Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 3

Next in line at number 3 in my Songs of the Righteous is Hymn 113, Our Savior's Love

Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above it breaks thru clouds of strife.
Lighting our way, it leads us back into his sight,
Where we may stay to share eternal life.

The Spirit, voice of goodness, whispers to our hearts
A better choice than evil's anguished cries.
Loud may the sound of hope ring till all doubt departs,
And we are bound to him by loving ties.

Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray
In rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice.
Praises we sing. We love thy law; we will obey.
Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice.

Just yesterday, my wife and I watched Finding Dory on Netflix.  It's a great movie by the way.  As noted in an article quite a while ago, I find it very easy to notice gospel parallels in movies.  In that one, it shows when Dory was young how her parents helped her find her way back home when she was little if she got lost by always having a long path of seashells that she could follow back to their home.  God does a similar thing.  He leaves a path of little spiritual reminder "seashells" to help guide us back to him.

I wanted to point that out to parallel something in this hymn.  Contrast is often an effective teacher.  This becomes more apparent the more often and more deep our experiences are in this life.  Sometimes it's within our darkest moments that the light of Jesus Christ pierces the darkness, often in even the smallest ways and even when that is the case, it still feels like enough to pull us through and "break thru [our] clouds of strife".  I am confident that that is because the love and light of the Lord is so intense and powerful and beautiful that it doesn't take much of it to last us a while.  For me, even the mere memory of my deepest experiences like that lifts me again and often helps me feel like he's leaving much larger and more beautiful "seashells" along my path, bursting with his "perfect light."

Interestingly enough, the fact that Dory ends up having her memory improve little by little throughout the movie (don't worry, that doesn't spoil anything) ties in very well with the second verse.  Even though the veil has been drawn over our mortal minds, our spirits still have a perfect memory of everything about life with our Heavenly Father before we were born.  Dory's flashes of memories from her childhood remind me of the little flashes from the Holy Ghost we get sometimes of "Oh yea, this feels familiar!" which also kind of goes along with the second verse of "Oh My Father", hymn 292, which I may write about in a later part in this series,

"For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere."

Memories of that love reignite in us a sense that, really, we belong with our Father in Heaven when all is said and done. So it's not an exaggeration or a merely symbolic statement when it says "we are bound to him by loving ties."  Love literally makes the world go 'round.  The elements of the universe operate solely by and in response to the love of God.  His love for all of His creation is why the earth, the solar system, wind, water, magnetism and radiation, the human body and brain all work the way they do.  It is an eternal agreement of love, faith and respect.  It's those ties of love that keep us bound to Him if we elect to keep them strong on our end.

Whether we remain or regain our state of belonging to Him is totally up to us.  Of course, the reason it's even possible to grow to be like Him and His Son, our Redeemer, and remain His is brought to our attention in the last verse of hymn ,

"Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray in rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice."

The highest form of love is sacrifice and I've spent a significant portion of my life working to increase my understanding of and faith in that principle.  Some things I've sacrificed I've seen as more of an investment than "giving up" something I love for something else, because of the love I have for what I'm investing in, whether it's a person or something else.  But I'm still trying to get to the point where the following statement is a more accurate reflection of my mind and heart: "If you have nothing but God, you have more than if you had everything but God."

Clearly, Christ saw us as an investment for which giving His all - every last bit of His vast, Godly sized reservoir of love - was completely worth it.  He wants us all back that much.  And what a better way to respond to such love than that way the last verse of this hymn concludes, "Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 2

The second Song of the Righteous I want to analyze immediately follows the first, Hymn 86, How Great Thou Art.

1. O Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the *worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!

2. When thru the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze


3. And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin


4. When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

*Authors original words are works and mighty.

The first thing thing that comes to mind when I reflect on the mood of this song is what Truman Madsen said (back in the 1980's) about the prophet Joseph Smith:

"Even in the days that he was in Vermont - Vermont, where even today there is little pollution and where the sky at night is clear and the milkyway is milky - he would look up at night and marvel at the symmetry and the beauty and the order of the heavens.  And something in him said, as has happened to sensitive souls from he beginning, 'something lies behind that. There must be a majestic creator to account for that majestic creation."

It is always a healthy thing for us to think of ourselves as a part of something greater, even staggeringly so, than ourselves.  What a glorious thought!  "I am a part of something so grand, so great, so vast and good and glorious, that I'm going to need a lot of time to understand it all."  What a way to realize there's really no good reason for us to ever be bored.

A while ago when my wife and I were playing Minecraft together, we had been working really hard on some projects on her server when she said something like "This is so awesome and so satisfying to see how much we've accomplished here and this is just a game!  How much greater and more wonderful and joyous and satisfying must it be for Heavenly Father when He creates things in real life that are greater and grander than we can possibly imagine!  How amazing will it be when we are able to participate in that kind of creation!"  She was overcome with joy at the thought.

So should we be!  The best thing, I think, about this hymn is it's focus on what He did so that we have a chance to get to that point.  Sending His Son Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Perfector so that we can reach that level and become clean and pure as He is, as loving and glorious and mighty and powerful as He!  The infinite sacrifice the Lord made for us should be at least what it was for B. H. Roberts as He studied it, "By deeper delving into the subject, my intellect also gives its full and complete assent to the soundness of the philosophy and the absolute necessity for the atonement of Jesus Christ."  Tad Callister writes of this, "...such intense study of the Atonement proved to be both a mind-expanding and soul-stretching experience.  The intellectual and spiritual blended in wonderful harmony."

I know the world looks dismal at best to the average human mind and heart, but there really are amazing things coming if we are ready when they come.  The last verse of this song reaffirms such. "When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

I have had experiences that have shown me the magnitude of God's love for us in ways that would have blown my brain straight out of my head (figuratively speaking of course) had I had them 10 years ago.  He has such amazing things in store for all of us if we just pay more attention to the Holy Ghost and making our dealings with others a matter of "persuasion, ...long-suffering, ...gentleness and meekness... love unfeigned; kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile." (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42)

Believe me, I know how hard it can be to maintain a positive attitude amid one heavy blow after another.  That's been the story of my life ever since my marriage to my beautiful, amazing wife, Lorraine.  She has learned to do it way better than me because she wasn't raised in the little Mormon bubble in Western Colorado and what she has been through, even just the small stories, has given people nightmares just listening to them.  Some of those stories will be included in the book she is writing.  But her experience has been invaluable to me and even though I'm a hard shell to crack, I feel like I'm able to do things (and not do things) I never could before and even see more good in all of it because of her example.  There is so much good and higher purpose to see out there, even in the middle of our darkest moments.

This hymn is a good reminder of that for me.  Let's all shout, both literally and in the way we live, "My God How Great Thou Art!"

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 1

Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."

The power of good music in the last few days, especially hymns, has been a balm of Gilead for me through stressful moments.  The peace I have felt and the calm reassurance of the love and power of God in my life, brought to me through them by the Holy Ghost, is the driving force behind my next several entries.  I will doing an in depth look at a number of LDS hymns and attempting to give a Holy Ghost guided presentation of the spirit, message and power of each of them.

As President Boyd K. Packer said: "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  So hopefully, these analyses will serve as both and instructive and sanctifying force for my readers.

Without further delay...

Hymn 85 - How Firm a Foundation

(Play the music from here if you are not familiar with the tune)

"How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord Is laid for your faith in His excellent word
What more can he say than to you he hath said Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled

In every condition - in sickness, in health, In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea - As thy days may demand so thy succor shall be

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove My sov'reign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn, Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be born.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

There are just a few hymns where it's as if the Savior Himself is speaking right to us.  This is one of them and I'm not sure I can imagine a better hymn to parallel Isaiah 54:2.  I'm surprised this one isn't in the that little scripture reference section in the bottom right corner of the text in the hymn book.  It's so encouraging: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

Consecrating our afflictions for our gain - "laying [our] 'stones' with faith colors", etc. - is one of the most reassuring and empowering doctrines of the Father.  This is sometimes a difficult concept for many to understand.  Something else that helps to clarify such a doctrine is where I was actually studying today (Feb 20th, 2017) in my scriptures, 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi says in verse 11 "there must needs be an opposition in all thing" and in verses 14 and 16 "...for there is a God, and he hath created all things ... both things to act and thing to be acted upon ... it must needs be that there was an opposition; ... the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.  Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the [good and bad]."

The test of life is to basically see whether we will say, by how we choose to live, "Yes, I'm sure I support Heavenly Father's plan for me.  I'm stand by what I chose before I was born here on earth, to side with Jesus Christ, to have faith in and use His atoning sacrifice to the fullest extent intended." over and over and over until each test of our commitment is either passed or, if failed, hopefully repented of in the end.

Each time we indicate faith in Christ by responding to opposition and trial with optimism and faith and obedience, we choose to "act" instead of being "acted upon" by those trials. When that happens, the Lord promises us, in this hymn, that He "will be with [us], [our] troubles to bless, and sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" meaning that He will make it so that our acting will result in such trials become a purifying and elevating experience rather than something that "acted upon" us and pulled us down.  His grace makes it all possible.  Our faith activates it.

"As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be" adds an additional source of comfort and encouragement from the Lord as well.  He always gives us exactly what we need in the exact moment we need it.  Whatever necessity is required through out each day, whether it be temporal or spiritual or both, the Lord promises us that He will succor (run to our aid) exactly as the laws of justice and mercy require or "as [our] days may demand."

Something else I love about this hymn is when He says "I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."  In metal work, dross is the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal as a result of oxidation.  Basically garbage that is completely useless and will only make the finished product look bad.  In symbolism, the Lord is basically saying that anything that we didn't need to go through for our own salvation - like effects of the fall put upon us by others sins or weaknesses - will be like dross.  All of those effects on us will be consumed so that all that is left is purity and holiness - "thy gold to refine".  More generally speaking, that was the whole purpose of the atonement of Christ in the first place, the reverse all the effects of the fall.

In the end, this glorious hymns exits with a short anthemic response of allegiance to our Savior: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes; That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!

Why would we want to?  He promises us in this hymn that He'll be there as often as we reach for Him.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Moral Absolutes

Yes, the age old battle between moral relativism and moral absolutism.  Today that battle is more prevalent than ever before.  However, something most people miss is that neither side is entirely wrong or entirely right all the time.  That very sentence can seem to side a little with moral relativism, and I realize for sure that not everything is just black in white in this life.  Not every question can simply be answered straight forward or with a yes or no.  However, I definitely do not sympathize much with moral relativism and view it way more as a threat to mankind and the earth.

I will attempt here to show the advantages and disadvantages to both sides of this, but in the end my goal here is to help people understand why the only true morality is God's.  His perspective is perfect and only He sees absolutely everything as it really is.

Of the many examples I could use to illustrate the pros and cons of relativism vs absolutism, few to none may be as prominent or recurring these days than the ubiquitous conflict between the crowds that call themselves "pro-choice" and "pro-life" in the debate on abortion.  On the one hand people are arguing that a women has a right to choose what she does with her body, and that's true.  On the other hand people are arguing that it's murdering an innocent child and that's wrong, and that's true as well.  What neither side seems to be acknowledging is the reason why it's wrong for us to take the life of an infant, born or not.  That reason is where the conflict between relativism and absolutism comes in.  Yes, a mother has a right to choose what she does with her body, but that life inside her isn't her body.  It's the body of another human being.  Yes, it's wrong to kill, but it's not wrong to defend our families and our country from tyranny, even if that means taking a life.  So is it or isn't it wrong to murder?

The answer?  It depends... and it doesn't.  The Lord said "thou shalt not kill".  He didn't put any qualifiers on that statement and everything He speaks is valid and true.  But even He knows that there is a higher principle than truth.  To edify.  Edify: To instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement."  Doctrine and Covenants 50:23 - "And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."  If the truth does not edify someone, if they are not prepared to receive it, if their perspective isn't at a point where they will be edified by it, it should not be given. Do speak the truth.  Give it boldly.  Teach it completely.  Publish it liberally.  But do it to the right audience, at the right time, in the right place.

To the LDS community this will be an age old example, but lets look at why God told Nephi to kill Laban.  In this instance, would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Nephi?  No.  He would not give the scriptures to Nephi, which the Lord commanded him to retrieve and when agency is misused, it is lessened until it is given away.  Nephi's people would have suffered and, as the verses in that chapter point out, dwindled in unbelief.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Jerusalem?  No.  God had already pointed out to Lehi and Jerusalem was going to be destroyed anyways very soon.  So to be honest, it was better for Laban to die before such a horrific thing happened than to suffer as a live witness to the destruction of his own city.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to his family?  Even then, the answer is no.  While his wife and children may not have understood the reason for his death, but when final judgement comes and they see the good that came to an entire nation (via the scriptures) because of his death, I'm sure they'll agree that it was justified, especially considering he was leading his city and his family straight down the devil's path to misery.  Really, taking his life was an act of mercy on the Lord's part through Nephi.

So when it comes to taking the life of another, unless it is edifying to all parties involved (and the Holy Ghost confirms it as such), the morally correct answer is don't do it.

Let's look at same gender unions.  I don't want to call it marriage because marriage was defined by God to be a legal (and preferably spiritual) covenant and bond between a man and woman, so anything else by that standard isn't marriage.  Therefore, what some people call "same sex marriage" is immoral.  However, does this mean that we should be parading around to everyone who chooses to participate in or support that kind of thing and tell them they are immoral without regard to the individual and their circumstances?  No.  Even though it's true, if their minds aren't prepared to hear it, it will not edify them.  It may only cause them to turn against the truth more vigorously than before making it take that much longer to be prepared for the truth than it would have if patience was applied initially.  As the scriptures point out, the Lord works by small and simple things to accomplish His purposes.  He works to prepare people's minds to be ready to receive the truth and how well they do or do not work with Him to be ready will dictate if, when and how we should teach the truth to them and encourage them to follow it.  The Lord knows their heart and knows perfectly what will edify them and when.

Consider for a moment if your undeveloped pallet had tasted a raspberry for the first time and it was too sour for your liking.  (I saw a video with a kid who had that very thing happen).  Someone would have a hard time convincing you to try it again for a long time.  However, if the person who offered it to you, knowing the benefits but having patience, waited to offer it to you until your pallet was developed enough to enjoy the flavor, you'd forever remember that "raspberry = good".

A wise person once told me "Advice is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind."

However - and this is where I put a different twist on things - this does not mean we should be hyper focused on making sure we please everyone. Nor does it mean that the only time we tell someone the truth is if it will make them happy.  Do you think repentance is supposed to be 100% wonderful and peaceful and butterflies and rainbows, etc.?  I don't think so.  Certain kinds of suffering are, believe it or not, edifying.  Look at Ghandi for example.  When his people were at war with each other (unfortunately I cannot find the official source of this), he decided to fast until, in desperation to keep their leader alive, they stopped fighting and there was peace.  This kind of suffering, on Ghandi's part, was edifying to an entire nation and to himself, since sacrifice is the highest form of love.

The same goes for repentance.  It is supposed to involve a motivational type of suffering, encouraging the repentant sinner to sin no more, thus enabling them to become more like Christ in all His might, majesty and glory.  Of course, there is the kind of suffering that was described in Mormon 2:13, "their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin."  The truth wasn't edifying to those people because the more they heard of it, the more they fought against it and it was actually harmful and damning to them.  But for the repentant sinner, the Godly sorrow experienced during repentance is quite edifying because causes in them "a mighty change... in [their] hearts, that [they] have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)

So not all edification feels pleasant.  Either way, the bottom line here is as follows.  If something does not edify all parties involved according to the dictates of the Father through the Holy Ghost, it is wrong.  I will say this though.  Certain things are always wrong, no matter what.  Breaking a promise we make with God to follow Him, for any reason, is wrong.  In the LDS community we are reminded each week when we partake of the sacrament, that we have made promises to God to "take upon [us] the name of [His] Son, Jesus Christ, and always remember Him, and keep His commandment which He has give [us]."  

Some covenants are higher priority than others or encompass others.  A few weeks ago, my wife's sister's celebration of life (in lieu of a funeral) was scheduled on a Sunday at a time that meant missing church to attend.  At first, I had heavy reservations about going, thinking "I have to keep my covenants to my Father in Heaven to attend church meetings and fulfill my calling as ward organist".  However, upon discussion with my wife and other trusted sources, I realized that I was forgetting the principle taught by the Savior, when He said "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me".  The principle here is that by missing that event, where no one was asking me to forsake a habit of going to partake of the sacrament at church every week, I would be putting those at church who depended on me as the organist ahead of my wife, who depends on me for moral and emotional support in her time of need; and her needs need to take higher priority than ward needs.  They found someone else to fill in for that week and everything was fine.  And I also kept my covenant to always remember Him by remembering the covenant I made with He and my wife in the temple, therefore attending His sister's event as well.  He suffered for my wife's loss and felt it the same way she did, so by supporting her first, I also kept my promise to Him.

Of course, if I was asked to put something to do with family as more important than church on a more consistent basis, that would be wrong to go along with that because the Savior also taught "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

There are countless situations where there is grey area in what may or may not be morally right.  I firmly believe abortion in 99.9999999% (rough estimate there) of cases is wrong.  I firmly believe that gay unions are wrong.  However, since everyone is different and God knows that each of His children have a wide range of spiritual capacity, in understanding, comprehension and depth (3 different things), learning to discern the right way to approach something for one person as opposed to another requires lots of practice aligning our hearts and minds with the Holy Ghost.

In expressing frustration, pain or fear, for example, I need to hear someone say and provide evidence, perhaps with a similar experience, that they understand. Maybe a "that totally happened to me, too", or an "I feel the same way!"  That tells me that someone else knows how it feels, even if not from my perspective.  My wife on the other hand, hates hearing things like that.  To her those kinds of comments feel like they are saying "Me too! Look at me, give me the attention" in the middle of what she is saying.  She prefers to have people say "I'm so sorry, I can't imagine how hard that must be for you.  I've never been through that."  She says it helps her feel like her problems are unique, so that makes her and her situation special.  So the morally right thing to say to me in time of crisis is the wrong thing to say to her and vice versa.  It really does depend on the person.

As alluded to earlier, somethings are just right almost always or even 100% always or just wrong to the same degree.  Infidelity in marriage always has been and always will be 100% wrong in all circumstances.  Putting our relationship with the Lord first has always been and will always be 100% right in all circumstances.

Just keep in mind that edifying is better than merely speaking or enforcing the truth if it's not done in the right way, to the right person, at the right time.