scriptures than any man living. He told me, and this is the point, that he had become aware that no man in this generation could possibly know as much about the scriptures as did the Prophet Joseph Smith. I begin with that because a feeling constantly recurs as one studies the life of Joseph Smith. You never quite get to the bottom. There is always more. You can be so impressed and overcome with glimpses that you say, "Nothing good that I could learn of him would be surprising." And then you become surprised. There is always more. It takes deep to comprehend deep, and I often wonder if any of us have the depth to fully comprehend this man. [emphasis added]."

I intensely admire all the quiet, "old souls" of the world, regardless of their actual physical age; those who are, quite frankly the opposite of me, who prefer to quietly observe more than speak because, usually, they are the ones who are like a deep well of experience and wisdom to whom the world needs to pay more attention.  Those who are most like this, when they truly speak their minds, give us some of the worlds most profound and well timed lessons.  Why is this?  Is it simply because of their observatory nature or is there something else?

I believe it is because they, many of them, have been on the receiving end of so much trial, so much abuse, so much being beaten down life and have, of their own volition, followed the Savior's invitation via the Holy Ghost to, as The Script says in their song "Superheroes", "turn[ed] their pain into power".  My wife is one those people.  The things she has seen and experienced dwarf almost anything I have ever heard about challenges of any other mortal alive today.  I have been working, ever since I've known her, to reach the deepness of understanding and heart that she has.  Keeping in mind how sheltered I was growing up from what the world is really like, it has been an extremely grueling experience, easily the most challenging and revealing of processes.  I have seen and experienced things, along side her in private moments, that have stretched my mind and soul to places I, or anyone else who knew me growing up, would scarcely imagine, many times with me "kicking and screaming" through it and sometimes in teeth gritted, head bowed commitment to her and my Savior.  There is very rarely a dull moment in our apartment.

But the reason why I paint this picture is because of that phrase "it takes deep to comprehend deep".  According to doctrines of the LDS church, we all have the inherent ability to become like God.  The total of trials God tailors for us, on a individual basis, are meant to bring us to that point and transform us to become like Him.  That's what will happen provided we don't prevent it by resisting His efforts to build our character through hardship, training us to not be affected negatively by difficulty or "acted upon".  That being said, if someone goes through much of their life, or even just long periods, with very little or even relatively tolerable difficulty, the compensatory level of such they will face may multiply exponentially and quickly.  Only the soul that is highly spiritually conditioned to respond to trials to come with faith in Christ will be successfully brought to total cleansing, healing, perfection, and exaltation.

I hope that the reader does not get the impression that I suggest that they must seek pain or trials, intentionally open themselves up to religious persecution or anything like that.  Those things will come whether we look for them or not the more we are focused on the Savior.  I am also not suggesting that there is some quota of pain, responded to in faith, that will only result in our transformation into divine beings if it is reached.  There is no celestial checklist of roadblocks that we must hurdle over in order to reach our true potential.

Our character can be perfected, our faith completed, our souls eternally glorified with good experiences or bad ones, big and small.  It just depends on whether we choose to act or allow ourselves to be acted upon.  The reason why I said that I sometimes feel bad for people who don't have 'nose-to-the-grindstone', soul wrenching difficulties very often is because, at least for me, those kinds of experiences have always had similar results to Alma the Younger.  The more I have turned to my Father in Heaven and sought the changing power of the Atonement of Christ amid them, the more I have felt "joy as exceeding as was my pain!"  If I hadn't seen and suffered the things I have in my heart, I would not understand the polar opposite on the happy side of life, which always ends up being more than worth it.

*edit (June 2016)
Bruce and Marie Hafen explained it this way: "We grasp meaning on in the midst of contraries.  Thus only those who have lived in the depths carved out of their hearts by tribulation can have room enough for their hearts to contain and truly comprehend the fullness of joy that awaits them."
*end edit

I've still got a long way to go, but I'm grateful for the "bricks" that have been thrown at me.  As David Brinkley once said, "A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him."  The more bricks that are thrown at me, the more opportunities I have to lay with them an iron clad, unbreakable, impenetrable foundation on my Lord and Savior and the stronger that foundation gets.

At this point, I am eternally thankful for the foundation my Father in Heaven has helped me build, founded on His Son, our Redeemer, constructed with bricks of opposition, decorated with the joys and blessings of obedience, all held together with the mortar of faith in Jesus Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 78:19, "And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. [emphasis added]"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Word(s) of Wisdom: Going Beyond Health and Semantics

Several discussion groups out there among the LDS church have tabooed conversation about the Word of Wisdom because of how heated and contentious it gets.  I know this is a sensitive subject for many but in light of recent observations, I feel the need to address something regarding this revelation from God that perhaps many members of the church (let alone the world as a whole) don't think of or possibly don't understand.  For those who are not members of the church and have not heard about this yet, it's a code of health and respectful treatment of our bodies.  Short disclaimer, too: I'm not writing this to give a hint to or take a subtle cheap shot at anyone with whom I have had these discussions.  It's just something that is on my mind quite heavily.

Now, I know that there are certain things that are quite clearly spelled out in church doctrine (not just word of wisdom).  For example, Latter-day Saints choosing to drink any type of alcoholic beverage, coffee, non-herbal teas, consume tobacco in any way, shape or form, use illegal or harmful drugs or abuse prescription drugs or get a tattoo cannot worthily retain a temple recommend until repentance is complete.  Some other things are not quite as explicitly spelled out.  For example, General Authorities of the church have encouraged members to be cautious of and/or avoid energy drinks, follow the Holy Ghost and personal inspiration as to what type of general diet to follow and more without any persistent and direct statements saying "don't ever do this" so as to avoid a law of Moses approach to the gospel.

We should not need every little tiny thing spelled out in painstaking detail.  That would leave little to no room for our God given gift of moral agency.  But there is so much more to living in wisdom than making a list of do's and don'ts, not that that's always a bad thing.

I've been a part of conversations where questions are was posed about consuming coffee flavored things, such as ice cream, shakes and so forth, cooking with rum extract without actually drinking any coffee or rum, or whether or not a certain drink has tannic acid and other things are not explicitly spelled out for Latter-day Saints, but, is always posed as a serious question by honest inquirers.

The first crucial thing I want to address is well prefaced by a story from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual: "...a man was interviewing new drivers for his transportation company. The route was very dangerous and went along several steep cliffs through a mountain pass. The interviewer asked each man how close he could safely drive near the edge of the cliff. The first man responded, “I could drive within six inches of the edge.” The second man responded, “I could drive within two inches of the edge.” The third man responded, “I would stay as far away from the edge of the cliff as I possibly could.”  You can probably guess who was hired.

The point is that rather than see how close we can get to drinking coffee (or any other aspect of the subject at hand) without actually drinking it, staying as far away from sin as possible is always the best option.  Does this mean I can never go to Tim Horton's and get hot chocolate there again? No, because for me, it's not even a temptation.  I hate the smell of coffee.  For others this is not always the case and they should be more careful if the smell makes them want it or something that is like it.  Bottom line with this point, please just stay as far away from the edge as possible.

The second point I want to discuss is why we should be avoiding those things in the first place.  I've heard so many arguments about the benefits vs. downfalls of so many things we consume it would be outlandish of me to try to list them all, but I know that arguments about caffeine, sugar, what constitutes an unhealthy energy drink, how many piercings are acceptable have been a few points of contention over the years.  This is all utter nonsense to me.  Why are we arguing about semantics?  This is the very reason the Lord taught a higher law that clearly condemns every single, little, minute, obnoxious detail and reason for every commandment being handed to us on a silver platter.

What ever happened to "I have faith that our modern prophet is lead by God so I'll just do it, period"?

What ever happened to "I don't need to know why coffee, alcohol, etc. etc. are so bad to avoid them when God says to"?

What ever happened to "I simply love the Lord so I'll take the safest route without second guessing, back pedaling or doing research to see what the 'professionals' say"?

These questions, and my whole point with this entry, goes far beyond health, beyond coffee, tea, alcohol, tattoos, dress standards, what is appropriate to do on the Sabbath, the language of prayer, what movies, T.V., and music is appropriate, and all that stuff.  It all boils down to two questions we should be asking about which we should be downright uncomfortably honest with ourselves.

Would the Lord do it? and Would Jesus offer this to me Himself?

Now I know none of us are expected to be like God right now or even during mortality, but that should not be a reason to make excuses, however insignificant or small they may seem to us, to justify something that, deep down, we know is wrong.

I can say with confidence that I am absolutely sure Christ would not partake of or offer us coffee flavored anything or cook with rum extract.  I am certain that He wouldn't drink - heck - probably anything that's not water or 100% pure fruit juice or be comfortable with his wife in public wearing almost any of the bathing suits that are popular today... do you see where I'm going with this?

I'm not saying we have to go all stir crazy and become like the Mennonites or anything like that (though I give kudos to Mennonites for sticking to their standards).  Becoming like Christ is a life long pursuit, a step by step process that requires one small step at a time with huge spiritual leaps scattered along the way.

What I am saying is that if you have to ask "is this wrong? is it too close to the edge of spiritual danger?"  If even a shadow of that thought crosses your mind, the safest route is to always err on the side of caution.  Just because something may not keep you out of the temple if you were to tell your bishop doesn't mean its always okay in the Lord's eyes.

The world is more wicked than it's ever been.  The devil is more sly, more deceptive, more smooth in his sweet talk, more effective in his methods than he ever has been.  He has control of more souls than he ever has before and is better at getting you to make small mistakes than you think he is.  I think of Harry Potter and his occlumency lessons when Harry asks if he can rest for a moment and Snape responds "The dark lord isn't resting!!"  The same applies here.  If you think that there is room to slip up a little when somewhere in your mind or heart the Holy Ghost is saying "are you sure that's a good idea?", get ready for a harsh wake up call when Jesus comes again.

I'll start wrapping this whole thing up with a promise of happiness.  It comes from Mosiah 4:11-12: "And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.  And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true."

To me, in a nutshell, what this is saying is that the more we acknowledge how little we know or even can know compared to God, the more we stop caring too much about the whys and let God show us those why's on His time, the more we desire to stay as far as possible from the edge of sin, the more likely we are to "always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God."

I know I'm not anywhere near where I want to be in this respect, but I'm not going to knowingly make excuses to do something that 'could be' questionable even if it won't keep me out of the temple. Those little things that aren't "spelled out" as bad that we think are not a big deal? They're going to become a big deal the longer we take to get them out of our lives.  I know this from personal experience.  Our hearts and minds need to be willingly and lovingly focused on putting them off for bigger, more divine and rich blessings from our Savior. *edit 2018* We also need to be as unified as possible in our effort to ask "how good can I be" instead of "how good do I have to be?" As Bruce R. McConkie said, "As long as we disagree as to the simple and easy doctrines of salvation, how can we ever have unity on the complex and endless truths yet to be revealed?" We are stopping ourselves. It is your and my responsibilities to shoot for higher ground and until we do and become unified in such, spiritual progression will slow until it comes to a halt for those who refuse to elevate their thinking to higher spiritual planes. *end edit*

As Elder David A. Bednar said: "Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong.  It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant and the necessary from that which is merely nice."

If you want to really make it to the ultimate goal of salvation and exaltation, the little things that "aren't really that bad", even from a Latter-day Saint perspective, but which are unnecessary or edge even the smallest amount away from the iron rod, have got to go.  Whether or not your bishop or other priesthood leadership refuse you a temple recommend for it, if it could possibly taunt you to loosen your grip on the rod or look like it could or even just serve as a distraction that doesn't push you in either direction, it will only end up being a hindrance to you; and trust me, it's better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent.

And it's not as hard as we think!  All it takes is exertion of faith.

(Part 2 of this can be read here)