Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Conversion

I have been thinking a lot recently about change; there's a lot afoot at work, my children are growing at an ever-quickening rate, and in our ward we see great promise and great challenge. It's simultaneously exhilarating and frightening, and I find that much of my day is spent examining, pondering, and selling change, to myself and others.

In this context I read the account of what follows King Benjamin's world-changing sermon to his people. After bearing his testimony of the Savior, Benjamin looks out at the people he loves and sees what he could have only hoped for.

Mormon describes the scene thusly: "They had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

Clearly, humility is a key component of our response to gospel truths. (This reminds me of a great exchange I had with my father some years ago. Me: "Dad, you're one of the humblest people I know." Dad (without missing a beat): "And proud of it.") In order to accept change in our lives, we have to accept that something is less than ideal in how we live our lives.

The people then call out, giving voice to the humility they have manifested: "And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ."

Seen in the context of my earlier discussion of the thesis statement of the Book of Mormon, the fact that the people call first and foremost for mercy through the grace of Christ is important.

The effects of this expression of humility and reliance on the grace of God comes next: "after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ."

And as the people are touched by the Spirit and forgiven for their sins, they are converted. They change their very nature, both in this moment and in the days and months and years to come. This is the kind of change that is meaningful, the kind of change that makes a difference in our lives. And as we grapple with change, we find the greatest hope for real change--change that we need in our individual lives, our relationships and families, our wards and neighborhoods and nations--as we accept our weaknesses and rely on something greater than ourselves to be truly, fully converted.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Spiritual Strength

On Sunday we had two high councilors visit our ward to speak, and both of their talks we inspiring and helped me better understand the theme for this month, which is "taking the spirit as our guide." I've been thinking of this theme in the context of Nephi's experience going back for the brass plates, but one of our speakers took us in a very different and enlightening direction that I would like to pursue further here.

Working off the parable of the ten virgins, our speaker explored the symbol of the oil as spiritual strength, which he then connected to President Packer's 2010 General Conference address about priesthood power. In this context, spiritual strength becomes analogous with not just the authority, but also the power of the priesthood as exercised in faith.

But for me the most meaningful part of this message was the reference to D&C 45:57, where this parable is explored in greater depth. Here we read that "they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day." Here the wise five "have received the truth and taken the Spirit as their guide," which would mean they have cultivated personal spiritual strength through the exercise of faith in their daily lives.

I think then about this in the context of our ward and this simple fact: we have 1000 members and over 50 active, temple recommend-worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders, three times the numbers required for a ward. Obviously, as our stake president has told us repeatedly, we need to be working to split this ward. Priesthood advancements and reactivation are part of this. But so too is the act of training each husband and father to step up and develop this sort of spiritual strength.

This message then ought to inspire each of us to be ready to serve and lead in ways that we may not be comfortable with. And the day will come (soon, I believe) when we are not just talking about two wards where now there is one, but a stake centered in this part of town, and men who are now leading quorums and teaching classes will be in bishoprics and a stake presidency.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The First in an On-Going Discussion of Faith

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the idea of faith, and particularly the idea of taking a leap of faith, demonstrating faith regarding an unknown, uncertain, intimidating choice by acting. This line of thought has been influenced by some reading I've done and some events in the ward and my own life, and today some things came together.

The theme for the month in our stake is taking the spirit for our guide, and the idea of being led by the spirit was explained well by this week's speakers. And while they were talking, I began thinking about some scriptures.

The first--kind of an obvious one in this context--is 1 Nephi 4:6-7, as Nephi returns to the city to get the records of his family. Nephi, being young and impetuous (and a bit over-confident), didn't really have a plan. But still he acts, as he explains: "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth."

Doing some further reading, I found myself in D&C section 38, which holds several pithy bits of LDS belief. But an especially profound idea caught my eye in verse 33, where we read that the Lord's disciples "shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do; for I have a great work laid up in store, for Israel shall be saved, and I will lead them whithersoever I will, and no power shall stay my hand."

I'm impressed here with several things. First is the idea of the Lord leading us, which echoes what Nephi says and does nicely. The next ting I notice is the idea of being empowered, and, in fact, several other verses in this section refer directly to the command to build a temple and be endowed with power from on high. With that endowment, we are given the great promise that the work we are involved in cannot be thwarted.

Finally, the work that the Lord lays out in this verse is powerful: "Israel shall be saved." There are obviously a number of important interpretations of this idea, from the literal gathering of Israel to the restoration of the keys given to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple.

But for me, this promise is all about what we have been asked to focus on as a ward and a stake, to rescue those who have gone astray. I use these two verbs--"save" and "rescue"--interchangeably, and given that we are, as members of the church, a covenant people and part of the House of Israel, then those who have lost sight of the gospel, who are not enduring to the end and keeping those covenants, truly need to be saved.

Seen this way, the promise of this verse is precisely what we need. As we receive power from God in the temple--and by extension through keeping those temple covenants, particularly to sacrifice our time and efforts--we are guided by the spirit. This leads us then to save God's children, both members of the church who have lost faith and hope, and those who have not yet made the saving covenants of the gospel.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Paradigms of Conversion

Here's a link to a pipedreams presentation on the organs of Utah. This is one of my favorite public radio shows (especially for Sunday) and an interesting topic. Check it out.

It's a source of great pride and humor that as a Church we entrust a good part of our growth to inexperienced young men and women. The perhaps apocryphal quote from J. Golden Kimble is one of my all time favorites as it speaks to a real truth. We send boys and girls into a world about which they know very little and for which they are barely prepared to stand as representatives of the Church. Yet the system works by and large. It does so because of the Holy Ghost and the capacity the Lord grants all his servants to work beyond their natural abilities. We could go into the many miracles that we've all seen but I think I'll leave that to those who are better at writing inspirational posts than I.

I did want to point out something that occurred to me the other night while reading the missionary accounts of the sons of Mosiah. When they first arrived amongst the Lamanites all the brothers but Ammon followed what I think is the common inclination of missionaries. They went to preach to those with whom they thought they should share a common language, that is the Nephite apostates dwelling amongst the Lamanites. Now we all know the story, only one convert from the entire group.

Ammon on the other hand went to a people that were completely devoid of understanding of Nephite religion. From a philosophy of science perspective you would consider this the difference of paradigms. While they could speak of God they would do so using different languages. Despite these differences Ammon converted masses amongst the Lamanites.

This paradigmatic difference is seen even more sharply when you consider King Lamoni's father. The words he uses when he's praying following Aaron's teaching are these "O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me." These are not the words of someone who comes from a common tradition but of someone who's religion is totally alien to the one being taught. In modern terms it is analogous to teaching non-Christians or those not religious.

The advantage that I see for the sons of Mosiah, is that by teaching a group completely devoid of understanding of "Nephite faith" they were able to: 1. start from the beginning and lay the whole panorama of salvation out, and 2. avoid the misapprehensions that so often cloud conversion by those coming a different branch of the same paradigm-tree. Pedagogically I don't think this means that we should change our teaching methods but I certainly think it means that we shouldn't prejudge those who would be receptive to gospel truths.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Temple Covenants

In a recent entry I referred to D&C 88:121, in which we are commanded to "cease from all [our] light speeches, from all laughter, from all [our] lustful desires, from all [our] pride and light-mindedness, and from all [our] wicked doings." Today I would like to revisit and expand on this idea.

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about this commandment, especially in conjunction with temple covenants. I was fortunate over my recent break to be able to go to the temple several times, an experience that allowed me to really focus on temple worship and its role in my life.

Chief among my thoughts has been the series of covenants made during the endowment. And I see in them--both their content and the order of the covenants--a pattern for my life. In reviewing how well I keep each of those covenants I am better able to see both how far I have come as a member of the church, and where I need to improve.

For example, I have promised the Lord to live a certain way, to avoid a kind of boisterousness, to be reverent in my behavior toward sacred things. But I don't always do that, and I tend to be casual with regards to my spirituality. That, then, is a covenant that I need to work to keep more fully.

This is helpful to me as I ponder the other covenants I have made, especially to sacrifice. In particular, I feel that I need to make meaningful sacrifices of my time and interests for the good of my wife and children. The most important thing I can do for them, I believe, he most meaningful sacrifice I can make, is to be more virtuous in how I act, to invite the spirit into our home and lives more consistently and powerfully so that they will be aware of how the spirit can and will guide them throughout their lives.