Posts Tagged ‘Love’


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.

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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

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Awakening from Our Cocoon – Part I

In my last post [Draw Out Thy Soul to the Hungry], I shared a scripture from Isaiah which I had never before read, but one which very much helped in my train of thought that day.  It is the purpose of this post to discuss this scripture and what it means to me.

In this particular chapter of the Book of Isaiah [Chapter 58] we read of an experience Isaiah had with the people to whom he ministered.  The opening verse lays out exactly the purpose for this chapter, as well as the purpose Isaiah is charged with – namely, to call the people to repentance.  All true prophets call those to whom they minister to repentance and point the way to Christ and no other.  This is exactly what Isaiah must do.

The first verse reads:

“Cry aloud, aspare not, lift up thy bvoice like a ctrumpet, and dshew my people their etransgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”

This is the charge.  Show the people their transgressions, show them their sins.  Since God is a God of love, we must understand why we must be shown our transgressions.  They are not shown to us to instill fear, though oftentimes we interpret those calls to repentance as fear based, but rather they are shown to us out of love, a love that yearns for us to turn away from the falsities of life and return to Christ.  To repent means nothing more than to turn around and return to God.  To sin means little more than to “miss the mark,” to miss the purpose for which we’re here on the earth.  We sin when we miss that mark, when we miss orienting our lives towards Christ.

According to several sources (though not all), there is no word in Hebrew for “sin.”  Rather, the word used to describe “sin” is chet, which has reference “to an arrow which ‘missed the target.’  The archer is not ‘bad.’  Rather, he made a mistake – due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill.”

Returning to Isaiah 58, we find the opening verses (verse 3 through 5) decrying the worship of a shallow people.

3 aWherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and  thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your bfast ye find cpleasure, and dexact all your labours.

4 Behold, ye fast for astrife and bdebate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not cfast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?

The reality of the situation presented in these verses, and this chapter, is that the people weren’t fasting with the right heart.  They were doing it out of mere ritual (sounds an awful lot like our Fast & Testimony meetings…a ritual fast which occurs 1x per month), and did it as an empty ritual.  And yet, even when they went through with this ritual, even when they did fast, they continued with strife, debate, exploitation.  There was no sincerity involved.  No true devotion existed.  They fasted to win arguments (“for debate”), to overcome people and obstacles in their path (“for strife”).  They fasted to glorify themselves (“to make your voice to be heard on high”).  All the forms and none of the Spirit.  In reality…we’re all like that.  We all have “forms” we participate in, false traditions passed down from our father’s which we continue without really thinking about them.

Only when we join with the Savior in His work will the world soon find the beauty behind what Isaiah states later on in this chapter.  Here, though, the people were complaining of unanswered prayers (haven’t we all?), complaining of the lives they were leading disconnected from God.

False worship, of which I am most certainly guilty, is made up of (a) religion that is impersonal, formal and program centered; (2) comes by habit and tradition; (2) is self-serving; (3) elitist; (4) controlled, orchestrated, predictable; and, (5) includes mere passive involvement, ignoring the reality that God is a deeply personal Being.  In short, false worship is a “religion which assumes a relationship with God while discounting relationships with [everyday] people.”

In truth, their fast was not approved of God (“Is it such a fast that I have chosen?).   They hypocrisy of these fasts (and our monthly ritual fasting) is detestable.  It’s not the kind of fasting God chooses.  And, even though we go through all the motions – the “correct” motions (“bow down … as a bulrush, … spread sackcloth and ashes…”), it was an empty ritual.  We’re empty today.  We lack devotion, sincerity.  Our egos are so full of themselves that we have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest.  Both are applicable.  We’re blinded to our true condition because we believe – and are told – that we’re a “chosen” people (Anyone up for a Rameumptum party?).  This chapter is but a precursor for the Lord’s instructions to the Pharisee who reminded the Lord that “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … I fast twice a week.”  (See Luke 18:9-14.)

From this point on in the chapter, the message and tone both change.  Isaiah goes from telling the people how messed up their fasting is, to instructing them on what God really wants from them.  It’s not that fasting is bad, or to be discouraged, but rather that God loathes hypocrisy and the ease with which we go through the forms without the right spirit.

6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the abands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go bfree, and that ye break every yoke?

7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the ahungry, and that thou bring the bpoor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from cthine own flesh?

In order to truly benefit from anything we do, we have to get right with our fellow men, we have to stop oppressing others, to reach out and help others.  We have to stop being so self-centered, self-congratulating, self-aggrandizing.  “To loose the bands of wickedness,” we have to stop acting wickedly towards others (“undo the heavy burdens,” “let the oppressed go free,” “break every yoke”).  The only way we can truly be right with God is to remove the beams from our own eyes.  Living a self-centered life will never, ever bring about Zion, bring about the Spirit, or bring about peace.  Ever.

In the New Testament, the 4th chapter of the Book of James describes the very fruits of a self-centered life.  Those fruits are wars, fightings and lustings.  Our self-centered lives are the very source of the madness that pervades or lives, homes and world.  False religion and false worship do not work because God simply cannot be present when we’re being false with ourselves, with others or with Him.

From this point, we start sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing in the poor into our houses, feeding them, relieving their burdens, covering the naked and, most poignantly, stop hiding ourselves from our brothers and sisters.  Instead of crossing the street to avoid the beggar, instead of turning our eyes away from those dressed poorly, instead of avoiding the dirty and downtrodden, God is telling us stop hiding ourselves.  We can’t really hide anyway.  It’s not like God can’t see our hearts and what we’re doing.  Take off those fig leaves (who gave them to us anyway?) and get right with God and start treating humanity with respect.

8 ¶ Then shall thy alight break forth as the morning, and thine bhealth shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy crereward.

9 Then shalt thou acall, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the bputting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the ahungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light brise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

11 And the Lord shall aguide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in bdrought, and cmake fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a dspring of water, whose waters fail not.

12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

Now, we turn to the blessings God promises those who throw away their hypocrisy and start acting like a “true” worshiper.  True worship results in “light break[ing] forth as the morning.”  True worship results in the “glory of the Lord [being our] rereward.”  True worship includes the promises of the Lord answering our calls.

Verse 9 includes four things which we must stop doing:  (1) treating others like animals worthy of our yokes, (2) oppressing others, (3) pointing the finger at others, and (4) boasting in our vanity.  This list is indicative of things we do.  We commit these things.  They are acts of commission.  This isn’t a list of things we overlook, things we just happen to do.  If we want to walk with God, as did Enoch and all his people, we have to stop feeding our egos and start feeding the hungry.

Verse 10 continues with another list.  This time, however, it’s a list of things God wants us to do.  (1) Minister more to the hungry and afflicted and (2) draw out our souls towards them.  Failing to do these things, in contrast to the list given in verse 9, are largely acts of omission.  We forget to satisfy and help the hungry and afflicted soul because we’re too caught up in ourselves, too caught up in the distractions of life.  The blessing that comes with doing this is that our light will rise in obscurity (again, not in vanity, but in obscurity) and our darkness and vanity will be as the noonday.  Instead of being darkness at noonday, we will be living in light at noonday.  Christ’s very presence will be with us, to light our minds, our hearts and our lives.

In a day where many of us yearn to be led more constantly by Christ, verse 11 states that we will be guided continually.  Our souls will be satisfied from their drought, our bones will become fat with life-giving marrow.  We will be like a flowering garden, like a spring of water, whose waters “fail not.”  Ascending beyond the rituals of life, ascending above the shallowness of our egos, we’re promised the Lord’s very presence.

Verse 12, then, is quite pertinent.  In a day of degeneracy and apostasy from Christ, a day when the foundations have become cracked because of the teaching of the commandments of men, we’re promised a couple of things:  (1) waste places will be rebuilt, (2) a new foundation will be built for “many generations,” (3) we’re repair the breaches and (4) restore the paths wherein we can safely dwell here in mortality and beyond.  This verse will become the prelude to my next post.  Imagine the beauty of these promises.  In a day where many decry the general apathy and apostasy existing among all religions, the Lord is promising us that the foundations will be rebuilt for “many generations.”  Sounds reminiscent of the beauty the Nephites experienced after Christ ministered to them.

“We live in a broken world. In every direction there are breaches which are wide and deep. There are broken hearts and broken homes, and that which once was sacred is but a waste place … The wall of protection is in ruins, and life has lost all its meaning.” (Redpath)

From the same source as the above quote, this passage of scripture provides us a glimpse of a life which is right in the sight of God:

It is an enlightened life: Your light shall shine in the darkness.

It is a guided life: The Lord will guide you continually.

It is a satisfied life: The Lord will satisfy your soul in drought.

It is a fragrant life: Your life will be like a watered garden.

It is a freshly sustained life: Your life will be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It is a productive, healing life: You shall build up the old waste places, [repair the breaches and rebuild the foundations which have been eroded over time].

This chapter continues on with two more verses about the Sabbath day, the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day holy, which I have discussed elsewhere.  We, in our limited minds, tend to view the Sabbath as merely a day of the week.  In the closing verses of this chapter, it appears as though Isaiah is stating that the Sabbath is more an attitude of the heart reflecting true devotion.   Paul, in Hebrews 3 and 4, describes entering God’s rest:

“He who has entered God’s (sabbath) rest has ceased from his own efforts as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10, emphasis added.)

That is to say, all too often our focus on the Sabbath relates to resting from our day’s labors.  Kicking our feet up and laying around all day.  Another, deeper meaning of this is can be read this way:  “the Sabbath Day of the Old Testament points to an invisible reality – to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  Our Lord calls His people to stop serving Him in the energy of the flesh and to allow Him to live His endless life through them (see Galatians 2:20-21).”

The focus of this post should be on true worship and living the spirit-filled life that Isaiah so eloquently described in the closing verses of Isaiah 58.  Worship that is lacking sincerity, honesty and truthfulness with God will never bring about Zion.  Only when we replace our forms with the Spirit, when we cease to participate in “vain oblations,” will Zion come about.  It is time to start worshipping the Savior in both mind and spirit and time to do away with our “multitude of sacrifices.”

10 ¶ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of aSodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your asacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I bdelight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more avain boblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and csabbaths, the calling of dassemblies, I cannot eaway with; it is finiquity, even the gsolemn meeting.

14 Your new amoons and your appointed bfeasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am cweary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many aprayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of bblood.

Isaiah 58 is nothing more than a practical application of a life led in Christ.  It is nothing more, nothing less, than advice on how to escape the dead forms and practices of a church and born out of rituals, and how to get away from the ego.  Service to God is the only answer.  How you choose to serve God is up to you.  That is not the point of this post.  Service is individual.  Service for the public eye has its reward.  Service in private also has its reward.  I might even suggest service for service sakes.  Don’t do anything merely for a reward.  You choose how you want to serve God, if at all.  As always, the application is intensely individual.

***A special thanks goes out to the following websites for aiding me in understanding this chapter:  (1) http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/2358.htm; and (2) http://ldolphin.org/isaiah58.html.***


Post 2 (Originally written for weepingforzion.com):

All We Need is Love  by:  Guest Author (Tom)

What is Love, or in other words, what is Charity?

I’ve been engaged in several conversations over the past couple of weeks regarding the state of today’s LDS Church and have been constantly reminded that “all we need is Love”.  The response to inquiries into the state of the church, church policies, doctrines, leadership, etc., all goes back to this euphemism – “all we need is Love.”  Typically, this “love” is related to the differences between the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  The tree of life, symbolizing God’s love, is the tree we’re shooting for.  The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree we’re hoping to avoid, is the tree which, supposedly, relates to these inquiries, questions and discussions regarding the brethren, different policies and procedures.

The Nature of Criticism

It seems that the critique of a policy or procedure is inexplicably linked to a critique of the brethren (brethren being the First Presidency and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles).  No longer can we, as this logic flows, question something the church does without it automatically implicating them.  They, as I suppose, are those who send orders down to various levels of an extremely centralized hierarchy and as such purveyors of information, policy and procedure, they are either glorified or vilified for the results.  Never mind that this logic flow doesn’t truly work in other areas and sectors of our lives, it nevertheless is the apparent case within the LDS Church and its members.

Interestingly, in a talk which has granted members supposed justification to persecute others they view as criticizing, or at the very least a justification and need stifle “apostate” behaviors, Dallin H. Oaks differentiated between two kinds of criticism.  One he defined as “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything”, and stated that this form of criticism is “inherent in the exercise of agency and freedom.”  Today, however, all criticism of church policies, teachings and programs seemingly fall within the other definition Dallin H. Oaks gave, that of “passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.”  It’s unfortunate that members would persecute other members, and stifle discussion of issues, because of ignorance between these two definitions of criticism.

Indeed, Dallin H. Oaks further added this recommendation, which we’d do well to understand and implement:

“The counsel to avoid destructive personal criticism does not mean that Latter-day Saints need to be docile or indifferent to defective policies, deficient practices, or wrongful conduct … Our religious philosophy poses no obstacle to constructive criticism of such conditions. The gospel message is a continuing constructive criticism of all that is wretched or sordid in society.  … But Christians who are commanded to be charitable and to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) should avoid personal attacks and shrill denunciations. Our public communications—even those protesting against deficiencies—should be reasoned in content and positive in spirit.” – Dallin H. Oaks

Instead of shying away because of fear of harming the reputation of people – especially when the modern man’s (and woman’s) ego is so fragile and easily harmed – we should engage in constructive criticism to avoid the pitfalls that come through groupthink.  However, within the LDS church today, any tiffs with policy, procedures or the like is automatically tainted because of alleged “evil speaking” or “faultfinding” of the brethren, a bitter fruit of that pesky tree of knowledge of good and evil.  This, to a large extent, serves to smother all discussion of policies, procedures, and matters emanating from the Church Office Building.  It seems to suggest that the teaching from the June 1945 Improvement Era maintains a stronghold on the minds of members at all levels of the hierarchy, especially at the individual level.  This teaching stated:

“…He [Lucifer] wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to “do their own thinking.”… When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan — it is God’s plan.   When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy…. (June 1945 Ward Teaching Lesson, Improvement Era 48:354)

Never mind that President George Albert Smith, the newly called President of the Church at that time, repudiated this teaching in his response to a letter from an official from another church questioning the message taught:

“…that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to his Maker for his individual acts…. (George Albert Smith Letter to Dr. J. Raymond Cope, Dec. 7,1945)

Yes, in spite of this repudiation and other teachings from the very leaders members sustain as prophets, seers and revelators, this same line of thinking largely exists inside the Church today.  To compound this problem – getting to the heart of this essay – one of the main reasons why we are to forgo our questioning and discussion into questionable policies, procedures and teachings is because we are to be Love.  “All we need is Love” is something that is frequently reiterated in response to anything that appears controversial.  To show love, it seems, we must show mercy, understanding and, unfortunately, acceptance in the face of contradictory information.  Acceptance as used in the previous sentence can either mean personal acceptance (i.e. agreement) or acceptance in that the church and its teachings are how they should be and to speak up is to partake of the bitter fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the expense of the tree of life.

Personally, I fully agree that we must show mercy and understanding to those who labor for the cause of Zion – wherein they actually labor for that cause and not some other – but I do not agree with the injunction that we must accept and move on from the contradictions as we see them.  The reason why I disagree with this premise is rooted in this very discussion on love and charity.  Both love and charity have many levels of understanding, which magnifies the complexity of the situation.  To say that “all we need is love” is an extremely vague and misleading statement.  What kind of love, one might ask?  Do we show “love” in the permissive sense of the word, letting everyone do what they feel is right, or do we show “love” in the same way which Mormon and Moroni – the last two prophets in the Book of Mormon – and Christ showed love.

In writing this essay, I’m fully cognizant that I’m writing from an extremely flawed perspective and paradigm.  I am but one person and fully hope that my errors in reasoning, judgment and application of the following principles and scriptures will be pointed out to me to prevent further errors down the road.  This I fully accept and realize as truth.  Please correct me in my the rationale I put forth to reach my conclusions.

Mormon & Moroni

Moroni first emerges onto the scene in the Book of Mormon in statements made by his father, Mormon, near he end of the record as he states in a couple of different locations his plan to give some of the plates to his son to finish their writings and seal up the record for a latter day (see Words of Mormon 1:1; Mormon 6:6, 11).  It’s significant, in my flawed opinion, that Moroni’s first words and writings can be found in Mormon 8, a chapter filled with words which are none to pleasant on the ear of those living in the times he described.  Mormon 7 is a record of Mormon’s dying testimony, after which Moroni picks up the record and states, in Mormon 8:1, “I … do finish the record of my father, Mormon.”

Mormon 8 is a chapter that pulls on the heartstrings of anyone wanting to know the truth and willing to understand the context of Moroni’s words.  He, Moroni, is noticeably distraught over the destruction of his people, lamenting that:

“…and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people.  But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father.  And whether they will slay me, I know not. … wither I go it mattereth not … for I am alone.  My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor wither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.” (Mormon 8:3-5, emphasis added)

Moroni and Mormon, like Christ, were men acquainted with grief, sorrow, pain and death.  Their lives were lived in an era of constant war, destruction and death, Moroni even stated that “…the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.”  With this information as a pretext, we jump into the meat of Moroni’s teachings, but before doing so I must comment on love and charity.  In spite of all his afflictions, in spite of all that he had seen and lived through, Moroni nevertheless had a firm testimony of love and charity, because he had been gifted that pure love of Christ.

“34 And now I [Moroni] know that this alove which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.

“35 Wherefore, I [Moroni] know by this thing which thou hast said, that if the Gentiles have not acharity, because of our weakness, that thou wilt prove them, and btake away their ctalent, yea, even that which they have received, and give unto them who shall have more abundantly.

“36 And it came to pass that I [Moroni] prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles agrace, that they might have charity.

“37 And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made aclean. And because thou hast seen thy bweakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. (Ether 12:34-37)

In these verses I see a story of a man fighting within himself, wanting to be filled with charity in spite of all that is going on around him.  He grew up in a world filled with hate, murder, destruction and cynicism.  He grew up and lived a life which saw everything taken from him – his friends, kinsfolk, his father, the disciples who ministered to him and his father, and any semblance of a home.  Yet, in spite of all these struggles, we see a man who nevertheless was blessed with the gift of charity.  A gift he must have desired, a gift he must have asked for.  In pondering over verse 37, I wonder whether his weakness was a lack of charity during a portion of his earlier life.  In verse 36 he’s praying for others that they may receive grace, which would lead to charity.  In verse 37, the Lord tells him it does not matter whether they have charity (at least it did not matter to Moroni), but what did matter was that Moroni did see “[his] weakness” (verse 37), which the Lord, as promised, made into his strength.

It became such a strength to him that he felt, in spite of the lack of room he had on the plates (Mormon 8:5), the need to include a letter from his father on the topic of charity.  Within this letter Mormon states emphatically:

“Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear…I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love…” (Moroni 8:16-17; emphasis added)

This particular verse is enlightening in how it deals with the discussion of love and charity because these verses immediately follow a stinging rebuke of those who believe in infant baptism, stating that such people are “pervert[ing] the ways of the Lord”, that they shall “perish” absent repentance, that they are in “the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity”, and that they neither have “faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go to hell.”  Those are some pretty strong words for a man, a prophet, who is filled with “everlasting love” and “with charity” and takes time to testify of his being filled with it, but only after reproving those who believe in a fallacious doctrine.

This chapter follows the beautiful writings of Mormon in Moroni 7 which discuss the “pure love of Christ.”  Moroni, likewise filled with such charity, stated throughout his short writings the need for charity, faith and hope and that all things will fail, excepting charity, and that “if ye have not charity, ye are nothing.”  These two men, father and son – Moroni and Mormon – knew like few others what it was like to have charity in the face of a life filled with unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow.  This undoubtedly was one of the main reasons why they felt the need to share those words with us on the last few remaining pages of their written record, to us who may also witness similar sufferings and afflictions.

Later, Moroni, like his father, also issued a rebuke to us in the last days who pollute the holy church of God and prostitute ourselves for that which is of no worth.  His stinking rebuke was, nevertheless, a result of his love and charity towards us, as strange as that may seem.  He wasted no space in writing what he did, precisely and accurately describing what he needed and was inspired to say.  Some of his rebukes included the following language, in describing the time in which his record [the Book of Mormon] would come forth from out of the ground:

“…it shall come forth in a day when … the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts…”

“…it shall come forth in a day when … there shall be churches built up that shall say:  Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.”

“…ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people … why have ye transfigured the word of God?”

“…ye do walk in the pride of your hearts … unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts…”

“…ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?”

“…why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans…”  (Mormon 8:28-41).

I would recommend a thorough reading of the entire chapter with the thought in mind of how his charity and love for us, the very people he saw and was writing to, comes through in his words.  Surely, if we look at the words of both Mormon and Moroni we can see that charity and love include a level which can and must be described as either hard, tough, or a rebuking love.  Love is much more than a platitude we add to letters, conversations and discourses about positive messages, it’s also a willingness to say the hard things that sting and cut through the fluff all too present in our current dialogues and conversations.  In writing this they were no doubt partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, God’s love, in that they were laboring to bring men unto repentance and laboring to get men, across centuries of time, to turn back to God and Christ.

Truly, these men emulated Christ, and truly received “the pure love of Christ”, which required that they, at times, teach truth which is hard to receive (at least, for those who reject truth because it’s uncomfortable).

Christ

Turning, then, to Christ, who needs neither introduction nor preface, especially from me, and some of the ways he showed charity and love to those around him.  I will not attempt to create an exhaustive list of some of his stinging rebukes, but have selected some which show several different ways he used and taught love and charity to those around him:

“And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. … Woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and the greetings in the market.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For yea re as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. … Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.  … Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; the fullness of the scriptures; ye enter not in yourselves into the kingdom, and those who were entering in ye hindered” – Luke 11:39-52 (emphasis added)

“And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation …” – Luke 9:41 (emphasis added)

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My ahouse shall be called the house of bprayer; but ye have made it a cden of thieves.” – Matthew 21:12-13 (emphasis added)

“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from aheaven.  He aanswered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.  And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and alowring, O ye bhypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the csigns of the dtimes?  A wicked and aadulterous generation seeketh after a bsign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the csign of the prophet dJonas. And he left them, and departed.  ¶ Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the aleaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.  aWhich when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?  Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?  Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?  How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?  Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the adoctrine of the Pharisees and of the bSadducees. – Matthew 16:1-12

And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall asin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be blifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and cmurders, and dpriestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall ereject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.” – 3 Nephi 16:10 (emphasis added)

“And while they were at variance one with another they became very aslothful, and they hearkened not unto the commandments of their lord.  And the enemy came by night, and broke down the ahedge; and the servants of the nobleman arose and were affrighted, and fled; and the enemy destroyed their works, and broke down the olive-trees.  Now, behold, the nobleman, the lord of the avineyard, called upon his servants, and said unto them, Why! what is the cause of this great evil?  Ought ye not to have done even as I commanded you, and—after ye had planted the vineyard, and built the hedge round about, and set watchmen upon the walls thereof—built the tower also, and set a awatchman upon the tower, and watched for my vineyard, and not have fallen asleep, lest the enemy should come upon you?  And behold, the watchman upon the tower would have seen the enemy while he was yet afar off; and then ye could have made ready and kept the enemy from breaking down the hedge thereof, and saved my vineyard from the hands of the destroyer. – D&C 101:43-62 (50-54)

There are likewise hundreds of other scriptures in the same vein, uttered, written or spoken by Christ (or his authorized servants) throughout our standard works.  The number of times that Christ has called us wicked, perverse, faithless, adulterous, hypocrites, murderers, full of priestcrafts and wickedness, materialistic, rotten on the inside, and other names and insinuations is almost without number.  Are his rebukes and criticism examples of his partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a bitter fruit, an example of him not showing forth the very charity of which He himself is the definition?  Did he ever partake of that bitter fruit?  I think the answer to these questions is self-evident.  In all of this Christ provided the perfect example of one who was all about love, whose every action was motivated by pure love for those around him, including the Pharisees and scribes and including us, perhaps the most perverse and wicked generation yet to live on this green earth.  Indeed, Christ is the very definition of charity, especially when it meant rebuking and calling out those who were preaching false doctrines, following false traditions and professing to know his name and gospel.

Conclusion

In the aforementioned examples of Moroni, Mormon and Christ, we have direct and scriptural examples of both love and charity through the use of words and criticism which we typically associate with partaking of the bitter fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This association, as we can see, is largely false.  Charity and love occasionally require us to “[reprove] betimes with sharpness” (D&C 121:43).

One of the definitions for “betimes”, according to the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, is “before it is late” or in “good time”.  In Hebrew, the word for “betimes” is shachar which means to “seek early”, “look early for”, etc.  The reproof needed, then, as directed by the Holy Ghost, must be done before something gets out of hand, while there’s still time to correct the erroneous path and well before the errors take hold within the individual, quorum, class or wherever it’s found.  For those members of the church who hold the priesthood, if they’ve attained the office of teacher or higher (in either the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods), then they have a scriptural duty to “teach, expound, exhort, baptize and watch over the church” (D&C 20:42, 53).  To watch over something implies observation, vigilance and providing protection from harm (see Nehemiah 4:7-9; Luke 2:8; D&C 61:38; D&C 82:5; among many others).

To what end do we, or should we, “watch over the church” and how does this relate to charity and love?  I believe that watching over and protecting both flocks and individual sheep (including myself) from harm, error and evil (where we see it and where we are in position to say something) is perhaps the epitome of charity and love that Christ, Mormon and Moroni were showing.  They said and did the things they did because they truly cared for us, were concerned for our spiritual welfare and had special responsibilities and callings to “watch” over us.  Indeed, the Lord is our Shepherd.  His utmost concern is to watch over us and provide us protection from the storms of life where we need it.  If one fails in their watch, as those responsible for building the watchtower in D&C 101, then that person has no charity and must fail.  Christ has charity because he is the very definition of charity and love.  Sometimes that charity and love is soft and meek, sometimes that charity and love is hard and reproves us because of our wickedness.

Questioning a policy, practice or teaching within the church can be, depending on the method, the epitome of love and charity, serving to correct error and lift everyone to higher planes of understanding.  In a world which has grown soft to criticism, where anything relating to “negativity” is viewed as a personal attack or, worse, “evil speaking” and “faultfinding”, and where we in the church are told to avoid all forms of criticism for fear of partaking of that bitter fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, this lesson gets lost in the mud of life and buried deep beneath the surface.

No matter the result, if we deceive ourselves into believing that the only duty we have is to profess allegiance to a form of love which ignores the very love which Jesus and the Lord’s authorized servants have employed since Adam was first on the earth, and if we imply that we have no duty to “watch” over our respective flocks, to speak up and confront error when so impressed by the Holy Ghost, indicates nothing more than the sad fact that we have no understanding of love, nor charity, and must fail.  To suggest that any critique or criticism of policies, practices (false or otherwise), teachings and traditions is partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil at the expense of partaking of God’s love is to promote a perverted version of the truth.  For it is true that at the end of the day all we really do need is love…Christ’s true love, not a misleading definition that promotes both the ignoring and continuation of fallacies wherever they may be found.

Your thoughts, critiques and rebukes are encouraged.  :)

8 Responses to “All We Need is Love”

  1. anonymous Says:
    December 3rd, 2009 at 9:50 pm Best post I have read in a while.

    While admonishing the Thessalonian Saints, Paul encouraged them to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”.

    Although that scripture is a great one for missionaries to use in getting Christians of other denominations to become critical thinkers and investigate the restoration, it is interesting to note that Paul was not speaking to investigators. He was speaking to his fellow Saints.

    As a general authority, Paul was not as threatened about having his teachings critically analyzed by fellow Saints as he was concerned that the Saints would become complacent and mindless followers, setting themselves up to be taken advantage of by the eventually infiltration of false teachers into the flock.

    Being a critical thinker whilst under the influence of the spirit is how we avoid being deceived and/or avoid getting too far off the path.

    Baptism is not the finish line, it is the starting gate. There is still much to learn and experience after that and much discernment is needed in keeping us on the right path.

    Paul was one of the exceptions to the rule who did not find his way into the fold via the “proving” process. Rather, his paradigm change had to be brought about by divine intervention. It appears as though he had been stuck in the traditions of his fathers and refused to question those in authority… including himself. It appears he refused to be a critical thinker, discerning the fruits of the existing church and its members and leaders.

    This makes his counsel all the more poignant, coming from one who had failed to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good…. he learned the hard way .

    If “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” certainly the edifying act of continuing to prove all things and discerning truth and holding fast to that which is good is a very important function of charity.

    In that context, I agree with your friends…

    all we need is love…

    even if it appears at times to be “tough love”

  1. TuNeCedeMalis Says:
    December 4th, 2009 at 12:50 pm My thoughts… A great writeup.

    I have had very similar thoughts recently and appreciate your concise and direct focus on the truth.

    Disagreeing is not lacking love, we simply must pray to have charity for those that we are disagreeing with.

    TuNeCedeMalis

  2. Tom Says:
    December 4th, 2009 at 2:35 pm Thanks for the comments…

    Disagreeing is not lacking love, though I’ve heard direct assertions (to me personally) that questioning and disagreeing are automatically linked to both apostasy (from what I might ask?) and to leaving the church, or trying to find your way out of the church on purpose. The flow in logic baffles me – as if to say we can’t question ANYTHING church related without wanting to apostatize or leave the church.

  3. dan Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 12:58 am It could be viewed that the most Charitable act the Lord ever did to this point was to baptize the earth by water. And he sent a prophet to tell them all they needed to repent first. The next big charitable event is soon on the table. If men could only see as he sees.

    Though in reality the most charitable acts ever performed involved giving up celestial nature that we may live and putting sin on a perfect and sinless mortal body for our sake. Both, if I could do them now, would be seen as evil by the skeptics looking on.

  4. Jeff R. Day Says:
    December 8th, 2009 at 6:42 am I think there is a true Love (of Christ), and a false Love (of Paul, in my opinion). Be careful which you apply.

    The topics upon which you have been blogging on here are close to my heart. I was ultimately driven out of the church as a result of going down these paths. But, I would make the same choice again if given the option. Truth will prevail.

    I am just so very glad to see that at least one other person out there cares about some of these topics enough to study them out. Pray, study, hold fast to that which is true, and do not the group-think of the society within the Church to convince you otherwise.

  5. Jake The Ant Says:
    December 8th, 2009 at 10:01 am and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.

    Elaborate, ye wise ones.

  6. dan Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 1:46 am After the resurrection of christ, three days and night in the heart of the earth (hollow earth?) as Jonah in the fish, the people of the south who accepted Jonas words will be given to destroy the Israelites who do not accepted the new covenant or Jonah, Christ.

    This is of course also a last days type. When the servant is marred, he will later be healed and receive power. Than, with all Israel safe, the Gentiles (who had originally accepted Jonah) will reject this new prophet and Israel will not. The last may be first and the first last.

  7. Tom Says:
    December 10th, 2009 at 2:12 am Curious as to why paul’s love was referred to as “false love” (comment #5)…and would love to hear your point of view.

    as to the discussion on “proving all things”, the greek word used in this verse (1 Thess 5:21) is dokimazo, which comes from the root word dokeo. Dokeo means to judge something or have an opinion of something. dokimazo means to “recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy”, and is synonymous with “discern[ing]“. Thanks for pointing this verse, in context, out. Truly we should “prove all things”, but hopefully with the goal of taking what we’ve been given, and improving upon it by taking the good and rejecting the false in favor of better.

    If that makes sense…