Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Break The Silence

I believe it is an essential ideal to be able to express ones opinion and beliefs. Quite often I hear a philosophy preached in entertainment media, news media, in discussions on the internet, and even in controversial discussions I choose to engage in. It goes something like this: "Don't preach to me and I won't preach to you", or "I'm not trying to shove my beliefs down your throat, so you don't try to shove yours down mine", or "Don't try to tell me how to live my life". The underlying idea comes branded in many different ways, but it is nearly the same chant, insisting that they are perfectly fine however they are and I need to shut my mouth.

This idea has existed throughout the ages and comes in many shapes and forms. I served a mission for the LDS Church and I heard this on countless doorsteps and in numerous discussions. If someone is perfectly content with their beliefs, what right do I have to tell them to change? If they are happy, shouldn't I just leave well enough alone? Shouldn't I just let them be? After all, considering the great controversy and stigma surrounding the Mormons, why should I go around preaching something I can't always prove beyond all doubt to be absolutely and completely correct? Not every church sends tens of thousands of people into the world to try and convince them to drastically change their lives and beliefs. In fact, relatively few have such a significant proselytizing effort. What makes this church so very special and right in doing what it does? Shouldn't we stop trying to force our ways on others?

There are many ways you can look at this problem. Let's consider a few...

The first way is that we should finally just join the crowd and stop being so pushy. Essentially that we should let people believe what they believe and just shut the heck up about what we choose to believe. Who likes it when someone is trying to change what they are used to, what they have lived their whole lives being content with?

Second, is the idea that we, amongst the crowd, have the real truth, and so we are justified in continuing to preach to everyone, everywhere what we know to be true. But on the other side of things, they don't have the real truth, so they should just stop perpetuating all that false garbage and start believing the truth. I will be honest... for a large part of my teenage years I entertained a philosophy not too far from this in my mind.

The third way to reconcile this is right in line with what the founding fathers of the United States held so close to their hearts. They cherished the concept of freedom of speech. The ideal that we should be able to express our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs freely, rather than being constrained by some other force to keep quiet or face consequences. If we believe something, why keep it to ourselves? If we found out how to be truly happy, why bite our tongue and cover-up what could bring great joy to many around us? Wouldn't you want to share it and help others find the same happiness?

It's true that many choose not to speak up about their beliefs, and to rather keep them to themselves. Perhaps they don't want to encroach upon the way others choose to believe. Perhaps they fear consequences, whether social, physical, or otherwise. But generally speaking, if we believe something, if we know something to be true or have confidence that it is true, is it not our very obligation to share it? Is it not the only right and honest solution to this great dilemma of the ages? If we care about truth, we must do our part and share those things we know or believe to be true with others. We cannot afford to keep quiet and withdraw when it comes to combating information we believe to be false with information we believe to be true.

So, my answer is that LDS missionaries are completely in the right in their courageous, persistent, and zealous proselytizing efforts. But my answer is also that other churches and others who believe differently are also completely in the right in their efforts to proclaim what they truly believe. It's time we abandon this idea that we should all just shut up and leave each other alone. We should instead be engaging and striving to lift one another up and working toward greater happiness and truth as a society.

Of course, along with this, I believe it is each of our responsibility to actively seek out truth. If we choose to ignore true and sensible information, or intentionally hold blindly onto false ideas or convenient "truths", we are doing harm to ourselves and others. What we choose to believe affects others around us and future generations, even if only in a small way. If we are just too lazy or apathetic to seek out truth over our own comfortable ways, we are doing society a disservice. We can and should each play a role in bettering society and furthering truth.

Now to practice what I just preached...

I believe very strongly, in fact I might say I know, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only church in these modern times that contains the fullness of God's authority and continuing revelation, the continuation of the early church built by Jesus Christ, which was eventually corrupted by man. I have come to this conclusion from various things in my life. Throughout my teenage years I gained a strong spiritual confirmation that this is God's church. As time went on and I invested my time in study, I found myself at the crossroads introduced by attacking arguments and literature. I chose to study and sift out the logical fallacies from credible truth, as well as to expand my understanding of many important concepts. As I persevered in this effort, I came to a sound belief in this as being the one church authorized by God and nearest His church in Christ's time.

As highly controversial as they are today, I know where I stand on major topics like homosexuality, abortion, etc. I have developed a greater understanding of God's overarching plan and the purpose of this mortal life. He has clearly revealed answers to many of these things. Perhaps I'll cover these topics individually in future posts, but I know where I stand and I know what's right. I make no apologies for this stance and my beliefs. I will continue to proclaim what I believe to be true, and I encourage you to do the very same thing.

The only thing worse than controversy is silence.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Meaning Of Faith

Faith is an important concept in all religion today. But what exactly is it? That's what I hope to explore in this article. I believe the word, in religious context or otherwise, is often misunderstood or not fully understood. So let's start off with a basic definition. According to the dictionary, faith is to have "confidence or trust in a person or thing." It is synonymous with belief, and doesn't require physical proof or knowledge in order to exist. It acts as a driving force behind everything we do.

Let's look at a few examples to illustrate this principle. Do you believe Antarctica is real? Of course you do (I hope). In all likelihood you've never been there and seen it with your own eyes, but someone taught you about it and you believed, or had faith, that what they taught was true. How about turning on a light? Do you believe the light will turn on when you flip the switch? Of course you do, or you wouldn't go to the effort of flipping the switch. Faith prompts action. Would you seek knowledge if you didn't believe you could obtain it? Would you eat food if you did not believe it would nourish your body and keep you alive? The principle exists in all facets of life!

But what about faith in religion? The scriptures teach this concept throughout, so let's look at a couple examples. Paul, in the New Testament, explains that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Similarly, Alma, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, affirms that "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things," and further declares that "if [you] have faith [you] hope for things which are not seen, which are true."

So, what if you have faith that the earth is flat? Does that make it true? Of course not! We can have faith in false things, and that will get us nowhere, and perhaps hold us back from accepting truth when we hear it. To get true results, we must have faith in true things. You could believe with your whole heart that flapping your hands will make you fly, but our bodies are simply not designed to fly, so in all your flapping you will remain on the ground, and perhaps embarrass yourself a little.

Taking a Christian approach, what must we do to exercise sufficient faith in God to gain salvation and eternal life? First we must have faith that He actually exists. Second, we must have a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. And third, we must have a knowledge that the course of life we are pursuing is according to His will. If we do this, we will most certainly find that salvation and eternal life we are (hopefully) looking for.

Now, how do we find what things we should have faith in? The same Alma quoted earlier explains how we can do just that. I strongly encourage you to read what he says, which you can find in Alma 32:26-33. As he teaches us, to see if something is true, we must put it to the test. We must give it a try and see if it brings true results. And if we hold onto doubt, we won't really be giving it a fair try, so we must approach this test with an open mind, willing to accept whatever the truth may be. If it does bring true results then it's a true principle, and if it doesn't then maybe not. Basically, faith leads to action, and action on true principles brings true results.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blaming God

When things seem to be falling into place for us and we feel pretty content with our lives, it's not as easy to complain. In fact, as long as we think to do so, we express gratitude for what we have and where we are in life. As a Christian and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I generally turn to God to express thanks for my well-being and relatively great position in life. This has become natural to me. Sure, I have my struggles, but in general I am doing pretty well. I have so very much to thank Heavenly Father for.

But what about when things don't go our way? What about when a man loses his job and he cannot provide for himself and his family? What about when a woman and her kids lose everything they own and have to turn to begging and welfare to even live? Is it easy to make sure to thank Heavenly Father then? Does it come naturally for us to feel well enough off under those trying circumstances? Not usually. All too often I hear of cases where a good Christian comes to one of these big trials in life and, instead of choosing an optimistic view, they look for someone to blame. Someone else to accuse for all the suffering they have to endure. In some cases this has been the government. In others it has been a person in their life that either failed to help them when they were in need or intentionally sought to do them harm. And then, in many cases, I have heard people turn to God as their choice to place their bestowal guilt.

I have given it a great deal of thought, especially recently. I can see why someone might turn to the Almighty to point their finger of accusation. After all, He is the one who created all of us, this earth, and everything we know. He has also promised great blessings in holy writ. So, when we seem to not be receiving the blessings we would like, who better to blame than the one who is capable of granting us all these blessings? If He really cares about each of us, why would he ever let someone suffer like this? Why wouldn't he help someone find a job when they desperately need the money to provide food and shelter for their family? How can He truly love us and let us go through these terrible things in life?

Blaming our Creator for not giving us the things we would like in life can generate a poisonous variety of emotions. We start off becoming angry at Him for whatever mistreatment we feel. If we let those feelings stay, they can fester within us and become a key part of how we think and devastate our outlook on the existence of Divinity. We may begin to take to the idea that there cannot be a God, since the God we knew is supposed to be loving and He obviously didn't care about us in our time of trouble. Over time, this embitterment toward God can lead to becoming bitter toward others, if we allow it to grow.

Why would we do that to ourselves? Why would we go down this destructive path? It will only lead to an unhappy end for us and those we end up significantly affecting with our negative attitude.

Is God really the one to blame? Is it His fault for letting us go through the unfortunate things we sometimes do in life? Perhaps He sometimes withholds blessings. Perhaps He is even the cause of certain trials in our lives. But does that make Him a bad person or someone to direct our anger at? I do not believe so!

God has promised us many blessings in life. He has even promised certain blessings in response to upholding certain principles. For example, if we fast as He has outlined, we have been promised specific blessings of health, guidance, and answers to prayers. If we keep the Lord's law of health, we will be blessed with health, wisdom, and protection. If we willingly pay our tithing, He has said He will "open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

The scriptures enumerate so very many blessings for keeping commandments. A question we ought to ask ourselves is: Am I really keeping these commandments with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength (D&C 59:5)? If God is withholding blessings that He has promised, perhaps we are not fully keeping the commandments we need to be in order to secure those blessings. Also, we would do good to make sure we understand what blessings are promised, rather than taking what somebody told us or what we think He ought to bless us with and blaming Him for not giving us exactly that.

Now how about these trials I mentioned that He might put us through? Does He just want to punish us needlessly and watch us squirm? Absolutely not! Every trial He gives us is to humble us, strengthen us, and give us the opportunity to become a better person. In the Book of Mormon, when the people as a whole became gruesomely wicked, the Lord cursed the land for their sakes (Mormon 1:17). He cursed the land to make their acts of wickedness difficult, in order to encourage repentance and righteousness. So in the trials we go through in our own lives, which come from the Lord, perhaps He is only trying to give us that same blessing, in order to humble us, give us greater experience, and help us become all that He knows we can be.

How about trials that come because of the wicked? Are those God's fault? Definitely not! Perhaps we suffer because someone enjoys causing us misery or makes some selfish choice that negatively impacts our lives. Or perhaps we were simply born into more trying circumstances. Let's reflect on some of the suffering Joseph Smith endured. At a very young age, he suffered an extraordinarily painful bone infection, which required an agonizing, experimental surgery. Over time, he lost a brother, and as he became a father, he lost many of his own children. As he discovered truth from God, and was obedient to His commands, he suffered persecution, infliction of painful injuries, long undeserved terms in a cold and dark jail, and eventually death at the hands of a mob. These acts of wicked men were not God's fault. God allowed him to go through all that he did because it strengthened and refined him. It gave him experience that would benefit him through his life and all eternity. It is quite evident in the scriptures that Joseph became a very refined, strong man because of it. Those who afflicted him will one day stand before God and account for their evils, and that will certainly not be much fun for them.

Then there are the countless heart wrenching stories of the struggles faced by the early Mormon pioneers. They watched many of their fellow travelers die along the way. The suffered loss of limb, crippling illness, and the harshness of raging winter storms. Yet they pressed onward, over the thousands of miles they had to cover. When I hear all that they faced, it weighs on my heart. However, in accounts of those that made the journey, I have read that they would not trade those experiences for anything. The bitter trials they faced went to refine them and make their characters radiate with those attributes exemplified by Christ. In those stories of the trek across the American plains, the blessings of the Lord were poured out upon the people. Many account seeing angels assist in pushing their carts along when they were feeling weak and unable to do so by themselves. When food became sparse, some found miracles on par with Christ's multiplying of the loaves of bread and fish, as found in the New Testament. Many were healed from illness and some were even reclaimed from the jaws of death itself.

Personally, I look at the life of Joseph Smith and the pioneers and feel extraordinarily grateful for how relatively minimal my struggles have been. Even though I've had some pretty tough things in life, they have been nothing compared to what others have gone through. Still, though, trials refine character and help a person to become more like the Savior. Because of that, I have come to thank Heavenly Father for them. It may not always be easy when I'm faced with difficult circumstances, but I strive to be grateful nonetheless.

With everything going on in life, it gets hard to keep a proper perspective sometimes. Before this life we lived with God. He prepared a plan for us to be able to become like Him. He knew this life would be tough for us, but He knew it was what we would need to become as He is. We are now in this life to make mistakes and learn from them, and to mold our characters into ones that are ever closer to Divinity. We will all pass from this life into another, where we will be rewarded according to who we have become. Really, this life is such an infinitesimally small speck compared with the eternity that lies ahead. So, why must we give into the temptation we face to focus solely on the here and now? Why must we think of only what makes us happy at this moment and not what will better us in the eternities? If we have a firm testimony of the plan of salvation and everything God has in store for us, shouldn't we rather keep our eyes fixed on that? If we make every choice in life with the grand scheme of things in mind, we will find ourselves far happier in general and more fully prepared for meeting our Maker, whenever that day comes.

Speaking of meeting our Maker, we know from revelation that everything will be made right in the end. Every injustice we suffer. Every trial we endure and surmount. Everything that is unfair about life will be compensated in eternal blessings, according to our obedience. All will be balanced out and made as it should be, so why spend our lives lamenting our circumstances or becoming embittered, as a way to try and spite God, when really it is only hurting our own characters and eternal destiny? God is really to thank for all we have and continue to receive, not someone to be cursed when things go a little differently than we had hoped.

With the ideas I've expressed in this article, I sincerely hope that you will seek to more fully thank your Eternal Father for His blessings, and strive to live more worthily to receive all that He is anxious to bless you with. When trials come, remember why they are there. Remember to keep that eternal perspective in every choice you make. Please, let go of any malice or resentment you might hold toward God. Let Him refine you and perfect you. Allow yourself to be blessed and see the brighter side of life. I promise you will be far happier in this life and in the eternities if you do!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Through God's Eyes

As a little backdrop to the rest of this article, I want to start with something long before we ever came to this place we call Earth. As we learn from both ancient and modern revelation, we once lived as spirit beings patterned after that of our Eternal Father, yet lacking the corporeal attributes our Exalted Parent enjoyed. He, in His incomprehensible love, desired to allow us the opportunity to enjoy the very same blessings and bliss as Himself. So, He proposed a plan in a grand council for this to be brought about. Part of that plan included temporary absence of our premortal knowledge. Because of that, we would make choices based on faith and feeling, rather than memories. This was necessary to prove our characters. Jesus Christ, our elder brother, willingly volunteered to fill the role of Savior, which included living a sinless life and enduring suffering He never deserved, in order to relinquish us of our shortcomings. Lucifer, in his pride, opposed the plan presented by God and convinced one-third of all our Father's children to do the same. These were cast out from heaven, never to enjoy the blessings the rest of us will. Eventually, we each had the opportunity to enter this mortal existence.

During life, we face many influences. Some are good and some are not so good. We are born with something called the light of Christ, which helps us differentiate between right and wrong. Our family, our friends, our enemies, the things that surround us from day to day, they all have some affect on how we make choices and what we let graduate from thought to action. Yet, at the same time, we are influenced by other forces. Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost and those that assist in the work of God from the spiritual realm are influencing us to make righteous choices. Satan, and those that chose his unending path of misery, are constantly trying to dissuade us from those better choices and carefully lead us to a more bitter end than we might otherwise reach. Because of the diversity of influences we face, all but Christ have stained their lives with some degree of impurity. Any impurity invalidates us from the opportunity of returning to live with our Almighty Maker. However, He provided a way for that to happen.

Jesus Christ performed what no imperfect being ever could. He satisfied the law of justice and made mercy accessible to those that would choose to take advantage of it. He did far more for us than we will understand in this life. He atoned for the sins of every one of us. Because of Him, we will be forgiven of every wrong we repent of. Repentance means to change. This means we must change who we are to be the type of person that will not commit the sin we were guilty of. So long as we satisfy this, and make any necessary repairs, the atonement of Christ will cover those mistakes.

So, if we sin, as we all do, then truly repent, should we receive a lower blessing than one who never had committed those transgressions? The Lord tells us: "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." (D&C 58:42) Now, it seems to me that a perfect, all-knowing being would still remember something we did. However, in his perfect refinement, He will treat us as though we were never guilty of our wrong-doings. He can perfectly overlook the imperfections we have removed from ourselves. So, if He truly overlooks those things, why would we gain any less blessing than if we never had done wrong? That's simply not the case. He views us as we are and for what we have the potential to become, not as we were.

Now, if our Divine Example has commanded us to be like Him (Matthew 5:48), we must come to view others through His eyes. We must learn to see others for, not what they were, but who they are and what they have the potential to become. We must exercise the same mercy that He so constantly exercises upon us. We must strive to love others with our best effort to mimic our Father's incomprehensible love toward us.

With this in mind, I hope you will strive to treat others in a manner expressing those attributes perfectly demonstrated by our Grand Exemplar, Jesus Christ, during His mortal life.