Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’


Follow the Prophet, Don’t Go Astray?

So I found myself sitting in nursery this past Sunday watching my 2 year old son play around and saw Ursula reincarnate.  Not really, but certainly the thought came to mind more than a few times.  For those who try and break free from the corporate church, and its teachings, primary is often referred to as one of the last few bastions where the gospel is still pure and simple, where the teachings still focus on and about Christ.

I had that in mind as the scene played out in front of me.  I’m not sure if it’s a churchwide program that our unit (nice, I just called it a unit – very correlated) has been following with what primary songs they sing and when, but ours has been on a program which has been focusing on the infamous (to me, at least) primary song:  Follow The Prophet.  It would be safe to say that chills nearly run up and down my spine when forced to listen to that song, for reasons I’ll try and discuss.  But these aren’t ones that I enjoy.  Probably more like fingernails going down a chalkboard.

A few weeks (months?) back the primary president gave me a CD of the primary songs the primary was working on so that I could pass it along to my wife who could then listen to those songs as we drove with the kids in the car.  Problem is, it’s only a 5-track CD and one of those tracks is “Follow the Prophet.”  So somehow – and I promise it was an honest mistake – the CD was misplaced for a couple of weeks before my wife finally found it.  I’ve managed to skip that track a few times while present, but so far the inundation of that song at church is beyond my control.  Unfortunately.

A few years back, I overheard my nephew singing that song by memory and thought about how cool it was that he had learned such an inspiring song.  Now, I’ll be damned if my kids sing it.  Shows just how far I’ve fallen.

Seeds of Dislike

So, why my particular dislike for this particular song?  Well, it’s not quite as simple as you might guess, though it really is.  Sound confusing, or at least a bit muddy?  Good.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

My dislike probably had origination with the whole “the prophet will never, indeed cannot, lead us astray” meme.  Though even that is a tenuous link.  It really is just one of those things that happened, and really happened overnight more or less.  Whereas before (as in the case of my nephew mentioned above) I found it entirely beneficial, and probably inspiring, to sing such a song, now I can’t stomach it.

I did a simple search on google using the terms, “Follow the prophet” and found a few worthwhile links which will help reinforce this point, and it’s a point I labor with at home as well.  We’ve been taught by many that the Lord will still bless us if we do what the prophet tells us, even if he’s wrong.  We’ve been taught for 120+ years that our church leaders simply cannot lead us astray – try as they might.

This is recorded by Marion Romney and repeated in Ezra Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet (a talk which is difficult to find anything within to agree with):

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident, which happened to him: I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home….Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

Blind obedience is required – check your coat (and free will) at the door.

Primary Revisited

So, just what are we teaching our primary aged children, and younger?  Well, taking a couple of the verses of the song might elucidate the conversation, if only slightly:

Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
We are his descendants in the latter days.

Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
People in his city did just what they should.
When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.

Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
They were busy sinning-Noah preached in vain.
They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.

Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,
So the Lord sent Isaac as the chosen one.
Isaac begat Jacob, known as Israel;
Jacob’s sons were twelve tribes, so Bible tells.

Moses was a prophet sent to Israel.
He would lead them to the Promised Land to dwell.
They were slow to follow, or so it appears.
They were in the wilderness for forty years.

It might not appear so “slow,” if you step back and realize that we’re now treading on 180 years of wandering in our own wilderness, awaiting the redemption of Zion and our own promised land.  The problem then becomes, though, what happens when the term “promised land” gets redefined by the same church that has been wandering aimlessly, or nearly so, in regards to Zion?

For example, at this past summer’s commencement speech, Whitney Clayton gave a speech on the promised land.  Though I, as of yet, have been unable to find the transcript of the speech to ascertain the entire message he intended to give, we’re given a few snippets in the LDS Church News.  These tidbits suggest that (a) the land of promise is, today, merely a way of life, “not a place like it was in the Old Testament,” (b) the “promised land” usually isn’t a place – “it’s found wherever an individual is at the moment,” and (c) today’s college graduates are “cross[ing] a modern Red Sea or River Joran, as you graduate from BYU and move one – no generation has been better trained or more richly prepared for its future.”  Better trained and “richly” prepared?  To do what, presactly?  To continue building up and sustaining Babylon, or to actually redeem Zion?  Based on the text of the talk I’ve been able to read, it leaves little doubt – we’re to continue our toils in Babylon, seeking for our land of milk and honey and, not so coincidentally, riches.

Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;
So the king threw Daniel in the lion’s den.
Angels calmed the lions, and the king soon saw
Daniel’s pow’r was great, for he obeyed God’s law.

Here’s an interesting conundrum:  was Daniel’s power great because he obeyed the law, or did Daniel really have any power at all?  And, did he refuse to sin, or did you merely listen to the spirit in doing what he did?  Granted, a song – especially a primary song – has got to rhyme, so we should probably grant the author a little leeway, but still, who here is exactly comfortable with the lessons being taught here?

Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets-follow what they say

Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet he knows the way.

Here, really, is the crux of the song.  The last verse talks about the troubled times we live in – which we’re constantly being reminded of – but then it takes a turn for the worse, much worse.  Instead of reinforcing the idea that we should seek to get answers directly from the Lord, as is evidenced in several of the verses of this song, we’re redirected into a belief that we need to follow what they say.

Verse 1:  Adam served the Lord by following His ways.

Verse 2:  Enoch leads his people in righteousness.

Verse 3:  Noah was called, as an individual, to preach the word.

Verse 4:  Abraham prayed and received individual revelation.

Verse 5:  Moses was called, as an individual, by God to lead the people.

Verse 6:  Samuel answered, as an individual, “Here I am!”

Verse 7:  Jonah learned to listen.

Verse 8:  Daniel disobeyed the laws of the land and prayed.

Verse 9:  Now we’re confused, and we need someone else to tell us what to do.

Alternate Ending

So, the next time you listen to that song, perhaps we could think of this alternate ending that some seem to like:

Now we have a prophet, in the latter-day,
He is here to guide us in so many ways.
If we choose to follow all that he may say,
We will have the Spirit with us every day.

alternate ending verse for the primary song “Follow the Prophet”

Perhaps even worse than the first couple of verses, now we’re told that if we follow all that the current prophet says, we will have the Spirit with us every day.  That, of course, gets back to the whole blind obedience argument.  Blind obedience, though, has never been taught in the church, or so Joseph F. Smith stated back in 1892.

“Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.” (Joseph F. Smith, Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, Vol. 3 (Burbank, B.H.S. Publishing 1987-1992).)

If only he’d waited a few years, his eventual successor, Heber J. Grant, he’d have heard this very thing taught to the members.  Quoting, once again, Marion Romney:

“Standing by me, [Heber J. Grant] put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

It really is shocking, to me at least, when you look at it this way.  Perhaps it’s true that the culture is so screwed up that they’d benefit from a prophet coming amongst us to tell us to repent, or await the certain destruction that’s coming.  Perhaps it’s true we need an outside voice.  That’s fine.  But, how about we draw the line somewhere?  Perhaps we could draw that line at – oh, I don’t know – Follow the Savior, He Knows the Way.

That’s what is so bizarre about this song.  Where it could be good, it falls measurably short.  Where it could teach kids to follow the Savior, it teaches them to rely on the arm of flesh.

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36.)

The scriptures teach us – almost ad nauseum – that we need only follow one person – Christ.  And yet, here we have a primary song that teaches us to follow someone else.  If this could be broken down into images, it would look something like this (in my mind):

Doc2

In these two representations, the one on the left is what I’d call the “Joseph Smith Model,” whereas the one on the right I’d call the “Follow the Prophet Model,” or the model now espoused by the church, and church membership, generally speaking.  The reason I’d call the one on the left the “Joseph Smith Model” is because it’s the egalitarian approach he seemed to espouse, while the one on the right highlights just how much we’ve abdicated our personal responsibility in seeking truth.

“Do you believe Joseph Smith, Jun., to be a Prophet?’ Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. … Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 119, 160.)

Wild Things

So, with that in mind, it might do us some good to revisit Ursula.  In our nursery, as is probably typical of most (and is of the ones I’ve ever attended), a member of the primary presidency comes in each week for music time.  This past Sunday the song of choice was, as you rightly guessed, Follow the Prophet.  But, it wasn’t just that.  The sister passed out maracas, tambourines and all sorts of musical gadgets and gizmos to the 11 or 12 kids in nursery.  The effect was one of no small mayhem.  So, picture if you will, a scene from Where the Wild Things Are (which just may have been the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but the images work) where all the monsters are dancing and singing and chanting around the fire.  The member of the primary presidency leading the pack of wild, ravenous 2 year olds as they listened to a cultic song and shook their maracas with all the muster their tiny arms could.

That, in miniature scale, is what I saw in nursery.  I even tried to snap it on my cell phone, but didn’t get it out in time.  I was nearly appalled and probably would have been had I not been so taken back by the whole scene playing in front of me.

Cyberspace Questions

And, not so appalled as I am at some of the websites currently floating around which reinforce our idolatrous ways.  The President of the church has his own website, owned, managed and ran by the church, which reads more like a resume than anything else.  And, there are countless others devoted to following just what the president is doing on any given day – like www.followtheprophet.net – which literally seeks to “follow” him on his travels.  Once there, you might have some fun going to their post on May 24th of this year and asking yourself, should a prophet be limoed around in a Gulfstream IV – the Huntsman jet – which has a price tag hovering around $36 million and change (new).  Just a question.  We’d all do a little better to ask a few more questions each day.  Start with that question.  Then, imagine that Gulfstream landing in rural Guatemala, or Mongolia, or Uzbekistan or wherever it lands.

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander

As a culture, we’re so far removed from processes which create the goods and services we want that all we really care about is the end result.  When we go buy a toy at our nearest Wal*Mart, we care not how it came to us or where it was made.  We couldn’t care less that an 8-year old kid is working 12-hour days to help support his family, just so they can have a ¼ cup of rice on the table at night.  No, so long as we get our toy at a good price, that’s really all we care about.  Same with our groceries, shoes or whatever it may be – just so long as it has an appropriate price tag on it.  The last quote of my post on Samsara and Perfume discusses this idea and refers to it as “world building.”

The same principle goes with this Gulfstream.  Instead of asking ourselves some questions like these:  “does he really need a $36 million airplane to traverse and gallivant across the globe?”, “So what if it reeks of extravagance to the extreme?,” and others along the same vein.  Instead, we simply throw those questions aside and, as the original story on FollowtheProphet.net mentions, find no shortage of adulation for such conveniences.  Questions, lots of questions.

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Gandhi

Alternate Ending, Part 2

So what’s my whole beef with this issue?  Mainly one of focus.  We, as a church and a people, are so fixated on an office that we can’t see the forest for the trees.  We have developed such a cult of personality that we no longer verify things, no longer think that God can (or does) work outside the bounds of the corporate church.  We think that all we have to do to be saved is listen to a man.  Any man, really.  So long as he ascends the hierarchy and holds on longer than the rest, that means we are bound to listen and adhere to everything he says.

Like the above graphics note, we’ve replaced intimate relationships with corporate institutions.   The idea and belief that Christ now must speak through someone else, and that that someone else is impervious to ever doing anything contrary to the will of the Lord is about as egregious a teaching as I know.  We’ve strayed from the path that instructs us to go on and on in our search for Christ, and strayed into a path that we only need search for a president – for then we’ve found the only person we need listen to (allegedly).

Denver Snuffer wrote about this in his 3-part series on the Traditions of Men (Part I, Part II, Part III – which are well worth your time), part of which I include here:

“In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly.  He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully.  He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired.  In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president.  President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide.  President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.

President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order.  He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray.  That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”

President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president.  One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.”  You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority.  But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell.  So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints.  The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result.  Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.”  No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired.  We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all.  To question is to lack in faith.”

The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful.  Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.”  In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.”

Weak Faith

So, I guess at the end of the day, all this probably means that I have weak faith and am on the road to apostasy.  Such is my plight.  If you’re here, perhaps you’re experiencing the same weaknesses.  If so, soyez le bienvenue (French for:  “Welcome”).

So while the primary may generally be one of the last few bastions of pure Christlike doctrine, that song isn’t doing us any good.


I have borrowed, for the title of this entry, the chapter title from a book which will be introduced later on.  Those aren’t my words, just borrowed because they’re a perfect fit for the Favor Line discussion.

Have you ever sat in a meeting or lesson where the questions start morphing into a “what do we have to do to merit x, y or z?”  Where the impetus is always on what we can do to get something?  Today, at the beginning of a lesson in church, the opening monologue from the teacher concluded with the following question:  “What do we have to do to make it to the Celestial Kingdom?”

By the end of the lesson – a lesson on David, Uriah and Bathsheba – the general conclusion was this:  “we have to try harder and work harder to avoid temptations” and “we have to try harder to do what is right” and, in order to make it to the Celestial kingdom, “we need to try harder.”  Before we arrive at that conclusion, though, we were treated to a couple of statements by generic authorities on just how much we need try harder.  Before any of this gets lost on us, I should point out that the name “Jesus Christ” was mentioned a total of 0 times.  Not once did His name get brought up – it was all about us trying harder in order to make it over what should be called the Favor Line.

The instructor concluded his remarks by saying that, “even though some sins are unforgivable, we still must try and repent,” but bookended that comment with these two quotes.  The first is from Bruce McConkie and the second from Richard Scott, both apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ™.

McConkie:

“But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate …” and “…a sin for which there is “no forgiveness” (D&C 42:79), meaning that a murderer can never gain salvation. “No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) He cannot join the Church by baptism; he is outside the pale of redeeming grace.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 92, 520).

Scott:

“Do not take comfort in the fact that your transgressions are not known by others. That is like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. He sees only darkness and feels comfortably hidden. In reality he is ridiculously conspicuous. Likewise our every act is seen by our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. They know everything about us. …  If you have seriously transgressed, you will not find any lasting satisfaction or comfort in what you have done. Excusing transgression with a cover-up may appear to fix the problem, but it does not. The tempter is intent on making public your most embarrassing acts at the most harmful time. Lies weave a pattern that is ever more confining and becomes a trap that Satan will spring to your detriment.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 103; or Ensign, May 1995, 77).

The reason I’m writing on these quotes was because, to me, the lesson was one predicated almost entirely on fear.  Fear that we might fall, fear that we might not do enough or be enough.  And, perhaps most importantly and as emphasized in Richard Scott’s quote, fear that God and Jesus Christ are watching our every move, our ever act and that they know everything.  They are that creepy Santa Claus who knows “when we are sleeping … when we are awake … when we’ve been good or bad.”  Yes, today I was taught that God and Christ are these scary taskmasters who see everything I do, who are watching my every move waiting for me to screw up and waiting for me to try even harder, only to screw up again.  And, not only are they waiting for me to screw up, but so is the Tempter who is “intent on making public” everything screwy I’ve done.  And, lest I forget, I was also taught that there are some things for which the Atonement has no effect, some things so “grievous” that it might put me “outside” the “redeeming grace” of Christ and His Atonement.  So, now I must live in fear for everyone is out to get me.  Dear me!!

So, as I was pondering on these dark and sullen ideas, I was reminded of a topic I’ve been wanting to address here for some time – the idea of the Favor Line – but was always too preoccupied or distracted or into some other topic.  And so it sat on the sidelines, waiting to be posted, to be put here and to be re-read again.  This “Favor Line” is the idea that if we do or be enough, then God will love us and bless us, but, if we fall short of those amorphous standards (amorphous because we’re never really told exactly what those standards are, so we’re ever trying to reach something that may not even be there), then God neither loves us nor is willing to bless us.  Perhaps He does still love us, the reasoning goes, but that love is diminished by our sinfulness.  So, to church I went today to be taught that, “God’s great, you’re bad, try harder.”

It is with that preface that I introduce the following words of Wayne Jacobsen, as found in his book, He Loves Me.  His words are were this term “Favor Line” first came into my brain and belief system.  I’d never heard it put the way he put it, and thought it might be of benefit to someone else – it certainly was of benefit for me to read it one more time this afternoon after church – a detoxification, if you will, from the partially hydrogenated lesson of fear and intimidation and of trying harder.  If anyone is interested in the .pdf of this book, send me a message, I have a copy that’s free (was obtained for free) and I’d be glad to share it.  The guys over at Wandering for Zion (who may or may not have just been evicted from his own parents’ house) and Discovering Zion (both hyperlinked on the right column) were my inspiration for reading and listening to Jacobsen’s stuff, and I’m glad they did point out his books.

Before we turn to the excerpt, though, I wanted to share a scripture I read while listening to this lesson on fear, or so was my interpretation of the lesson.  I found it by looking for a few scriptures on the earth, though I’m not sure why that topic was of interest this morning.  In one portion of the Book of Moses there is an interaction which centers on Enoch and a vision he had.  At one point of the vision and conversation he hears the earth groan.  Just prior to this point in the vision, though, we get a certain glimpse of Enoch that I thought worth sharing:

44 And as Enoch saw this, he had abitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be bcomforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.
45 And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be asanctified and have eternal life?
46 And the Lord said: It shall be in the ameridian of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance.
47 And behold, Enoch asaw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the bLamb is slain from the foundation of the world; and through cfaith I am in the bosom of the Father, and behold, dZion is with me.

The point that I found especially enlightening was the very last part of verse 47.  This particular portion of the conversation concludes with a short, though poignant statement, “Zion is with me.”  Though there are other interpretations one can take of this verse, the distinct thought I had in reading it was that Zion is anywhere and everywhere, or can be, the Lord is.  If we are with Christ, we are in Zion, even if it’s a one-on-one visit (perhaps especially if it’s a one-on-one visit).  Just some food for thought as we read Jacobsen’s thoughts on the favor line.

So, what follows is Wayne Jacobsen’s work.  I take no credit for it, nor want any.  I’m only posting it because it may be of benefit to someone else out there, may influence someone for the better and may help bring us out from the tyranny of the Favor Line.

====================

A PLACE PREPARED

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

—JOHN 14:2-3

Could the invitation be any clearer? Jesus told his followers about a house, with a Father who waits for them to come and take their place in his home. Does this sound familiar?

We so easily miss the point of his words when we mistakenly relegate them to the distant future, of a second coming and man­sions in heaven. Here Jesus was still talking about his first ‘going away’—his death on a cross; and his first ‘coming back’—the res­urrection. These events would unfold in the next few days and Jesus wanted them to understand just how important they were.

The cross stands as the pivotal event in opening the door for us to dwell in the Father’s Love. The apostle Paul told us that when we really understand what happened there between a Father and a Son we would know for certain and forever just how deep their love is for us. Later on we’ll take a look from this vantage point at the power of the cross.

He was going to open a door, and return after the Resurrection to show them how to live in his Father’s house—the place in Father’s heart he’s prepared for each one of them.

The disciples, however, couldn’t make sense of his words. When he told them they knew the way where he was going, Thomas challenged him. “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

“You know me, Philip, and I am the way.”

He knew they were confused. He knew they didn’t under­stand the new relationship they would be able to have with him and his Father after the Resurrection. But he says it simply—you know me! I will get you there. Notice how he focuses here not on the process they would have to follow, but on the person they would need to know. He takes it right back to relationship again. “Stay with me; you’ll know everything you need to know.”

A FATHER YOU CAN TRUST

To have the relationship God desires with you, and for which your heart must cry out or you still wouldn’t be reading this book, you simply have to learn to trust him.  I know that is far easier to talk about than it is to do. We’ve learned all our lives that trusting other people will only leave us frustrated and disappointed. Even the people who might have loved us the most probably failed us at some point. The lesson our flesh teaches us from a very young age is take care of your­self, because no one else will.

Perhaps like some of the strays who come to our house, everyone you’ve ever trusted has betrayed that trust. Maybe you even feel that God has betrayed your trust when he didn’t do things for you that you thought a loving father would do. If the truth be told many of us have been exploited by people who came to us in God’s name, claiming to know God’s will for us, who only wanted to exploit us to meet their own needs.

My heart goes out most of all to those whose earthly fathers betrayed their trust and whose past is marred by failure and brokenness. I know some of you reading this book, keep doing so because the message stirs you. But every time you read the word Father something cringes inside of you. It’s not a term of endearment to you, but one that scratches at old wounds.

For you, Father only conjures images of abuse or abandon­ment. It amazes me that so many who hunger to know God had fathers who were so broken they couldn’t even reflect the smallest hint of his love to their own children. Either selfishly seeking their own pleasure, or using you as a punching bag for their own pain, they left a wake of wounded children who don’t know what it is to have a father.

Betrayal by the people we most want to love us can leave deep scars. But even these are not beyond God’s ability to heal and redeem. In fact, the reason those wounds hurt so deeply is because God created us to be loved by a Father that puts even the best earthly examples to shame. Even those of us who had good fathers, can’t imagine how much greater a father he really is. Even the best fathers, as we saw in the last chapter, can’t hold a candle to the love the Eternal Father has in his heart for you.

It may take awhile, but God can help us not define his father­hood based on the failed record of broken humanity, but let his fatherhood define what it really is to be loved by the most awe­some Father in the universe.

So even if the word father doesn’t convey the most tender image to you, please don’t write yourself out of his house. Learning to trust him is the most difficult thing any of us will ever learn to do. If I can understand that for a stray puppy cowering in my front yard, how much more does the Father of heaven and earth understand our wounds and our insecurities.

With incredible patience and love, he coaxes us out of our fears to embrace him. He waits for that moment when suddenly we know we are safer in him than in any other place we could be. It may be timidly at first, but turn toward him and abandon yourselves to trust him in the smallest way you can.

He understands how afraid you are that you’ll be disap­pointed once again. But he’s still there patiently extending his hand to you. He will try to get closer, until you cower away in fear. Then he will back off so as not add to your pain, hoping his gentleness will one day win you over.

ONLY TRUST HIM

Trust. It is so easy to talk about, but so hard to put into prac­tice. Nothing is more theologically certain than that God is faithful and trustworthy. But learning how to live in that trust through the twists and turns of our lives is the most difficult challenge we face.

It took God almost Abraham’s entire life to teach Abraham the joy of trusting him. But he did it. Even when he was asked to give up his only son and heir, he trusted God’s plan and God’s nature enough to set about the task. This, from the one who had risked his wife’s virtue by lying to Pharaoh that she was not his wife. This, from the one who had impregnated his wife’s maidservant when it didn’t appear God would give Sarah the child he promised.

To accomplish that, God did some extraordinary things for Abraham. Rest assured, God knows how difficult it is for you to trust him. He is not threatened by that nor angry with you.

He simply wants you to keep your eye on him and learn.

He knows that only by trusting him can you participate in relationship with him and enjoy the fullness of life in his house­hold. He also knows that you’ll trust him only to the degree that you are certain of his love for you.

This is why he created you and why he designed such an extraordinary plan to teach you exactly how to lay aside your fears and walk into his arms. Then he can scoop you up, hold you closely to himself and fulfill what began in his heart for you since before the creation of the world.

This is the journey of a lifetime—to trust him more and more everyday for the rest of our lives. The more we trust him, the more of his life we can experience. But don’t try to do this on your own. You don’t have it in you. He can take you by the hand and teach you just how much you are loved so that you no longer have to pursue your own way and protect yourself in ways that only seem to backfire, hurting you and others around you.

NICE GOD OR MEAN GOD?

We had just completed a spirited discussion on God’s grace from Paul’s letter to the Galatians at a men’s retreat in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A young man had been waiting to talk with me for some time until enough people cleared out so we could talk privately.

“Over these two days I’ve listened to you talk about God as a loving Father. Since I became a Christian I have only served a mean God, fearful every day that I might miss his will and be rejected. I really want to believe he is the incredible Father you speak about, but I’ve decided not to.”

“Really?” I asked. “Why is that?”

“I’m just not sure you’re right. I’ve thought about this over the last day or so and I’ve made a decision. I’m going to keep serving the mean God.” He had it all worked out. “The way I figure it, if I’m right and serve the mean God, then I’ll be fine on judgment day. If I’m wrong and he is the Father you’re talking about, he will understand why I did what I did.

“But if I change now and serve this loving Father, what hap­pens if he turns out to be the mean God I’ve always thought him to be? Then I’m in trouble.”

“Certainly, that’s your choice,” I told him. “But before you do, can I ask you a question?”

“What’s that?”

“Would the God you’re serving ever trade his life on a cross for yours?”

He looked up at me and shook his head. “No way!”

“Then how can he be the God of Bible?”

God knew it wouldn’t be easy for us to accept such an incred­ible offer of friendship, which is why he went to such lengths to convince us.”

I was only with him for a weekend and I don’t know how he has walked it out since, but he is like so many others I’ve met along the journey. Out of the dissonant portraits of God they have decided that it is safer to treat him as the mean God.

They don’t have any idea just how wrong they are.

And they don’t know that fearing a demanding God, will never take them into the house. They will never be able to do enough to earn what he wants to give them.

To enter the house we must trade our fear of him for a love that is far stronger.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

—MATTHEW 11:29

The Tyranny of the Favor Line

“God is good. You are bad. Try harder!”

– the observations of a fifteen-year-old summing up an evening with her youth group

Who could blame the young mother? I certainly couldn’t?

She was in her early thirties, the mother of two children. I don’t even remember the congenital disease her youngest child had, but at six years of age he was already confined to a wheel­chair. Often his parents rushed him to the hospital in such critical condition that they were never sure if they would bring him home again.

Every time I was with them, I was touched not only by the depth of their need but also the sweetness with which they seemed to endure it. They had grown up in Christian homes and had sought to follow God faithfully into their adult years. I often prayed for them and their child, hoping he would someday be healed.

I had no idea, however, that the stress of his illness was also shredding their marriage until I called one morning after I had not seen them for a few weeks. I found a devastated mother on the other end of the phone. Her husband had left her two weeks before, and she now had sole responsibility for their sick boy.

Overwhelmed with pain, she told me that she was no longer sure God even existed, or if he did that he was not the God she had thought him to be. Not only had six years of praying for her son’s healing proved fruitless, but the need had also destroyed her marriage. She was alone, disillusioned and angry.

I tried to tell her that God still loved her and cared about her needs, but she rebuffed my encouragement. “Do you have any idea what it is like not to be able to ever just relax and enjoy your own child, because you are never sure that he will be there tomorrow?”

I told her honestly that I did not. I only had a brief taste of anything similar. Our first-born daughter had a severe case of jaundice, and I remember how resentful I felt having to take her for a daily blood test and watch my baby scream in pain as they drew it from her toes. That lasted only a week and her life was never in jeopardy. How do you multiply that by six years of standing at death’s door with your little boy?

I did offer to help her with whatever resources we had to get her through the days ahead, but she declined. “I just can’t keep living this way,” she sobbed. “Whatever God expects of me, I just don’t have it to give.”

Rarely in my life have I felt as inadequate as I did the moment I placed the phone back in its cradle. After nearly fifteen years of pastoral ministry, I didn’t have the answers she needed. Only later did I learn why. At the time I was caught in the same trap she was, only on the other side of it. She thought her over­whelming need pointed to her faithlessness and loss of favor with God while I thought my more pleasant circumstances were proof that I had been faithful and thus had earned his favor.

We were both living under the tyranny of the favor line. She was already paying for it; I was about to.

THE FAVOR LINE

What is the favor line? It’s that invisible line that tells us whether or not we’ve met enough of someone’s expectations to merit their approval. It’s impossible to live in this world without recognizing its impact on every area of life.

Our parents had one. We knew what made them proud of us, and what brought their displeasure or even anger. If your parents expectations were fair you could play the favor line, acting especially kind when you wanted something from them, or hiding behind their back what you knew would merit pun­ishment. If your parents expectations were unreasonable, then maybe you grew up without any approval at all.

We found the same favor line when we went to school, though it existed there in a graduated scale. The higher expec­tations we met, the better grade we received and the greater approval from teachers and parents.

It didn’t take us long to discover that our friends had favor lines as well to derive the benefits of their friendship. Disappoint them however, and our so-called friends could turn on us in a heartbeat; as we would on them. We found the same line in the work world as well. Those who achieved or exceeded expecta­tions found themselves in the bosses’ good graces, with all the perks that favor brought.

We’ve learned to survive in this world by currying favor where we needed it, so it is only natural to assume that God has a favor line as well.

As long as our circumstances are pleasant, or even bearable, we may not think much about God’s favor. But, let trouble or disappointment encroach on our quiet existence and we begin to wonder how God feels about us. Does he love me? Have I offended him? Am I doing enough for him to like me? Struggling with those questions brings us right back to the favor line as we look for some way to get back on God’s good side.

King David expressed so eloquently how the favor line super­imposes itself on our pursuit of God:

“LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue…”

He continues with a list of traits that qualify people to come before the Holy God. Other lists in Scripture seem to underline his assertion—the Ten Commandments, the Great Commis-sion, the fruits of the Spirit just to name a few. It is easy to see why people who seriously pursue God end up with a favor line drawn across their lives and why they think they can assess at any moment how God feels about them by whether they are living above or below it.

Bible reading, prayer, church involvement, and helping others seem to put us above the line. Selfish motives or sinful actions push us beneath it. That would seem easy enough, except that we’re never sure how much of any of these things actually matter.

I’ve asked audiences all over the world, “How many of you think that you pray enough? Read the Bible enough? Or, wit­ness enough?” I’ve never gotten so much as one person to raise a hand to my query.

I know what they are thinking, because I’ve thought it too. How much is enough, after all? If I pray an hour a day, couldn’t I as easily do two? If I read two chapters a day, should I be reading four? Do I need to witness once a month, once a week, to every stranger I meet?

In the same way we know in our more genuine moments that we are not entirely free of sin. We may be able to hide it well enough, but thoughts, motives and hidden deeds all expose our ongoing struggle with sin and doubt. Can we ever be sure how much of our failures God is willing to overlook as part of our maturing process?

That’s why I call it the tyranny of the favor line. Trying to live under the weight of David’s list, or anyone else’s, would disqualify everyone of us from God’s presence and his favor. If you’ve tried it you know how hard it is to do everything you think he requires. The only way to feel good about it is when you think you’re at least doing more than other believers around you. But you know intrinsically that you’ll never be good enough.

This problem is compounded whenever we encounter dif­ficult or painful circumstances. Who doesn’t wonder at such times if we’re being punished for not being good enough? We joke about it in the most trivial things, such as getting stopped at consecutive stop lights. “Wow, you must not be living right,” someone invariably observes.

But it’s no joking matter when we suddenly lose a job or face a life-threatening disease. The tyranny of the favor line is unre­lenting, never allowing us to be certain about how God feels about us. So we’re left to pick through our circumstances: He loves me! He loves me not!

A FAR BETTER PLAN

Is it any wonder then, that my young friend would sum up the ministry of her youth group by saying, “Same old thing, Dad. God is good. You are bad. Try harder!” Unfortunately too many people think that’s the essence of the gospel and yet on that basis none of us could ever stand before him.

Even David knew that in his more desperate moments. As he hid in a cave from those who sought to kill him, he cried out for God’s mercy. “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2). Aware of his own weaknesses, he was not willing to stake God’s favor on his performance.

Later, as he prostrated himself over the public exposure of his adultery and the murder of the cheated husband and as he grieved the loss of the son his affair produced, he again seeks another standard. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

The truth of the matter is that the same Scriptures that give us lists of qualifications to earn God’s favor, also clearly state that there is not enough goodness in any one of us to fulfill those requirements. Only Jesus would be able to do so. No matter how much we try to earn his favor we will always fall short. The more effort we give, the more distant he will seem.

Why? Because the favor line causes us to swing between periods of self-pity and self-righteousness. When we recog­nize our shortcomings, we want to give up in despair. But even when we feel good about our efforts, we cannot understand why God doesn’t make himself as real for us as Scripture seems to indicate he wants to. Self-righteousness can be a far greater deterrent to the relationship God wants with us than our fail­ures and mistakes.

When our best-intentioned efforts go unrewarded, we may become disillusioned and drift away. For great periods of time we find ourselves distracted from even thinking about our rela­tionship with God and try to satiate our hunger with a host of other things—our work, other people, religious services or even buying new things. Though these may work for awhile, in qui­eter moments the hunger returns. None of these things will ever satisfy the hunger that longs to know the Living God.

That’s why trying to live to the favor line will at some point leave you stranded in hopelessness. Either like Peter, after he denied Jesus on the night he needed him most, you will be disil­lusioned by your own failure to do the good you know to do; or like Job you will question whether or not God even loves you or treats you fairly.

God never wanted us to end up in either place. He instead invites us not to walk the tightrope of the favor line, but dis­cover a far better way to know him.

AN INCREDIBLE SURPRISE

At a young age he had already advanced well beyond his peers. Educated in the best schools, he was recognized as one of the most influential religious leaders in one of the best-known cities of the world. His morals were impeccable and his wisdom knew no equal.

But all was not as well on the inside as it appeared on the outside. For all his diligence and wisdom, something ate at him deep from within. He was an angry man. He rarely let it show except in acceptable moments of righteous indignation, but in times alone he knew it was there blackening his soul.

His zeal to be the best servant of God in his generation had not led him to the lap of a loving Father, but to the cruel tyranny of his own ego. He had started out with a desire to serve God, but that passion had quickly been consumed by his desire for spiritual status. He loved the looks of admiration and awe that he saw in the eyes of his friends and mentors.

Then one day, on a journey to a distant city he came face to face with the Living God. His encounter was far more dramatic than most. A bright light appeared out of nowhere, knocking him off his horse and blinding his eyes. As he lay there in the dirt, a voice rumbled over his body. “Saul, Saul, why are you per­secuting me?”

His next words are quite revealing. “Who are you, Lord?”

He knew he had come face to face with the living God, and now he wasn’t sure who he was. But wait! Didn’t the voice say Saul had been persecuting him? Surely Saul must have wondered in those brief seconds, “Could this be Jesus?”

What if it was? Saul had killed so many of his followers and was on his way to kill many more. He regarded them as heretics and sought to crush them and their teaching before they could destroy the faith he had embraced since his youth.

Finally the voice spoke again, “I am Jesus, whom you are per­secuting.”

His worst fears had been realized. The people he had killed in God’s name were in fact God’s people. What would come of him now? What punishment awaited him in his blind helpless­ness? Like a man who closes his eyes, cringing in anticipation of being struck by a raised fist, he slowly realizes that no punch is coming. There was no anger, no vengeance.

Saul, later to become Paul the Apostle, had come face to face with the God he had actively warred against, and in that moment all he found was love. The Jesus he had persecuted loved him. He had not come to punish him, but to open his spiritual eyes to see God not as he imagined him to be, but God as he really was.

In that moment Saul discovered God’s favor when he had done absolutely nothing to earn it. Instead of being punished, he received an invitation to come into the family he had tried so hard to destroy. Instead of the death he’d brought to others, he was offered life that he never knew existed.

Saul was left with one inescapable fact. He had done nothing to propel himself above the favor line, but found himself there nonetheless. He found that Jesus had loved him even when he had no idea who he was. For Jesus had shattered the favor line to free Saul from its tyranny. It changed him more than all he’d learned about God previously.

This is where relationship with God begins. It may sound impossible especially if you’ve hoped for this in the past and, like the young mother who began this chapter, you have only been disappointed by how remote he seemed when you needed him the most. All you knew to do was try even harder to be good enough to win his affection.

But such thinking will never lead you closer to him. Instead of teaching you to love him, it only cements your fear of him even firmer. He wants to break this cycle the only way he can—by making his favor a gift instead of something you could earn.

I have long since lost touch with that mother. If I could speak to her today I’d want her to know that finding favor with God has nothing to do with what we do for him, but what he has already done for us.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

—PSALM 51:1-2


The Businessman and the Beggar

When we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.

– Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel

It turned out to be a tale of two men. These are the only two encounters Mark thought significant to record from Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem and his impending death. One was at the beginning of the journey, near his home base of Galilee. The other came on the trip’s last leg, in the city of Jericho before he would ascend to Jerusalem.

Two men, each in dire need, approached Jesus for help. Clearly, Jesus extends his favor to both of them, but as we shall see only one received it. The other went away from his moment with Jesus, his countenance shattered, grieved because he had misunderstood the offer Jesus made to him.

Watch each of them carefully. Why does one receive and the other does not? If you’re like me, you’ll see yourself in both of them at various times in your life. But now you’ll know which example will show you how you respond to God, and which will take your best intentions and turn them against you.

The answer may surprise you because it is the opposite of everything most of us have been trained to think about God and how he works in us.

CAUGHT IN THE DOING

Jesus had no more begun his journey to Jerusalem, when a man ran up to him, stopped him and knelt before him in the dirt. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Both his pace and his posture testify to the desperation in his request. He knew Jesus had something he lacked and wanted to find out his secret before he left town.

The question certainly sounds genuine enough, even humble. Jesus answers by referring him to the commandments.

The businessman’s answer tells us a lot about him. “I have kept all of these from my youth up.”

Really? Of course we know now and Jesus knew at the time that this answer wasn’t possible. Paul told us that no one has ever kept all of God’s law and that if even one person could have earned eternal life by the law, then Christ would have died in vain. If this man had been genuine, he would have known that. The Father had only given the law so that we might come to the end of ourselves and know that we needed someone to rescue us. Any genuine pursuit of the law would have led this man to the same conclusion.

Does that mean he was lying? Not necessarily. Though he had not kept the law, what was most critical in this exchange was that he genuinely thought he had. Since he was a little child he had worked hard to keep the law, in hopes of earning his place in God’s kingdom.

For him to think he had kept the law, however, he had to rec­reate it in his own image. In other words he would have created loopholes in his mind to justify those portions he had not kept, perhaps only focusing on major parts of the law such as murder and adultery and excusing his own hate, lust, or selfishness.

By his own desperation we know he had missed the point. The fact that he was still seeking eternal life made it clear that he hadn’t found it yet, nor was he confident that his current course would produce it. He wanted something more to do.

This man was steeped in his own works. That was evident by the question he had asked at the outset. The “I” and the “do” gave him away—“What must I do…?” He was focused on him­self, his ability and resources; trying so hard to earn what Jesus wanted to give him.

How Jesus wanted him to understand that! Mark specifi­cally mentions that Jesus looked on him with deep affection. What did he see? Did he see a little boy trying to be perfect as the only way to earn his father’s affirmation? Did he see the years of fruitless labor this man had endured? Could he see the twisted motives he used to justify himself and maintain his illusion of righteousness? Did he see the gnawing in the young man’s stomach, born of his obsessive drive to perfection that was destroying him from within?

Probably he saw all that and more, and Jesus wanted him to see it too. His next response seems on the surface to be one of Jesus’ most insensitive comments: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” On hearing the words, the businessman’s countenance fell. Unable to do that, he walked away in grief.

How often I’ve taught this parable, and with unwitting arro­gance, railed at the rich man’s inability to do what Jesus asked of him. He was too greedy to follow Jesus, I had said. He loved his money more than God and now he would pay for it.

But, honestly, was that the point? Who would have come to this kingdom if those were the terms? When I first went forward at a Billy Graham crusade all I was asked to do was repent and believe in him. If he’d asked me to sell everything I owned and give it to the poor, I doubt I would have gone forward. I doubt anyone else would have either. In fact I’ve never met one person who ever came to Christ on those terms nor many who would stay if he required it of them today!

To condemn the man for not doing so is not only arrogant of us, but misses Jesus’ point entirely. He was not offering the man the opportunity to buy his salvation. He only wanted him to discover what his attempts to keep the law already should have—that he didn’t have enough in himself to meet any stan­dard of qualification for God’s life.

RAISING THE BAR

Coaches don’t train young high jumpers by putting the bar at world-record height and challenging them to try and jump it. They put it at a height their charges can successfully achieve and then, over the course of time, slowly raise the bar allowing refined technique, practice and conditioning to help them jump higher.

But Jesus doesn’t do that here. Responding to the rich man’s request, Jesus puts the bar forty feet in the air. Jump that! And the rich businessman did exactly what any athlete would do, he went away discouraged, knowing the task was impossible.

The man understood the lesson, but missed the point. Jesus wasn’t trying to be mean to him. He raised the bar beyond the man’s ability to get over it precisely because Jesus wanted him to stop trying. The gift he offered the man was to be free of the incredible burden of having to earn God’s love by his own efforts. He was caught in his own doing and Jesus was trying to free him.

He was hoping the young man would look him in the eye and say, “I can’t do that!” To which Jesus might have answered, “Good, then stop doing all the other silly things you’re trying to do to earn God’s favor. Stop striving, stop pretending, stop trying to earn that which you can never earn!”

Jesus didn’t want him living any longer under the tyranny of the favor line, but he knew how difficult it is for people of great resource to find their way into his kingdom. Such people always feel like they can earn it or pay for it. They are too focused on their own efforts and resources to simply receive God’s gift.

His dependence on his own resources was robbing him of the life he sought. No matter how much he could do, such efforts would never cover the empty place in their heart that seeks God’s approval. For it’s only in that realization that we can discover what it really means to be approved as God’s child and find security in his love for us.

That’s not to say that as we love him he won’t bring us greater freedom from our possessions and show us the joy of gener­osity, for he will. But that will rise not out of our attempts to earn his favor, but as grateful responses to the favor he already offers us.

Even when Peter started to boast that he and the others had left everything to follow him, Jesus reminds him that none of them had left anything that he wasn’t replacing with far more and far better. The fact is they had left their stuff not to earn eternal life, but because of a relationship with Jesus that had captured their hearts.

Sadly, we don’t get to see the end for this young businessman. My hope is that Jesus’ words finally worked through his heart. But whether they did or didn’t, Jesus still offered him an incred­ible gift—the secret to God’s favor.

“LORD, HAVE MERCY!”

As Jesus was departing Jericho a few days later for his final walk up the barren heights to the city of Jerusalem, another man wanted his help. This man was a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road. He heard a great commotion around him, he wanted to know what it was. Someone told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through on his way to Jerusalem for the feast.

Bartimaeus had already heard enough about this teacher from Galilee to know that he had the power to help him. He began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

People nearby were embarrassed by his shouts and sternly told him to keep quiet. He was only a beggar after all, why would Jesus care about him? But that only made Bartimaeus cry even louder and above all the other noise Jesus heard him. He had Bartimaeus brought to him and he made his request. “I want to regain my sight.”

Notice that he did not ask what he needed to do to see again. He did not barter based on any qualification he might have to make him worthy. He simply put all of his confidence in the mercy of the man from God.

And that was enough.

Jesus didn’t ask him to sell all he had. Jesus healed him and noted that Bartimaeus’ simple focus was all that was needed. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Not only did he receive healing, but salvation as well.

Jesus did not love the beggar more than the businessman, nor did he give to one and not the other. For he graciously gave to both of them. It’s just that one recognized it and one did not and the difference between the two contains all we need to know to find life in God.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to miss that point. Even before he had left on this journey he had told them a parable that these encounters had illustrated perfectly. He told of a Pharisee and a tax collector entering the temple. The Pharisee delighted in his righteousness—how he was more committed than anyone else he knew. He even puffed himself up at the expense of the tax collector praying nearby, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people… even like this tax collector.”

That’s what living by our own works produces. Since we’ll never be good enough on our own we will seek to justify our­selves by being better than most other believers around us. To create that façade we have to focus on their weaknesses and hold them in contempt. Any time we set ourselves above others, we only demonstrate how little we understand God’s mercy.

The tax-collector on the other hand was not even willing to look up to heaven, but beat his chest praying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Then Jesus asked which one went home jus­tified? The answer was obvious, as obvious as Jesus’ encounter with the businessman and the beggar.

When you are tempted to stake your relationship with God on your own goodness or your sacrifice, don’t even try. Picture the bar so high that you’ll never find a way to clear it. Approach God on the basis of your own efforts and you will always go away disappointed and disillusioned. But that is not bad news.

What it means is that God has fulfilled in himself everything he would ever require of us. Abandoning our own attempts to establish our own worthiness is central to the power of the gospel. Learn that and a door stands before you that will lead you to the very heart of a loving Father. This is the way to know that he delights over you with joy, and is able to transform you into the fullness of his glory.

He absolutely, completely loves you. Discovering how much will revolutionize your relationship to him and your life in this world.

But go and learn what this means:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

—MATTHEW 9:13


Thought this might be worth sharing:

Driving the Moneychangers Out of the Temple

After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his abrethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of amoney sitting: And when he had made a ascourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

John 2:12-16

The following interpretation of these scriptures comes from Paramahansa Yogananda:

“Meekness is not weakness.  A true exemplar of peace is centered in his divine Self.  All actions arising there from are imbued with the soul’s nonpareil vibratory power – whether issuing forth as a calm command or a strong volition.  Nonunderstanding minds might critique Jesus’ confronting the temple mercenaries with a scourge as contradicting his teaching:  “Resist not evil:  but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”[1] The forceful use of a whip to drive the merchants and money changers out of the house of worship may not seem wholly in keeping with the propagated lamblike image of Jesus, who taught forbearance and love.  The actions of divine personalities, however, are sometimes willfully startling to shake complacent minds out of their vacuous acceptance of the commonplace.  An accurate sense of spiritual propriety in a world of relativity requires a ready wit and a steady wisdom.  The proper course of behavior is not always discerned by scripture-quoting dogmatists whose literal dependence on inflexible dictums may pay homage to the letter rather than the spirit of spirituality in action.

“Jesus responded to an untenable situation, not from an emotional compulsion to wrath, but from a divine, righteous indignation in reverence for the immanence of God in His holy place of worship.  Inwardly, Jesus did not succumb to anger.  Great sons of God possess the qualities and attributes of the ever tranquil Spirit.  By their perfected self-control and divine union, they have mastered every nuance of spiritual discipline.  Such masters participate fully and empathetically in the events of man, yet maintain a transcendental soul freedom from the delusions of anger, greed, or any other form of slavery to the senses.  Spirit manifests Itself in creation through a multiplicity of elevating, activating, and darkening forces, yet remains simultaneously in Uncreated Bliss beyond the teeming vibrations of the cosmos.  Similarly, the Lord’s liberated sons act purposefully and effectively in the world of relativity, adopting any characteristic necessary to accomplish the Divine Will, without deviation from inner attunement with the unruffled calmness, love, and bliss of Spirit.

“The meekness of divine personalities is very strong in the infinity power behind their gentleness.  They may use this power in a forceful dramatization to admonish those who are stubbornly irresponsive to gentler vibrations.  Even as a loving father may resort to firm discipline to deter his child from harmful actions, so Jesus put on a show of spiritual ire to dissuade these grown-up children of God from ignorant acts of desecration, the effects of which would surely be spiritually harmful to themselves as well as to the sanctity of the temple of God.

“Divinely guided actions may command extraordinary means to right a wrong; but they are never activated by wanton rage.  The Bhagavad Gita, the revered Hindu Bible, teaches that anger is an evil enveloping one in a delusion that obscures discriminative intelligence, with consequent annihilation of proper behavior.[2]

“If Jesus had been motivated by a real spate of anger, he might have used his divine powers to destroy utterly these desecrators.  With his little bundle of cords he could not have seriously hurt anyone.  In fact, it was not the whip but the vibration of colossal spiritual force expressing through his personality that routed the merchants and moneychangers.  The spirit of God was with him, a power that was irresistible, causing throng of able-bodied men to flee before the intensely persuasive vibration of a single paragon of meekness.

“Spirituality abhors spinelessness.  One should always have the moral courage and backbone to show strength when the occasion calls for it.  This is well illustrated by an old Hindu story.

“Once upon a time, a vicious cobra lived on a rocky hill on the outskirts of a village.  This serpent extremely resented any noise around his dwelling, and did not hesitate to attack any of the village children who disturbed him by playing thereabout.  Numerous fatalities resulted.  The villagers tried their utmost to kill the venomous reptile, but met with no success.  Finally, they went in a body to a holy hermit who lived nearby, and asked him to sue his spiritual powers to stop the death-dealing work of the serpent.

“Touched by the earnestness of the villagers, the hermit proceeded to the dwelling place of the cobra, and by the magnetic vibration of his love coaxed the creature to come forth.  The master told the snake it was wrong to kill innocent children, and instructed him never to bit again, but to practice loving his enemies.  Under the saint’s uplifting influence, the serpent humbly promised to reform and practice nonviolence.

“Soon thereafter, the hermit left the village for a year-long pilgrimage.  Upon his return, as he was passing the hill he thought:  ‘Let me see how my friend the serpent is behaving.’  Approaching the hole where the serpent dwelt, he was startled to find the hapless reptile lying outside, half dead with several festering wounds on his back.

“The hermit said:  ‘Hello, Mr. Serpent, what is all this?’  The serpent dolefully whispered:  ‘Master, this is the result of practicing your teachings!  Whine I came out of my hole in quest of food, minding my own business, at first the children fled at the sight of me.  But before long the boys noticed my docility, and began to throw stones at me.  When they found that I would run away rather than attack them, they made a sport of trying to stone me to death each time I came out in search of sustenance to appease my hunger.  Master, I dodged many times, but also got badly hurt many times, and now I am lying here with these terrible wounds in my back because I have been trying to love my enemies.”

The saint gently caressed the cobra, instantly healing his hurts.  Then he lovingly corrected him, saying:  ‘Little fool, I told you not to bite, but why didn’t you hiss!’

“Although meekness is a virtue to be cultivated, no one should not abandon common sense nor become a doormat for others to tread over with their misconduct.  When provoked or unfairly attacked, one should show noninjurious strength in support of one’s just convictions.  But even a pseudo display of anger should not be attempted by anyone who has the tendency to lose his temper and self-control in violent behavior.

“Jesus ‘hissed’ at the merchants and money changers because he was not willing that the house of God be demeaned by worldly vibrations of selling and individual profit.  His words and actions signified to the people:  ‘Remove this crass commerciality from God’s temple, for materialistic vibrations quite obscure the subtle presence of the Lord.  In the temple of God the singular thought should be to possess, not worldly profit, but the imperishable treasure of the Infinite.’

“The subtle law of magnetism is that each object or person or action radiates a characteristic vibration that engenders specific thoughts in the consciousness of one who enters its sphere of influence.  The vibration of a candle or oil lamp in the temple induces thoughts of unruffled peace or of the illumination of wisdom – light being the first manifestation of Spirit – whereas any form of commerciality involving worldly goods stirs restlessness and sensory desires.  … The selling of … merchandise in the house of God, and marketing goods for individual profit, set up derogatory vibrations contrary to the purpose and spiritual consciousness of the holy place.”


[1] Matthew 5:39

[2] “Anger breeds delusion; delusion breeds loss of memory (of who you are).  Loss of right memory causes decay of the discriminating faculty.  From decay of discrimination, annihilation (of spiritual life) follows” (God Talks With Arjuna:  The Bhagavad Gita II:63).  This particular verse of the Bhagavad Gita meshes nearly perfectly with the original Hebrew translation of the 10 commandments in Exodus 20.  Whereas the modern bible we typically read (i.e. King James version, etc) don’t get to the true heart of the matter, the original Hebrew is based entirely off of what will “mar” you inside.  According to the Chronicle Project, the most correct definition of the latter commandments specifically link up to the following meaning:  “Don’t let your desire for things mar you.  … It is wrong to want things so badly that you will twist who you are to obtain them.”  This definition works particularly well with the commandments on “coveting” other things – it’s not the things that are the issue so much as our twisting and changing who we really are to get them.


And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may bredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon

2 Nephi 2:26


Do I Have to go to Church?

I’m a lucky man tonight.  I’m sitting out on my parents back porch.  That’s not why I’m lucky, but it’s a setting.  I, like many young former-“professionals” have moved back in (temporarily, I hope) with my parents as I both search for, and start a job.  I’ve been unemployed going on 14 months now, officially a bum in the eyes of most people.  When I was living in Utah, with my in-laws, I was the recipient of more than a few odd looks.  Though most people seemed, on the exterior at least, to be understanding and empathetic with my family’s situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those odd looks had to do with my mooching off of my in-laws and the free rent we received for a full year.

Certainly, within my wife’s own family, her siblings (and parents, to a lesser degree) presented a trial as they, too, questioned what we were doing and were more than eager to throw us out.  Such is the plight of an unemployed bum.  13 full months of job searching later, I’m no closer to finding a job than when I begin.  Hundreds of applications have been sent, less than a handful (literally) of callbacks or email responses have come back my way.

Such it is, in this context, that I find myself a lucky man.  I’m sitting on my parents back porch, watching the fire glow in the portable brick oven I just finished building less than a week ago.  It’s in the curing process, right now, as I try to get the thing acclimated to temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Currently, it’s sitting right about 400 degrees.  Tomorrow it will be slightly hotter.  The next day even hotter than that.  Then, some Saturday, our first pizza party will take place here at my parents house.  This project has been more than 6 months in planning, and I’ve taken more than my fair share of bumps and bruises in my feeble attempt to start a fledgling business.  Cost overruns, time overruns and broken parts have hampered the process, but at last there is some semblance of success at the doorstep.

That, in truth, is only part of the reason why I’m lucky.  While more than a few people here in Wisconsin complained of the heat (93 degrees with a fair amount of humidity), my wife and kids were suffering through a day in the low 30s with a nice slushy snowfall.  When I spoke with my wife earlier this morning, there was a 65 degree difference (literally) according to accuweather.com.  I chuckled, as we’ve often lamented the fact that Wisconsin seems so cold, and Utah typically the more temperate climate, and I was more than willing to point out the temperature difference to my wife as she suffered through a chilly late May day.

Definitions

As I did a little bit of reading, this morning, I was again reminded of a common theme among some LDS members as it relates to church.  I preface these comments with the clause that I am not terribly certain that our modern day interpretation of “church” is anywhere near accurate, and certainly has deviated from the scriptural definition in more than a few ways.  Church, as it’s referred to today, means little more than a religious body that meets on a weekly basis, with other meetings sprinkled in for good measure.  Church, as it’s referred to today, consists of meetings, programs, and hourly blocks of (mostly) scriptural discussions that repeat themselves at least every four years.  If you ask a member of the LDS faith what church is, they’ll likely reply that it’s their set of beliefs and more or less synonymous with the term “gospel.”

The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines church as “a house consecrated to the worship of God,” or “the collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ.”[1] The original Greek word for church is Ekklesia which means “a gathering” who could be “united into one body.”[2] The most likely New Testament definition, from what I’ve been able to gather, is that church was described or defined as any meeting where “two or three [were] gathered together,”[3] and could literally have been a group that small.  Any meeting consisting of two or three people which discussed spiritual principles or ideas or speculation, therefore, could have been labeled “church.”  The most succinct definition of church as contained in scripture is likely found in D&C 10:67-69, which reads, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and acometh unto me, the same is my bchurch. Whosoever adeclareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is bagainst me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and aendureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my brock, and the cgates of hell shall not prevail against them.”

The term “gospel,” by contrast, is defined by the same 1828 Webster’s dictionary as “the history of the birth, life, actions, death, resurrection, ascension and doctrines of Jesus Christ,” and “a revelation of the grace of God to fallen man through a mediatory … the whole scheme of salvation, as revealed by Christ.”[4] D&C 39:6 states and defines the gospel as, “repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the bbaptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and cteacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”  3 Nephi 17:21 follows similar lines and states, “aRepent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be bbaptized in my name, that ye may be csanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand dspotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my agospel … .”

The Difference Between the Church and the Gospel – 1984

Though many of you may be familiar with Ronald Poleman’s talk, given in 1984[5], on the gospel and the church, the differences highlighted therein likely give the best definition of the mainstream view of each, especially when one considers the changes and redactions that occurred to that discourse.  The original discourse defined the church as “a divine institution administered by the priesthood of God.  The church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.”  The gospel, as defined in this same talk, is “the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation.”

Following these brief definitions, the church is an institution which is charged with teaching the gospel, or the “plan” that leads us to individual salvation and exaltation.  They are, and were, two distinct and different entities.  Immediately after the original talk was given in general conference, Poleman was required to re-do the talk and give a similar, though distinctly different version which was then published in the Ensign and elsewhere.  In this second version, the church is redefined to be, “the Kingdom of God on Earth” and “divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources to implement this plan [the gospel] in each individual’s life.”  The remainder of the talk, as presented throughout changed version continue to highlight, continues to highlight how the church, and only the church, is divinely inspired and commissioned to implement, teach and administer the gospel.

The original talk, which I find to be a fantastic discussion on important and well defined differences, contains this instructive thought:

“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage, be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies.  Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles.  Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy.  In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.” – Ronald Poleman, October 1984 General Conference (original version)

The changed version removes this entire paragraph and replaces it with an entirely different line of thought, “the eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.”  You can be the judge of the similarities and differences of these two statements, juxtaposed against each other.  Suffice it to say, the redone version is geared and directed to a mostly hierarchical definition that strengthens and supports an ever increasing bureaucracy.  If what Polemen said was true in 1984, how much more true is it today?  The traditions – false and otherwise – are even more ingrained and popular than they were then and even more likely to hold sway in any given lesson or discussion.  The only way these can be adequately rejected or refuted is by knowing (a) what they are and (b) knowing the true form of the principle behind the tradition.  That, I’m afraid, is our task.

Is it any wonder, in retrospect, that this talk was both given, censored, changed and rebranded in 1984?[6] From Orwell’s 1984, I found a couple of insightful quotes as it pertains to this discussion:

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

The Universality of Revelation

So, why this discussion on church, the gospel and whether I have to attend church?  Well, one of my pet peeves (but only recently) is the idea of the universality of revelation.  My definition of the universality of revelation would be broken down by a rather simple statement:  “Since I received a revelation/witness that I need to be doing this or that, that means that you (all of you) should also be doing this or that”  In essence, the universality of revelation suggests that all the individual insights we receive are also applicable to everyone else, regardless of their station, their situation and their own individual lives.

Case in point:  if I were to believe (tacitly, because we never admit it) in the universality of revelation, then my thoughts on Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom must be followed by everyone.  In that discussion, I outlined why I think marijuana is not only kosher with the word of wisdom, but is perhaps one of the things our Heavenly Father has given us to use and enjoy, both for its effects on the conscious and its effects on our overall well-being.  Following this universality of revelation premise, my thoughts on Marijuana must thereby be the required protocol not only for me, but also for everyone else.  If it’s good for the goose, well, it’s good for the gander as well.

Now, as I stated in that previous paragraph, the belief in universality of revelation is one which is only given tacit approval.  Anyone reading the above paragraph will recognize the inherent weaknesses of my argument, not only because it falls on its face under closer inspection, but also because it bypasses the idea of everyone having their God-given right to lead their lives in concordance with the principles of revelation and free agency.

Guilting Me into Going to Church

So, how does this universality of revelation apply to this discussion?  Well, there are those around me who continually profess that leaving the church simply isn’t an option.  Not that I have any intentions of leaving, but the whole idea that (a) “the Lord is going to hold us all accountable” (to our “support” of church leaders and programs of the church), (b) “those who are sensitive to the troubles which beset the church need to be there, faithfully serving,” (c) Zion and her redemption are the same thing, and same cause, as serving in the church, (d) “withdraw[ing] from the church [will] cut yourself off from necessary ordinances, including the sacrament” and “imperil your capacity to keep the Sabbath day holy” and “limit your capacity to serve others,” and other similar thoughts[7], all related to the discussion of leaving or staying in the church, leave me beside myself.  Probably for good reason.  I probably need the reminding, but at the same time, I can’t come to an agreement on any of those items listed above.

If we step back and analyze the state of affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some things might come into focus, and rather quickly.  The first few things to enter our view would probably be (a) all is not well in Zion, (b) staying in or outside the church is an individual decision, (c) once ordinances are performed, all saints have the ability and right to practice those ordinances in their own homes, especially the Sacrament, no matter what any leader says, (d) leaving church will not imperil anyone from keeping the Sabbath day holy nor limit my (or anyone’s) capacity to serve and (e) the universality of revelation is alive and well in the LDS community.

Programs

My biggest bone of contention – and perhaps I’m wrong in this assessment – is that LDS members are so addicted to their own definition of church that they can’t really step outside the box and realize that “church” can be defined as broadly as we want it.  It really can be a meeting where you and I discuss spiritual principles.  That is church.  That is where we’re striving to grow closer to Christ.  Instead, for some reason, we define church in the most narrow version we can – a place we go and attend one time per week, with three hour blocks where we’re fed the same regurgitated vomit week in and week out.  We maintain incredibly narrow mindsets by thinking that service is to be rendered solely within the church, that we must attend a building 1x per week in order to even hope of keeping the Sabbath day holy, that we must support a system that is predicated on blind obedience to a pile of programs, lectures and leaders, and that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

I am so fed up with “programs” that I can’t even see straight.  Literally, the following is the list of “programs” we currently maintain (and I may be missing some):

  1. Primary program
  2. Young men’s program
  3. Young women’s program
  4. Sunday school program
  5. Duty to God program
  6. Personal progress program
  7. Scouting program
  8. Missionary program
  9. Home teaching program

10.  Visiting teaching program

11.  Provident living program

12.  Welfare program

13.  Temple attendance program

14.  Temple building program

15.  Humanitarian program

16.  Distribution center program

17.  Seminary program

18.  Activity Days program

19.  Young Single Adults program

20.  Activities program

And, from there, I could probably continue and re-label other organizations programs, because that’s all they really are.  The High Priests group is really about a program for old men, because you can only become a High Priest with age and seasoning, nothing to do with revelation.  The Elders Quorum is really a program for newly married people who aren’t spiritually sound enough to graduate to a special calling (i.e. their bishopric or the high council).  The relief socity is really just a program to keep the sister’s from backbiting and keep them engaged in various activities.  Programs, programs, programs.  Programs are little more than “a plan of action to accomplish a specified end,”[8] apparently.  And that “specified plan?”  To raise people who blindly follow leaders?  To raise people who pay a “full tithe”?  To depersonalize the gospel to such an extent that we think we need checklists, programs, graduations, certificates and prizes to suggest that we’ve arrived as “saints”?  Just what is the “specified plan”?  Interestingly, the word “program” only existed in the 1800s as a way to define a letter, advertisement or proclamation.[9] It had nothing to do with our “programmatic” learning that we’re now convinced we need.

And yet, in all these programs, our main focus is on three things:  (1) the church, (2) the prophet, and (3) the apostles.  If programs are the focus of the church, and I submit they are, then the result can best be seen in the beliefs (at least those publicly available to the average listener) of the average member.  The best place, it would seem, to hear these beliefs would be at your local “fast & testimony” meeting.  And, true to form, the results are rather predictable.  The next fast and testimony meeting you attend, take a pad of paper and a pen with you.  Make two columns.  The first column should have the header “Church / Prophet”, and the second column should have the header “Christ.”  Tally up the number of times someone testifies of either.  If someone testifies of the Church, or the Prophet, add the marks accordingly.  Likewise for Christ.  I did this over a several month time frame and the results were typically in favor of the Church / Prophet, at a rate of near 6:1 or 7:1.  I remember one meeting, only one person bore testimony of Christ, and that someone was a kid of 7 or 8 years old.  Everyone else bore testimony of either the prophet, or the church, or some other tale having little to do with the gospel.  That, I am afraid, is the result of the programs.  That, I am afraid, is what we have as a result of supporting these programs.  And, yet, I’m to believe that God will hold me accountable for not supporting these programs?  Well, if that’s the case, then I hope I can find a different God in the afterlife than the one I profess to believe in, because I can’t fathom how my God would expect me to believe in and support programs that run contrary to what I read in the scriptures.

Can one find good in these programs?  Of course they can, and probably do.  There’s no doubt there is some good, but the vomit that gets included in these programs (whether it’s the teaching of fear to our youth (i.e. “God’s great, you’re bad, try harder”), inculcating our primary aged children with a chant to “Follow the Prophet,” or the predictable “The Prophet cannot lead you astray” comments, or our adherence to a “uniform of the priesthood”) oftentimes more than outweighs the positives I see and witness.

Persuasion

Now, even amidst all this, I’m not saying that we should leave church.  Though I staunchly disagree with the comments enumerated above about our obligation to attend church, I am persuaded by some more wise than I that there are still reasons to attend church.  In a recent comment here (comment #2 and #4 are both pertinent), the following was added, which persuades me that there may be a better way:

I do believe that one individual can effect a great deal of change in a congregation. If the Lord has only one, inspired agent among every ward/branch, I believe that that is sufficient for Him to turn things upside-down. He could probably do it even with only one agent per stake/district. The masses, in my opinion, are not on as solid a foundation as they claim. I think it is more appearance and wishful thinking than actual fact.

The current status quo is one of continual unanimity, conformity, etc. A single person acting alone, but under the inspiration of God, can change the entire scene.

For example, if each week there is a single vote against, no longer can the claim to unanimity be made. Even closed-minded people are naturally curious, so although the leadership may discount that one, single vote against, eventually certain members of the congregation will approach the individual and ask why the hand was raised against. That is a teaching opportunity which may lead to two, or more, inspired agents of the Lord in the congregation.

Another example, a fixation on Christ in conversation can prove devastating to one’s idolatrous worship of prophets. Every LDS knows that although Nephi and people talked of Christ and preached of Christ, etc., the LDS do not do this. They talk and preach of prophets and apostles. An inspired agent of the Lord, forcing each conversation with another LDS back to Christ has an unnerving effect on that LDS, because they immediately recognize the scripture being lived and their own non-conformity to the word of God. So, even without preaching repentance, by doing certain things in a non-confrontational way, the population can be quickly brought around.

I can’t say that I’m as confident as the writer that things will improve “quickly,” but I note the wisdom in trying.  The difference between this comment, and the post referring to our “obligation” to stay, as I see it, is one of focus.  One chooses to focus on fear (i.e. we may “imperil” our ability to keep the Sabbath day holy, we will be held “accountable” for how we support and uphold “programs,” etc.), while one chooses to focus on hope and love.  For that, persuasion works wonders for me.

Returning, finally, to the universality of revelation, we simply can’t assume that everyone must follow the same course of action as we take.  While some may find wisdom and inspiration in staying in the church, others will find wisdom and revelation in leaving.  That is how it should be.  Everyone is on an individual journey and we must allow each individual the opportunity to individualize their journey as they and the Lord counsel together.  Sure, many may err in their judgments about what God is doing or not doing in their lives, but so long as they are trying and finding their individual path, I wish them all the luck in the world.

In spite of my misgivings about the way we interpret church in the modern context and how so many of the programs in the church are built around obligation, fear and guilt, I recognize what the commenter noted previously, that we are agents of change charged with acting, and not being acted upon.[10]

1984 Revisited

In the end, your decision to go to church is your choice.  Guilt should never be the primary motivating factor to do anything, and yet it’s one of the most popular methods used to get someone to do something, especially in the context of religion (i.e. if you don’t go to church, you can’t take the Sacrament and you’ll likely be breaking the Sabbath day, etc).  The universality of revelation is as false a doctrine or tradition, as Ron Poleman discussed previously, as there is on this earth.   Don’t believe it.  Do believe, however, in your ability to commune with your God and in your ability to receive divine counsel from on high (pun intended).

So, perhaps it is as Orwell stated, and as Poleman started back in 1984.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those of us who haven’t yet even learned to think are storing up inside of us the power that may, one day, overturn the tide of our idolatrous fornications with the “church.”

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same–people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”  George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 10


[1] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,church

[2] http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1577&t=KJV

[3] See Matthew 18:20

[4] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,gospel

[5] http://loydo38.blogspot.com/2006/04/1984.html

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

[7] http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/05/be-firm-and-steadfast.html

[8] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/program

[9] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,program

[10] See 2 Nephi 2:13-16, 26