Grace and Works – Becoming the Man or Woman of Christ

We just watched the Christian movie, “God is Not Dead” which was really fascinating. (Just as a heads up, there will be some SPOILERS AHEAD so if you want to watch it, don’t read the next few paragraphs). I liked the debates, I LOVED the conclusion that we all need to learn for ourselves, that God wants us to choose, but (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) the end just left me without any joy or hope. To have the professor hit by a car and then just before he dies, he breathes out a final, “okay, yes, I guess I do believe in Jesus” didn’t really ring true or fair to me.

Perhaps it’s the age old Christian debate about faith and works. I absolutely know that we can be saved through the Grace (or as I call it the atonement) of Jesus Christ. But if we are saved to do nothing more than just keep living a sin-filled life, has the miraculous sacrifice been truly appreciated or used in the way that it was intended?

The Apostle Paul talked frequently about us becoming new creatures in Christ. The heavens watched with “anxious anticipation” to see what these new Heavenly Creatures would be like. Paul constantly tells us to be better. Look at some of his thoughts from Romans 6 –

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members instruments of righteousness unto God.

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (verses 12-16)

I had a Christian friend who kept telling me that he was saved, so really there was nothing else for him to do. No need to change bad and destructive habits, no need to try to be better or to help others, or to read scriptures, or to pray, or to have a close relationship with God. He was saved, so any sinning that he did didn’t matter, because he was saved.

How sad. How much more in life he could have been, could have done, if he had allowed the Grace – the ennobling power, the Divine means of help and assistance (see BD: Grace) work as a power within himself to become a greater being – the Man (or in my case Woman) of Christ.

That is why the movie frustrated me. (SPOILER, again) for years, the character of the professor worked at ripping down faith, and then to die and say, “sure I’m saved”, well it sure doesn’t seem fair to allow him the same heaven as those Christians who were sacrificed to lions for their testimonies.  A more ennobling ending to that film would have been to see the professor begin to unlock the power within as he came to accept his anger toward God and then try to work it out with God. To help him find the love of God would be so powerful. Yes, there would be a difficult path ahead, but he could use Paul’s life as an example. The Apostle Paul – talk about a man of Christ!

At the beginning, he tore down faith, but then, had an amazing conversion on the Road to Damascus. The Lord testified of Paul to Ananias, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9: 15). The Lord knew that Paul could be so much more than he was.

He knows that about you and me as well.

More reading on the subject –

Romans 6, Romans 8

Blog-post that I wrote, Grace the Price has been paid, the opportunity has been opened.

Elder Oaks talk, The Challenge to Become

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Ogden Temple Open House

Ogden temple Open house

Recently, we went through the Ogden Temple. Usually, before a temple is dedicated, the Church allows visitors to tour through the temple in an Open House format. They totally reconstructed it, and it is stunning!

We had been telling the girls that they would be going, but until I stopped them and said, “we’ll be going through the parts that you won’t be able to see until you are much older, and you can see the areas that you can choose to get married in someday” that they started to pay attention.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend taking your family and going. It is so beautiful, and even without it being dedicated there is an amazing spirit there. You can get reservations here and it will continue until Saturday, September 6th, 2014. You don’t have to be a member of the LDS faith to attend, and is truly worth your time.

On another note, I wanted to share this really wonderful conversion story. Not only did it have a beautiful and touching message, but I was struck by the visual artistry.

We watched it for Family Home Evening tonight, my daughters loved the, “they prayed over the hot dogs” line.  Enjoy!

 

Character – The Legacy That Lasts

42 The Jackie Robinson Story

 

A while ago, I watched the movie, 42: The Jackie Robinson Story  – it’s a great movie about baseball, but like most movies about sports, it’s not just about baseball. There is one scene in particular that teaches the principle that I want to discuss today, but a little background, first. Jackie Robinson was the first black player to play on a major league baseball team at a time when there were many, many social injustices and much prejudice and hatred.

In the scene that’s our focus, the Dodgers were playing the Phillies on April 22, 1947. During that game, the manager of the Phillies, Ben Chapman was being so vehement, cruel and vile in his insults toward Robinson who finally almost loses it, but instead of railing back against Chapman, Robinson goes down under the stadium and takes his frustrations out on the wall with a bat. Then the owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey (the man that hired Robinson, and a devout Christian) comes to talk to him and this is their conversation (the first line, I paraphrased a little, but that’s the jist of it.) –

Robinson: Next white person to say something, I’m going to smash his teeth in.

Rickey: You can’t do that, Jack.

Robinson: I’m supposed to just let this go on?

Rickey: These men have to live with themselves.

Robinson: I have to live with myself, too. Right now, I’m living a sermon out there.

Rickey: You don’t matter now, Jack. You’re in this thing. You don’t have the right to pull out from the backing of people that believe in you, that respect you, that need you.

Robinson: Is that so?

Rickey: If you fight, they won’t say that Chapman forced you to. They’ll say that you’re in over your head. That you don’t belong here.

Robinson: Do you know what it’s like having somebody do this to you?

Rickey: No. No. You’re the one — living the sermon. In the wilderness. Forty days. All of it. Only you.

Robinson: There’s not a … thing I can do about it.

Rickey: Of course there is! You can get out there and hit! You can get on base and score. You can win the game for us. We need you. Everybody needs you! You’re medicine, Jack!

 

Earlier in the movie, when offering the contract to Robinson, Branch Rickey said that there was one condition for him to be able to play. Could he control his temper?  Rickey said:

“I want a player who’s got the guts NOT to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse and they’ll hear only yours. Follow blow with a blow and they’ll say, ‘the [black man] lost his temper.’ That ‘the [black man] does not belong.’ Your enemy will be out in force and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding. Only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior – you gotta have the guts – to turn the other cheek. Can you do it? “

Now, I realize that dialogue and elements of the film were dramatized (as they pointed out at the end of the movie). But what is the legacy that Jackie Robinson left? The number 42 is the only number that is retired in baseball, and every year, in April, all of the Major League players wear #42 on their uniforms as a reminder of Robinson’s accomplishments.

At the end of the day, what matters? What is the legacy that you leave? Your character.

Of course you could fight back, railing for railing, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, but who does that bless?

When we engage with others (ESPECIALLY when we don’t agree with them) there is a need for character “at all times, and in all things and in all places” (see Mosiah 18:9).

They have to live with themselves.

They have to face the great Judge of all Mankind, just as you do. There will be mercy and there will be justice.  But, as I’m trying to teach my children, the only one that you can ever really do anything about, truly, is you. You are the one living and teaching the sermon, and if you let the teachings of the Lord change you, change your heart, then your fruits will be of great worth. We cannot bear good fruit if we don’t do it in the Lord’s way. (see John 15: 1-8 and Matthew 7: 16-20).

Thou Shalt … Judge?

Judgement

The other day, my daughter came to me and told me about a YouTube video that she was shown at school.  She didn’t know what to think about it, whether it was a good video or a bad video. Whether to like it because everyone else seemed to, or to shun it.  We watched it together and immediately I made up my mind about it, but I wanted to have a teaching moment about the importance of judgement.

As an aside, society seems to know one phrase only from the bible, and that is, “don’t judge” (though they don’t seem to know any of the myriad of other verses about judgment from the scriptures).   It seems to be the way to crush a conversation, or walk defiantly away from guilt with a quick “don’t you judge me”. It’s what the critical social police throw at you when you comment on strange behaviors and consequences of those actions, though their criticism for judging you is never thought about as they walk off feeling the moral victor. (I’m sure I sound petty right now, and I freely admit that it is a pet peeve of mine).

Yet in all of our conversations about not judging (which, despite all of our lofty “judge not” talk, we do all the time) there should be conversations about how to judge and what to judge  – because we are supposed to judge, but we are to judge righteous judgement (John 7:24).  How do we do that in a society which calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20)?  Let’s look into that.

Let’s begin by getting back to my daughter.  We watched the video together and then I shared these scriptures with her (Moroni 7: 15-17 emphasis added) –

For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

Good – For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

Bad – But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

So we took the video and discussed it.

Was there a good message? (Yes, it was trying to get the kids to be safe). 

Was the information leading up to the message good? (No, it was creepy, about a bunch of ways to die).

How did it make you feel? (Scared, disgusted, creeped out, felt strange inside).

How did the song make you feel? (The same as above). 

So, we have one “good” and a bunch of “bads”.  Should we judge the video to be good for kids or bad for kids? (Bad).

Even though the message was a good one? (Yes, because there was too much bad to get through to get to the main message). 

Now she knows perfectly that she doesn’t need to pretend to like it just because everyone else did.  It took away her peace and made her feel creeped out inside.  Then we talked about strategies of what to do if it were ever shown again (which thankfully, it wasn’t).

Notice that we didn’t judge whether the people were going to heaven or hell.  We judged situations, the media, and consequences.  People make mistakes and people can have bad judgement.  I can allow her teachers and friends to have an “off” moment. We made decisions about how this child could effectively judge and use her agency to decide what to listen to and what to watch in the future so that she could continue to have peace in her heart (Jeremiah 6:16).

Now are there times when I can judge a person’s actions? Yes.  Should those actions have a detrimental effect on me or my loved ones, I can again determine whether I want to be around that behavior (as can my children). Do I forgive, do I hope that they will be better, do I show forth love? Yes. But the scriptures are full of examples in which the good moral people left bad circumstances (Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife [Genesis 39:9-12] for example).

Am I allowed to talk about the consequences of actions?  Is that judging?  In Joshua 8:33, the prophet was told to separate the people into two groups, one standing on Mount Gerizim and the other group on Mount Ebal.  There they read to the people the blessings and cursings that come from the obedience or disobedience of following the law (see Deuteronomy 28).  The scriptures are FULL of laws and their fixed blessings and cursings.  Which is why it is important to study them, because if we want to be possessors of righteous judgement, we need to understand what the Lord deems as righteous and what He deems as wicked.

We do our children a disservice when we cut off communication and shroud the discussion of consequences with the pacifying doctrine of “don’t judge”, or worse, the insidious teaching of “that will never happen”.  If the costs of actions are not discoursed, our children will be spiritually crippled by the heavy burdens brought on by uneducated desires and uniformed choices.

Yes, we do and must judge – actions, circumstances, media, choices.  We must teach our children to value actions which lead to blessings and be wary of actions which lead to consequences that would be detrimental to their futures. Even if that means, at times, that we may preach doctrine that is full of “hard things, more than [some] are able to bear” (1 Nephi 16:1-2).

 

For further study, see this amazing talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell – Lessons from Laman and Lemuel. (Laman and Lemuel became rebels instead of leaders, resentful instead of righteous—all because of their failure to understand either the character or the purposes of God.)

“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit!”

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“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit!” was the line that Han Solo said in Star Wars when Luke was trying to get him to help save Princess Leia on the Death Star. Luke Skywalker said, something to the effect of, if you help save this princess, “the reward would be … well, more wealth than you can imagine.”

We are told to dream big, to imagine, to reach for the stars, to wish upon a star.  All of these ideas are remarkable, and help a person begin to do the work.  The problem is that most of these motivational slogans don’t come with the tagline –  “Dream big: and follow that dream with more work than you can even imagine, and once there, it may not be the dream that you were hoping for.”   That is one of the paradoxes of life.

I once asked some friends, why did they think that God make this world to be such that we must continue in mundane, never-ending tasks?  For an example, you can work all day in cleaning or yard work, and it is totally satisfying to do the work.  But then, within what seems like a blink of an eye, everything that you have worked at is destroyed and you have to do it over again.  One friend gave an amazing answer – she said, “well, God had to give us something to keep us busy while we’re down here.” 🙂

Gordon B. Hinkley once said,

Anyone who imagines that bliss [in marriage] is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. [The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. … Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.  The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” (“Big Rock Candy Mountains,” Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).

Because I am a major idealist, the first time that I read that quote I wanted to cry.  I think that in my Han Solo moments, I have imagined that all things would be perfect.  Then, I find that President Hinckley was right.  It’s enough to make the idealist in me give up … if only I didn’t have so many ideas and dreams floating around!

But I’ve noticed something in my twenty something years as an adult … I’m getting better at the process of dream + work + problems = more work = dreams fulfilled, but not what I expected.

Working through the disappointment, toward the dream has made me better able to deal – both with the disappointment, and with the problems that tend to crop up along the way.  Something (say a glitch or mistake) that would have destroyed me a few years ago, seems to not have the same power over me that it did then.  I seem to be able to rub the smoke and dust out of my eyes or shrug off the delays and sidetracks better than I did when I was younger.

My daughter (age 8) is an idealist as well.  If she can’t have it her way, exactly as she wants it, she shuts down.  I keep telling her that things are not going to be perfect (in a watered-down President Hinckley-type speech).  I remind her that the only thing that she can do is choose how she is going to deal with the reality of her situation.  For example, I went out with her on a girl’s night on Friday (and we left my younger daughter on a Daddy-daughter date).  The next morning, we went to my nephew’s baptism.  Her sister got sick right before we left, and so her Dad opted to stay home with the younger and let us go to the event.

So, for two events in a row, I went with the older daughter and left the younger and Dad.  That afternoon, there was a neighborhood block party at a local Christian church that we had wanted to attend.  Obviously, little sister (sick with the flu) couldn’t go, but since I had left her for two other events, she desperately needed some mommy love and comfort.

Older daughter was incensed! Why couldn’t I take her to the party? (After all there would be games and treats and fun).  I said that she could go with Dad (who really didn’t want to go, but would have, if pressed).  She was furious.  She wanted to go with Mom!!!!  But circumstances would not warrant her desires, not matter how much she pushed.

Her choices were then –

  1. Continue to be miserable and make everyone else annoyed.
  2. Accept the circumstances, though disappointing, and try to make the best of it at home with family.
  3. Go with Dad, be miserable and make him annoyed.
  4. Go with Dad and try to make the best of it.

In essence, it could not be what she wanted, but there were plenty of other options available to her.

I say this, not to disparage my daughter, but to discuss our own moments when we are not gaining our imaginings from God.  How often do we rant and rave, or worse – give up, when we don’t have desired results?  Perhaps, it would be His good will to grant us our requests –  but not right now.  Perhaps there is another sibling on this earth who is desperately in need of the blessings that we are asking for and it is their turn to go first.

Meekness then, is the only attribute that will help when the imagination’s desires are not met.  Meekness to go to the Lord and ask why. Meekness to still move forward when the “why” is not readily given.  Meekness to accept others.  Meekness to accept counsel.  Meekness to follow promptings.

Consider this quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

Perhaps, brothers and sisters, what we brought with us as intelligences into our creation as spirit children constitutes a “given” within which even God must work. Add to that possibility the clear reality of God’s deep commitment to our free agency—and we begin to see how essential meekness is! We need to learn so much, and yet we are free to choose (see 2 Nephi 2:27)! How crucial it is to be teachable! There “is no other way” in which God could do what He has declared it is His intent to do. No wonder He and His prophets emphasize meekness time and time again!

Since God desired to have us become like Himself, He first had to make us free, to learn, to choose, and to experience; hence our humility and teachability are premiere determinants of our progress and our happiness. Agency is essential to perfectibility, and meekness is essential to the wise use of agency—and to our recovery when we have misused our agency. (Meekly Drenched in Destiny, BYU Address, September 5, 1982, for the full address, go here.)

Dream + Work + Meekness in Trial = more like the Lord … whose life here on earth surely was not of Princely Palace or Worldly Wealth.  It simply wasn’t Han Solo material.  But then, our prize in not for this life, is it?  Hopefully, when we end this life we can say, as Paul did:

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

But for now, I’ll try to keep dreaming, and working … and maybe some of the experiences, work, and trials will allow me to see beautiful vistas and feel thrilling bursts of speed during the journey!

Decide to Determine Your Change

Easter chickMy daughter was just singing a song with the lyric, “I’m never gonna change.”

That made me think.  What a stupid thing to say, and yet so many songs are filled with a variation of that lyric.  Why do I think it’s a dumb concept? Because, like it or not, we are all changing (just look at yourself in the mirror and see how many wrinkles have been appearing lately).   Now perhaps you feel that the lyric is noble – that it is about holding strong to an ideal.  It’s not.  Listen to the rest of the song.  It’s usually just hot air.

When my husband and I were talking about marriage, he said to me, “Laryssa, I hope that you are not one of those women who think that you can change your husband, because I am not going to change in our marriage, what you see is what you get!”

That actually almost made me call off the wedding.  I told him that if he wasn’t planning on changing in our marriage that there was no point in our being together.  Why would a person not want to change?  Not want to be better? Be content with sitting in the entropy that is life as we get older, fatter, lazier?  If that was his idea of our future, then I wanted no part of it.  If, however, he was willing to allow God to change him, then I was willing to marry him.  I wasn’t expecting perfection, nor was I planning on giving him a laundry list of what he should and shouldn’t do.  I was expecting him to go to the Lord and ask for direction, help, and advice and then work on the answers that he received from the Lord through prayer and study.

Change can be one of the great glories of mortality, if we control the change.  Education, repentance, health, patience, meekness, kindness, charity – all within the scope of our agency, if we would just start baby stepping in the right direction!

Every so often, I see a friend post on Facebook a triumph.  “I have been sober for ___ amount of time.”  “I have been drug free for ___ years.”  That is AMAZING!!! What a testimony to change (and in most cases because of AA, a change with God).

I cannot understand why our media (literature especially) is replete with examples of weakness without redemption.  What a small way to view mankind!  And what’s the point? So that we realize that we are all mortal? Gee, that’s motivating!

It’s the part of immortality inside of us – the spiritual chromosomes given to us by our Heavenly Father that I’m interested in.  Otherwise, why did the Savior make His exquisite sacrifice – so that we could be content to sit on the couch after a big meal and watch the world through our TV? No! He wants us to BECOME something great – better than we can imagine, but it all begins with the decision to control the changes that we have the ability to control.

So use your agency, and sing out “I am going to change, and I thank the Lord that I can!”

Beneficial Fruit

20120716-001002.jpg

I was thinking today about the beginning of the Book of Mormon –  father and son prophets Lehi and Nephi travel to a land of promise with their large family.  The road is not easy.  Here are just some of the issues:

  • Return to Jerusalem twice (surely over a day’s journey) to get important things that they left behind
  • Robbed by Laman
  • Constant fighting and bickering
  • Broken bow in the wilderness (threat of starvation)
  • Camping in the wilderness.
  • Having children in the wilderness
  • Have to build a boat
  • Travel by boat to the new world
  • Build a home in a new, foreign land

Certainly they saw miracles (visions, revelations, angels, the liahona, women were able to have strength even while having babies in the wilderness) but it didn’t occur to me until today how much hard work and suffering they endured.  Surely a loving Heavenly Father could have had a boat waiting for them when they reached the land Bountiful!

But then we get down to the question of whether or not we want our children to walk or do we want to carry them in our arms for the rest of their lives?  When a toddler learns to walk, they will fall.  It will be a struggle.  When our children learn to tie their shoes, read, ice skate, bike, compete – whatever it may be, there will be difficultly.  Blood, sweat, tears, and more often than not,  pain (physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental).  However, if we don’t let them struggle through, how will they ever learn to do anything?

Which brings me to this absolutely amazing quote that I recently found –

Easy things never produce much beneficial fruit. Neither our Father in Heaven nor His Holy Son take delight in seeing you struggle to overcome obstacles, resolve questions, or find solutions to complex and challenging problems. However, they do rejoice when you willingly recognize that these steps are steps to growth which lead to action that molds your character.

Elder Richard G. Scott, To Learn and to teach More Effectively, 21 August 2007 during BYU Campus Education Week.  (See full transcript here.)

Beneficial fruit.

Read this next and see how it fits in –

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.   If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (John 15: 4-8).

And look at the scripture just a few verses before this last (John 15:2) –

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

“Easy things never produce much beneficial fruit.”  We want our children to succeed,  to be better than we were.  In a modern-day and age, with so many conveniences, that’s hard to do!  So pressure of a different kind has to be placed upon us.  Disease, death, difficulty, unemployment, heartache, temptation, trial, sorrow – trials carefully calculated to help us turn to the true vine, and through Him, do amazing things with our personal pathway.

Just look at the fruit that the Book of Mormon is bringing forth.  I know it’s changed my life, and I’m grateful that though they went through difficult circumstances, they left fruit that refreshes the soul and brings one closer to the Savior.  What a precious gift to give another – the best of oneself.  And only God, with His infinite power, knowledge and love for us as individuals, can help us become the best of ourselves and then, through His power and miracle, let those gifts that we’ve brought forth go forward to bless others.