Wednesday, April 04, 2018

True Christianity and Inward Obedience

Romans 2:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

I just now realized that Paul’s issue with the Gentiles and Jews in Rome is similar to what Abinadi was dealing with with the wicked King Noah and his corrupt priests in the Book of Mormon.  

Mosiah 12:29 If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms.

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome discussing some of the attitudes and behavior of the Gentiles and Jews.  Many Jews in Rome as well as those in the ancient City of Nephi believed that if they observed the Law of Moses that God would justify them in breaking other commandments involving honesty, fidelity, and sobriety.

2 Nephi 28:8 he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this;

Paul is teaching that that it dishonors God to observe the outward commandments of the Law of Moses, and teach there is no longer need to keep the inner commandments of honesty, integrity, sobriety, fidelity, and love of God and our neighbor.  When Paul says: 

Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (ie circumcision).

Eph. 2:8-9  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

The “works” Paul is referring to are the outward observances of the Law of Moses like circumcision, new moon, and sabbath day observances.  Paul taught that Christ’s sacrifice abolished the ourward ordinances of the Law of Moses, but not the inward commandments.  Remember that Paul makes many long lists in his letters as he encourages the Saints in their inward obedience and repentance.

Rom. 2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances;

Christ’s sacrifice didn't abolish the requirement to be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and in doing good to all men” (Phil 4:8). 

Rom 2: 28-28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

The inward circumcision of the heart is manifest by our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and desire to love one another and keep God’s 10 commandments.  Our inward and outward obedience is empowered by Christ’s love and His Spirit within us. 

Christ has given His believers a new system of outward ordinances and observances such as baptism and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  However, if we believe that going through these motions alone, absolves us from needing to keep the inward commandments, then we are just as misguided as the ancient Jews. Evangelical Christians, like the ancient Jews, may likewise dishonor God by teaching that we are saved by our confession of Christ alone without also encouraging repentance, and obedience to the inward commandments.   True Christians should always encourage each other in being sober, honest, true, and chaste. 

False doctrine carries grave consequences. Glenn Beck recently discussed the 4 Pillars of American Exceptionalism. There is much about American history that is not at all exceptional and downright deplorable.  But apart from our terrible mistakes, the 4 things that made America special came from our:  1. Families/Marriages, 2. Religiosity, 3. Industry/Innovation, 4. Honesty.  As family, faith, and virtue erode away, so will this nation.  A return to virtue is the only thing that will make America great again.   

The failure of America comes down to the failure of America’s religions.  Pure religion according to James is about welfare and virtue (James 1:27).  Today, religion has turned more into Sunday Morning entertainment. Government has ursurped the Church’s business/duty of providing individual welfare and many religion’s grace-focused doctrine doesn’t speak enough about repentance, or obedience. But Paul had no problem preaching repentance and obedience. 

1 Cor 5:11-13  if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

2 Tim 2:21 If a man therefore purge himself from these (iniquity), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

LDS General Conference April 2018

April Conference 2018 was an eventful one.  It started out with a Solemn Assembly where President Russell M. Nelson was sustained as the new President and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A sustaining vote by common consent is not an election but an opportunity for leaders and members alike to commit to sustain, support and follow the Lord’s chosen leader by covenant.  

Why is a covenant necessary?  Covenants are necessary in the same way and purposes physicians take the Hippocratic Oath or politicians make an Oath of Office.  If making oaths and covenants find their origins in Judeo-christian religion, it shouldn’t he a surprise that the true Church of Jesus Christ makes full use of this principle.  The world inevitably gives us excuses to break our promises, covenants give us a sacred reason to keep them. 

In addition to sustaining a new President and prophet, the LDS Church made some administrative changes.  The Church combined its men’s organizations (Elders and High Priests) and made adjustments to its Home and Visiting Teaching programs.  These changes will simplify, expand, empower, and refocus these programs on ministering.  They also better take advantage of social media technologies.  More information on this ministering program can be seen at the followimg link:

In this conference we heard many inspirational stories and received excellent counsel. 

President Ballard taught us to never become discouraged, to be Christ-centered, and that Sacrament and Sabbath Day observance is a sign unto God that we remember Him and His Son.  Elder Hawk invited us to be forgiving even when others do not deserve it. Elder Robbins taught that mistakes are stepping stones to success but instead of going from failure to failure, we should grow from failure to failure. 

Elder Renlund taught that temple work and family history can heal family rifts and that the temple will bless anyone it touches like a river. Elder Holmes uncouraged wards to give young men more responsibilities and to not give the Aaronic Priesthood “children’s chairs to sit on”. Elder Christofferson taught that combining Elder and High Priests will unify our efforts, provide mentoring and more effective ministering.  He illustrated the kind of service wards can perform by telling the story of a ward that helped a man harvest his crop of Sugar Beets while he was attending funerals of several if his adult children.  

Elder Wilson told the story of Ensign Frank Blaire who was asked to serve as an acting chaplain for a troop transport ship during the Korean War. The ship was caught in a terrible typhoon and the captain asked Ensign Blaire to pray for the ship. Ensign Blaire didn’t just pray but asked what he could do to be part of the solution. In the end, Ensign Blaire provided spiritual impressions to the captain that saved the crew and the ship. Elder Wilson taught that these spiritual impressions were made possible because Ensign Blaire was 1. living a clean and virtuous life and had confidence to approach God. 2. Asked what he could do to be part of the solution. 3. Committing to act. 4. He practiced in calm waters so he was ready during the storm. Elder Wilson taught that we should be spiritually self reliant, “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings”, and live a guided life. 

Sister Aburto encouraged members to act with one accord, agreement and unity like a kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies. Elder De Feo taught that true disciples love one another, are peacemakers, stand in holy places and make the places they stand holy, listen to prophets voice and love to obey the Lord’s commandments.  President Oaks taught that great things are brought about by small means like how we spend our time and that spiritual fabric (rope) is woven by many small threads. 

Finally, President Russel M. Nelson told us the story of growing up in a less-active home and, as a child, breaking all his parents liqueur bottles wishing them to obey the Word of Wisdom.  He taught that we can be guided in matters large and small, that good revelation is based on good information and that members must increase our spiritual capacity to receive revelation.  President Nelson then announced the construction of seven new temples.
  • Salta, Argentina
  • Bengaluru, India
  • Managua, Nicaragua
  • Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
  • Layton, Utah
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • and a major city yet to be determined in Russia
President Nelson said, “My dear brothers and sisters, construction of these temples may not change your life, but your time in the temple surely will.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Religion in the West

This social scientist is observing the decrease in religious identity in the West due to secularization and modernization.  He argues that if children are not brought up with religion, they are less likely to feel comfortable with it. As the population enjoys prosperity and comfort, they are less likely to turn to religion for solace. It is his opinion, that religion in the West will continue to erode and will never rebound.

I do think this sociologist makes correct observations about factors that are contributing to decreased religious identity in the West. However, this scientist discounts many factors which run counter to his  conclusions. First, he says religious identity in a country is inversely proportional to its modernization. Yet he notes that for many Muslim middle eastern nations, this is not the case. Also, he doesn’t really talk about religious revival in US history such as the second great awakening or in other countries but only speaks of limited revivals followed government suppression. 

I am making the argument that religion provides many inherent benefits to society.  Accordingly, religion will always experience eventual revival for several reasons:

1. God really does exist and really created the universe and really does manifest Himself to His children.  So, rebellious children can only deny reality to a point. As long as God remains a caring parent, He will continue to convince His children of His existence. 

2.  Human have an innate drive to believe in God.  Belief in God is what makes us human. Man originally believed our relationship with God is what made man different from the other animals. Scientists had tried to redefine humanity in terms of our ability to use tools or language or other factors but have been disappointed by documenting other animals with those same capabilities. In the end, religion continues to set humans apart from animals. Religion is what defines us as human. If we lose religion, we lose our humanity.  

Opponents to religion try to claim religion oppresses and controls behavior through fear and creating a system of contrived and imaginary punishments. Religion does discipline behavior, but in reality, the opposite is true. Animal behavior is fear- and survival-based; even animal group behavior.  Human’s who respond to conscience, on the other hand, can choose to act motivated by love and not fear. 

3. Religion is a matter of culture, but also has enduring benefits, even in times of prosperity. Modern religion has gotten away from its true purpose in many cases which has led to its devaluation.  But ideally, religion is about welfare and virtue (James 1:27).  Religion is about setting up a community focused on helping and ministering to its members. The State may have tried to ursurp the role of religion, but religion will always do a much better job of administering welfare because of increased efficiency, and accountability. 

4. Religion is also about defining, upholding and maintaining virtue in society.  If man knew nothing of God, how would we know not to kill, lie, or steal. Animals only follow instinct. but because man has a knowledge of God and His will, we have a choice to act counter to the natural man and follow conscience.  Man can feel hungry but choose to fast. Man can feel offended but choose to forgive.  Man can feel greed, but choose to tithe.  Man can feel self-absorbed, but choose to serve.

5. Religion upholds and institutionalizes virtue in society by administering covenants in the same way the millitary and judicial system has its officers make oaths of office, oaths of honesty, and pledges of allegiance. The world continually gives us excuses to break our promises. Covenants with God gives man reason to keep our promises despite our seemingly valid excuses and rationalizations. Through baptism and the Lord’s Supper believers covenant to follow Christ, follow His example, and keep His commandments at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. 

6. Religion provides man a promise of ultimate justice, hope and solace. God reminds man in scripture agaun and again “vengance in mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay”. How liberating this concept is for man.  We can leave justice to God and move on with our lives and self actualization and not get bogged down with revenge and personal vendettas. Also, God give us hope in an afterlife that selfless altruistic service here in this life leads to greater rewards in the next life. A selfless community living to help one another is much better than living in a self-centered community where everyone is only ever looking out for their own self interest. Religion also provides solace to deal with death and loss. In addition to helping us deal with death by a promise of afterlife, God promises to make up to us all our losses and wipe away every tear. 

7.   If society gets to the point of secularization where prosperity leads to a loss of its moral foundation, than history demonstrates and warns that corrupt nations will collapse. Prosperous  societies that uphold false religion which do not uphold virtue or discharge the duties of individual welfare, become demoralized and corrupt and eventually and suddenly collapse. The ruins of Egypt, Rome and Greece are stark reminders. The scriptures tell the accurate tale that demoralization leads to increased poverty in society, and increased demoralized behavior and poverty leads to a greater consolidation of political power and political corruption. The eventual collapse of corrupt demoralized societies always leads to increased humility and greater religious identity.  This is the well-known “pride cycle” recorded in scripture.

The United States is the model of Constitutional government based on limiting corruption by the separation of power.  Constitutional self-government can only be maintained by a moral society.  Religion is supposed to define and uphold individual morality.  As society becomes demoralized, increased poverty and problems enter and government increasingly encroaches upon and usurps the duties of religion.  There becomes to be a consolidation  of political and economic power that promise to solve social problems and provide social justice. But consolidation of power is never the answer, is unamerican, and always leads to increased corruption.  Consequently, the West seems to be increasingly controlled by Big Government, Big Industry, Big Pharma. and now Big Data propagandized by Big Media. 

If religious identity is waning in the West, it is not because archaic religion has lost its value in a modern society, but because modern religion is getting away from its traditional foundations, purposes, and inherent usefulness.  When I talk to millennials about why they are religious.  they invariably list its many benefits.  Modern society is increasingly seeing modern virtue-less religion as no more beneficial than a local Kiwanis or Rotary Club or even less benefit than some global NGO’s.

Religion can also give itself a black eye by over-interpreting  virtue and being too strict. Religion becomes less of a support and  more of a burden when it enforces overly restrictive clothing standards that go beyond modesty, for example. Evil likes to take us the the extremes when the correct road is down the golden middle.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sins and Mistakes

This talk by President (Elder) Dallin H. Oaks discusses the difference between sins and mistakes. Elder Oaks doesn’t define transgression vs. sin in this talk but focuses only on sin vs. error. Generally speaking, my definitions aided by Elder Oaks are:  1.  a mistake is something you do thinking it is right but actually is wrong.  2. A transgression is doing something you know is wrong but you don’t fully understand is wrong. 3. A sin is doing something wrong that you both know and understand is wrong.

Elder Oak’s conclusion is that God and God’s servants (Bishops) determine what is a sin, while as members of Christ’s kingdom, we are to give each other the benefit of the doubt and generally assume others bad acts were mistakes and not sin.  We should assume others misdeeds were unintentional and due to their lack of understanding. This is how Alma the Younger delt with his wayward son Corianton.  In reality, if we had a perfect knowledge of God, a perfect knowledge of His love, and the rewards for righteousness and penalties for error, most of us would never ever sin. 

Rabbi Haim Richman of the Temple Institute says that there is no actual sin offering in the temple service. According to the Law of Moses, there was to be no forgiveness for intentional sin.  Instead, offerings were given to ask forgiveness for unintentional mistakes and trespasses only. When a person is repentant, humble and contrite, they will recognize that their mistakes were unintentional, a product of ignorance,  and a tragic lack of judgement.  Seeking forgiveness of sin without a humble and contrite heart would be the same as paying for an indulgence. 

Elder Oaks taught that we should always treat each other with love and kindness. Positive treatment and reinforcement always tends to favor better long-term behavior and encourages less mistakes. Sin does require chastisement and correction, but that can be left to God through our inevitable pains of conscience and Bishops. We don’t need to heap on our own helping of judgement. Leave judgement to God and God’s servants. 

Interesting that Elder Oaks would teach that while we should avoid sin, we should not avoid mistakes at all costs.  This fearful thinking often leads to contention and inaction. I remember as a missionary, disagreeing on what we should do next and defiantly sitting in the car for a few minutes until my heart was softened and I realized contention and inaction was worse than whever my companion was wanting to do. 

Ofttimes disagreements are not about what is right or wrong but about good, better and best.  When there is a disagreement between missionary companions, each should be free to share their feelings and reasons. If minds do not change, missionary companionships have a senior and a junior. The senior should sincerely consider the feelings and reasons of the junior companion but the junior companion should defer to the senior’s decision. But, ultimately, if the junior is unrelenting, and its not a good or bad issue, or about a mission rule, or a safety issue, the senior may defer to the junior to avoid contention and inaction. If its a safety issue, Zone Leaders should be contacted.  Apart from these severe exceptions, the best way sometimes to win a argument is to not argue and just do it their way with full intent (no passive aggression) and fail or succeed.  This principle also applies to parents and children. 

At the end of the day, doing nothing may be worse than going in the wrong direction.  If our hearts and intentions are pure, even if we make a mistake, we will quickly recognize and correct it. Elder Holland recently taught about how initially taking the wrong road can lead to a greater assurance that you are on the right one after a course correction. In this way, mistakes can lead to learning and growth. 

My favorite quote from Elder oaks’s talk is:

“there is a large category of undesirable conduct that is surely an error or mistake and at an extreme level can cross over the border into transgression. When we willfully pass up an opportunity to progress toward eternal life, this is surely a mistake that should be corrected. In one way of looking at things, it is also a sin. This would apply to such things as failing to get schooling to prepare us for life, wasting our time, or failing to maintain the good grooming or to acquire the social or communication skills that would help us obtain employment or favorable consideration for marriage.”

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Least in the Kingdom of God

Someone took issue with the LDS concept of exaltation and asked why we felt needed to be better that John the Baptist and what the LDS Temple was all about. 

1. John the Baptist being “least in the Kingdom of God” is not saying John the Baptist is not going to be exalted. It means that if a person were baptized only, they would qualify for the Celestial Kingdom (baptism is the gate), but they would not receive the highest degree/reward/calling = exaltation.

2. Masons borrowed their stuff from Solomon’s temple and changed/corrupted the content (Hiram Abiff etc), Joseph Smith took it back and restored it to its Christ-centered original form.

3. The LDS ordinances of the endowment are just a way to teach like a lecture, powerpoint, Socratic method except the temple doesn't require literacy which puts the learned and the unlearned on equal ground. Remember that literacy was an exclusive privilege of the wealthy throughout most of history. Its only recently that literacy has been pervasive thoughout society. But while the teaching mechanism is similar between Mason’s and LDS Temple, (ritual symbolism, participatory dramatization) the content is totally different. And remember, the Mason’s borrowed the teaching style/mechanism fom the ancient temple. 

3. Being exalted means and recieving a higher degree of glory than another just means that certain people will be allowed to have different callings and do different jobs in the eternities. I don’t think its a materialism thing. Our reward is not a bigger physical mansion. You dont sleep so you dont need a bed, you dont eat so you dont need a kitchen, you dont poop so you dont need 8 bathrooms. There is instant transportation so you dont need private jets or a yacht or whatever. You dont likely need to buy anything except robes, so, there may be money, but who knows how much celestial robes cost??

So, whats left. What is the big prize and what is the basis for status in heaven. I think what differentiates exaltation vs lower glories is calling/assignment. What calling could only go to the exalted? I think —Eternal Parenting or in other words, teaching “Mortality Prep 101”.

In the pre-existence, we received our “first lessons”. Who taught these leasons? Who would God authorize and trust to teach these lessons? If you never figured out how to control the body, apply the atonement of Jesus Christ, submit to God’s priesthood authority, how could you ever advise other spirits upon embarking on their mortal probation?  

Short answer— if you never figured it out during your probation, you will never fully be able to assist/parent other “children” in their preparation— worlds without end.

4. Being a “King and Priest” is about being a ruler over your own behavior and choices NOT being a ruler over other people. Constitutional government is about citizens being sovereign over their own decisions and trusted to govern themselves if taught correct principles.

5. Christ’s Second Coming is preceded and accompanied by the restoration of His temple, turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. The temple according to Isa 2 is the mechanism by which peace on Earth will be achieved. In the temple you learn who God is, who you are, and what God expects of you.  Making covenants/oaths like many many public servants, gives you a reason to keep your word even when life gives you excuses not too.  And it’s God and God’s people keeping their word, even when times a tough,  that will make all the difference in the end.