Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Week Sixty

WEEK SIXTY August 25, 2014

On my birthday Sister H and I were privileged to attend the Newport Beach Temple. What a great place to be. The Two family had us over for my birthday dinner this week. The mother expressed some concern that her son seems to be excluded by the other scout age boys in the ward. Reminded me of our first priority in Encinitas ward which was to eliminate all cliques, youth and adult. They just seem to paralyze a ward family. Our heart just ached as she recounted the instances of his exclusion. I think this is the fear of all missionaries that new members will not be embraced fully. I suspect the Lord has the same fear which minimizes His trust in sharing with us those ready to embrace the gospel. It’s a large and stretched out ward, over three cities which also may account for some of this but we lived in the Louisville 3rd Ward, years ago, which covered miles and miles making church meetings the gathering place breeding excitement and fellowship. So I’m not sure the factor here.

I sent a text message to the young son: “Your mom shared last night that you're having some misgivings about the way some of the deacons are treating you if even treating you at all. I would suggest you consider Alma 58:10–13 in dealing with such concerns and Alma 17:8-11 and see how these great men who became prophets dealt with fear and discomfort. I promise you that would persevering will improve your own character and your standing before God. If you'd like to talk about it let me know I have dealt with this issue a number of times over the years and learned that while I can't change others I can change myself. I'll share an experience we had in North Carolina. Remember Sunday meetings are not the churches meetings or the meetings of other boys. They are Heavenly Fathers meetings. He is the one who is asking us to be there. Every meeting isn't great but I know that is where God wants me to be and I'm being there He speaks to me as I listen and avoid all distractions. “

I shared with Brother Two a little article I write explaining Moroni’s promise and what we need to do to get answers to prayer. He told me, “The Holy Ghost does not give answers to satisfy curiosity, nor to sign seekers. Your notes are opening my eyes to truths not realized.” This coming Sunday they meet with the stake president for the temple recommend interview.

Received a nice report from Greg Loosli about our home ward. Nice to feel in touch with our fellow Saints at home. Received an unexpected encouragement from our MP to attend the baptism of our last grandchild in Provo, Utah. Things are certainly much different for senior missionaries.

Had a good meeting with the Twenty-first family and a sweet discussion on the Book of Mormon sharing how exciting it is to me. We were able to share with him the comments of a grandson who is learning the drums regarding Brother Twenty-one’s performance at the Orange County Fair. Our grandson said he was a rock star, couldn’t believe how confident he was playing in front of other people without making a mistake. Brother Twenty-one said he used to practice dropping one of the drum sticks and still keeping the foot and the other hand going keeping the beat. That was what gave him the confidence. Also our grandson said, “He is better than my teacher.” Brother Twenty-one has an audition coming up with a country band that he is hopeful of participating with.

Also met with the Fifty-five family who have completed all their interview for the temple. We had our final preparation class message and will be going to the San Diego Temple with them early September.

Learned that two of my bishopric counselors and their wives were able to visit and share a meal together in Guatemala. How happy we are for the four of them.

Received from Brother Forty-two, “What is the difference between the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit?” I suggested that generally the terms are used interchangeably. However the Holy Spirit is also used to identify the Spirit of God, or the spirit of The Lord. To me it would identify that spirit that proceeds forth about the God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Ghost as well as the Holy Ghost is a personage.

Then he asked, “Repentance - Repent of individual acts and not sinful nature. Man can be perfect. Wasn't Jesus?... and being born again – baptism into the true church?

I replied, at length to make sure there was no confusion in his mind—

To answer your question, (do we repent of individual sins and not our fallen nature?), I need to explore some things with you. Traditional Christendom has come up with a doctrine called “original sin” to describe the taint of sin, the “curse of Adam” that is transmitted by birth to all his posterity. We don’t believe that doctrine originated in the scriptures, rather its roots are traced largely to St. Augustine (354-430 AD). It is our belief that Adam and Eve were forgiven by God following their repentance and the power of the Atonement (Moroni 8:8; Moses 6:53-54) and that “men are punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression (Article of Faith 1:2)

However, the nature of man did change as a result of the transgression of Adam and the Fall. Not only was physical and spiritual death introduced as a result, but the very nature of man, Adam’s posterity changed. This nature, the natural proclivities of the flesh, frequently referred to as the “natural man” can be overcome only through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The process is best illustrated in Mosiah 3:19: The natural man, he who exists because of the fall, is “an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man (this a choice, choosing God rather than the vain things of this world) and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, (this comes from and solely through the grace of Christ) and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (The character of the individual changing as the influence of the Spirit changes them into a more perfect being.) This change from the natural man, through faith, repentance and the grace Christ is what I think the apostle Paul was referring to in Galatians 2:20.

So in summary Adam’s sin inputs no sin on his posterity because of the death and resurrection of the Savior; for Adam and Eve themselves their transgression was resolved through their willingness to personally repent. The result of Adam’s transgression was the fall including a fallen nature in man. Adam’s transgression was unconditionally paid by our Savior. How I deal with my fallen nature is up to me. Will I come to Christ as he invites, and partake of his grace and allow him to change me? The invitation is constant, the choice is mine. I can choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death.

We believe that Jesus Christ has always been, was when he walked the earth, and now is a perfect being. Consequently his baptism was not to assuage His sins, for they did not exist, but rather “to fulfill all righteousness.” Showing us that “according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.” Christ’s baptism therefore being an example for us showing the “straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter.” Therefore we are to “follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting or your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. [2 Nephi 31:4-15]

Concerning perfection the Savior declared, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) We do believe this is a possibility, just as the Lord stated, but only through Christ, not on our own. As Moroni so impressively related, it is required of us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” (Moroni 10:32-33.)

For me personally the take of C. S. Lewis on this has always resonated with me—

“…On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us through the next twenty-four hours as "decent people." If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death...

I find I must borrow ... [a] parable from George MacDonald. Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way the hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of –throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

“The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him –for we can prevent Him, if we choose –He well make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 173-74.)

One of our current apostles said it this way—

“The Lord's authorized servants repeatedly teach that one of the principal purposes of our mortal existence is to be spiritually changed and transformed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Alma declared: 'Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God’ (Mosiah 27:25-26).

“We are instructed to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness’ (Moroni 10:32), to become “new creature[s]” in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), to put off ‘the natural man’ (Mosiah 3:19), and to experience ‘a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually’ (Mosiah 5:2). Please note that the conversion described in these verses is mighty, not minor—a spiritual rebirth and fundamental change of what we feel and desire, what we think and do, and what we are. Indeed, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through our reliance upon ‘the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah’ (2 Nephi 2:8). As we choose to follow the Master, we choose to be changed—to be spiritually reborn.” (David A. Bednar, "Ye Must Be Born Again," Ensign, May 2007, 19-20.)

In discussing being born again, there are at least two broad elements involved, 1) the ordinance itself, being “born of water”; and 2) a mighty change of heart, being “born of the spirit.” Both are required for one to truly be born again. As the Savior declared, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In response to Nicodemus, the Pharisee’s question how this could be done, the Savior affirmed, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.) Peter gave a similar answer on the day of Pentecost when in response to his preaching they that heard said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:378-41.)

The heart is the central element in our conversion from fallen mankind to holy beings—for the heart reveals not the avowed man but the true man. We build a heart acceptable to God though our faith in Christ, and as we willingly come unto Him our hearts are "changed through faith on his name" (Mosiah 5:7).

As our hearts are changed within us, we become born again and our "souls [become] illuminated by the light of the everlasting word" (Alma 5:7). We then begin to see and feel—to sense, then to know, and finally to understand—the verities of eternity. The process of being born again itself causes our souls to be filled "with joy and consolation" through the redemptive power that is in Christ, which power purifies and sanctifies our hearts in an ongoing process of perfection that remains viable in us only as we continue to yield our "hearts unto God" (Helaman 3:35). 

In yielding our hearts to God we enter into additional covenants "with our God," bringing an ever refining fire into our souls which encourages us "to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things ... all the remainder of our days" (Mosiah 5:5). As the reality of these covenants empower us, we become the sons and daughters of Christ, being "spiritually begotten" of the Redeemer (Mosiah 5:7).

With changed hearts, and as evidence of the covenants we have now entered into, we willingly accept the changes that Christ works in us and the cardinal virtues—exemplified in those who are to live exalted lives—become part of us as well. Thus we willingly yield to the "enticings of the Holy Spirit;" putting "off the natural man" or woman; becoming a "saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord;" and becoming "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love." In so becoming, we begin to sense the common thread of those who are born again is a willingness "to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon" them (Mosiah 3:19).

As our will becomes one with God, we are freed from the "bonds of iniquity" and the "gall of bitterness." Leaving the "state of nature" even the "carnal state" introduced through mortality at the time of the fall—a state which is "contrary to the nature of God"—we become changed in Christ and enter into a state in harmony with the "nature of happiness" (see Alma 41:11).

We begin to enjoy the "happiness which is affixed" to the atonement and are freed from the punishment affixed in opposition to the law (2 Nephi 2:10). Our hope burns and brightens within us as we see and comprehend with our spiritual eyes that we will be "raised to endless happiness." We know that "endless happiness" comes only "according to [our] desires of happiness, or good according to our desires of good" which have been carefully nurtured within our heart. Thus having come unto Christ and allowing ourselves to become one with Christ, we are changed in him. We now accept of the divine within us and begin the process of becoming "redeemed of the Lord" (Alma 41:4, 5, 7) which fills us with "hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of the resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, ... because of [our] faith in him according to the promise" (Moroni 7:41).

Brother Four shared this powerful sentiment with us—

“Open your eyes and see...police killing brothers, siblings fighting one another, and men leaving families to be raised by the mothers.

“Open and see...a youth that's in need of correction, lest we look in the mirrors of our past and see destruction in our reflection.

“Open your eyes and see...there's an answer to the question why? (Gun control) While we stand around pointing accusing fingers, how many more children must die?

“Open your eyes and enemy calling us fools. laughing at people who say, "In God we trust" but won't let Him back in the schools.

“Open your eyes and homelessness continues to thrive, we seem to turn a deaf ear to their cry, "Please help us we're trying to survive."

“Open your eyes and see...a government with blurry eyes, still vowing to implement changes each time a soldier dies.

“Open your eyes and see...a nation that once stood tall, still struggling with the issue of racism, together we'll stand or divided we'll fall.

“Open your eyes and see...though terrorism has changed our lives, we must move forward in unity with confidence that we will survive. (We are Americans)

“Open your eyes and see...none of these things are strange, but it's time we opened our eyes and our hearts and finally bring about change. How long will we wait?? It's up to you and me. The vision is here, now open your eyes and see.

I replied—Is this yours Thomas? [Yes sir, it is mine. I want to spread it, so please feel free to share if you wish.]

Met with Sister Thirty-nine and finished the restoration discussion and introduced her to the Book of Mormon. At her request gave her a blessing as well. Also did the same with the Six family and their adult daughter. Brother Six explaining a number of doctrinal things but did said, “God just doesn’t seem to be talking to me about this.” Which was disheartening.

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