02 December 2022

Church as an Agenda beyond the Community

Churches are something of a community.  Many are communities of affinity, a gathering of people who see the world and devotion in a similar way.  They can also be very fluid communities, adding and removing members when such religious/cultural affinity or proximity shifts, either individually or collectively. This is likely an undercurrent of the current ecumenism among many Christians.

There is an interesting formation of this on the outskirts of my own "faith tradition":  The Community of Christ.  This is a group of disaffected followers of Joseph Smith that collected in the decades after his death and ultimately morphed into a feel-good, easy-going faith community centered around peace. Its "community" moniker has become central to its existence and is a good example of putting the concept of community before almost anything else.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) also built communities, especially in its Pioneer era, that are still very evident in several Western United States, western Canada, and Northern Mexico.  Over time,  most of the elements of "Mormon" stores and sports and theater have been swept away as such localities no longer need mirrored infrastructures of Mormonism vs. everyone else for survival. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all about the Agenda of God at its heart.  A community can certainly contribute to the goals of the Agenda but such communitarianism is just as likely to be a collection of distractions to its founding purpose, ala the Community of Christ.

The Agenda of God is exaltation and those seeking exaltation might have some common peculiarities. However, the isolation of those peculiar people from others in an enclave (ala Jewish shtetls) isn't compatible with a missionary methodology that the Lord charges to members of the LDS Church. You want to be PART of the larger community, not in some corner forming separate places and institutions with "Mormon" stickers everywhere. There is a difference between congregating to survive and making seperation and exclusivity into a cultural communitarian standard.

So, a Christ working the Agenda of God may use elements of a community at times to move disciples along the path toward Exaltation while not making the Community the central and defining theme.

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In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the local subdivision is called a ward, hearkening to the voting wards of cities.  A ward is a geographical thing with defined boundaries and all families and individuals within that boundary attend their assigned LDS ward.  This takes away a certain level of congregational affinity, as one cannot simply choose to attend a ward that they prefer without the effort of physically relocating.

However, one must recall again that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is more concerned with one's adherence to the "Agenda of God" than community.

This doesn't stop people in the Church from enjoying a community feeling or Church leadership from encouraging more communitarian elements in wards. Some refer to it as a "ward family", though I am personally discouraged of such a concept as it may seek to replace the natural family to which children should especially feel more allegiance and concern.  If anything takes precedence over one's father and mother and siblings, it should be God and his Christ and devotion to following Christ's example in the "Agenda of God", not aspects of congregationalism.

it is easy to be sidetracked from the agenda of God through a feel-good sense of community that may attend a church, denomination, or congregation. Exaltation is bound up in families and a commitment to following Christ beyond allegiance to affinity or group. Don't be distracted from the true goal.

18 November 2022

"...their prosperity in Christ."

This isn't the first or second or third blog post about prosperity here, but it comes up in the Book of Mormon on a regular basis, including instructions on how to obtain it.  In this blog post, we investigate some actions that can be taken to lose the prosperity that righteousness merits.

First, just a recap of what "prosperity in Christ" looks like: 

4 Nephi 1

23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.

There is something here that makes social scientists jump:  The entire idea that people multiplying happened at the same time as people getting rich.  It works the exact opposite way in our time - when people become rich, they have less children.  This is a rock-hard doctrine of our times, but apparently not a feature among the righteous followers of Jesus Christ.

What was the difference? We can see what happens when things take a turn for the worse.

24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world. 

We live in a world awash in pride and the acquisition of the things that show we are prideful and that are worn like a badge of honor these days. After exactly 200 years, the non-prideful, prolific, and in-congruently rich people started wearing expensive clothes and jewelry and feeling pretty prideful doing it. This very quickly proved their undoing - no more peace.

In a world quick to blame the environment, social pressures, one ideology or another, solar flares, or biorhythms for the bad state of things, God and his prophets are quick to reveal the real culprit: personal pride.  If you want the prosperity in life that Christ offers, a prosperity so foreign to our times that you can enjoy a large posterity and lots of money at the same time, you humble yourself before the Lord. You stop considering your own path as superior to the agenda of God. You follow the teachings of prophets and apostles and you start receiving blessings that defy logic. It is amazing to see, especially in your own life.

The path to prosperity is through the Lord Jesus Christ.  When you put yourself between Jesus and your more obedient self through pride, how can the Lord prosper you?  As we follow God's agenda, miraculous blessings will come as surely as the sun rises.

13 November 2022

Compulsion Breeds Contention

I have gotten to a wondrous period in the Book of Mormon record in my slow reading. Christ had recently come to establish his gospel and his church and all the people have converted to discipleship to the Lord and the disciples he chose and ordained to lead his church are already about their assigned work. 

The condition that Mormon describes most during this blessed time is that there was "no contention" in the land. Christ had made the point often that there should be "no disputations" among the people on points of the Lord's doctrine and ordinances. The people seem to have taken this to heart and the conditions at the time was described as "continual peace".

Wouldn't all of us enjoy such a state?

Sadly, in our times, there are evil forces at work which breed many disputations and much contention, leaving no room for peace. If one word could describe this day, it would be "compulsion" to my eyes. This is easy enough to see in political arenas, as parties and factions tussle for dominance and winning the clout to push their chosen agendas forward.

No matter how noble an outcome seems, no goal is so pure and good that it justifies the use of compulsion to force its adoption. For instance, to force others to pay for fetal abortion is wrong. Also, to forcibly prevent protest through "taking a knee" or burning a revered flag is equally wrong. Dictating face-masks is as demonic as criminalizing drug use, each using force to compel compliance against a person's free will.

When people are compelled, even compelled to do good things, no one knows if that compulsed person is actually good at heart and in deed. Only when a person can act under their own power can we see their true selves. Public good can be forced through compulsion but private true good comes from individual liberty to act as each person chooses and one's personal choice to make good things happen.  Truth is even more apparent when the good things we do are in opposition to the standards of our day.  Forced public charity often produces the initially unintended yet politically useful results of resentment, division, entitlement, and hatred.  Private and un-compelled charity often breeds brotherhood and love.

Christ and his followers have always used persuasion to help people to change and reconcile themselves to God. The Holy Ghost, the very Spirit of God, is sent to make the words of truth persuasive to the hearts of all. 

Compulsion or the use of force is not a feature of the agenda of God. If we desire the condition of continual peace with the attending elements of no contention and no gospel disputations, we must know that there can be no compulsion to force these things. Continual peace comes from an internalized commitment to Christ and his gospel gained through persuasion and spiritual confirmation. God will force no one into heaven but he gives us what we need to move along the path toward exaltation and lasting peace.

30 October 2022

The Metaphor of Loaves and Fishes

In my continuing study of scripture, I have found that my understanding of Jesus Christ has been altered and that I have worked to share that new-found understanding with others. As an example, I have re-examined the incident with the loaves and fishes in the life of Jesus and additional insights that can be found in it.

Mark 6

41 And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.

42 And they did all eat, and were filled.

43 And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.

44 And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.

All of us acknowledge the miracle that Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand.  As I have pondered what more we can take from this miracle and apply to our own experience, I see that the multiplying of loaves and fishes is a metaphor for the multiplicative effect that Christ can have on our comparatively feeble efforts toward Godliness.

On our own, we offer very little to anything we pursue. I always thought that when I grew older that I would have something significant to contribute, but what I have experienced over the decades is a sense of helplessness and a stronger need for guidance from God. As many times as I have pleaded for the answers that I need, answers have always come, whether from my very patient wife, friends and mentors, through spiritual insights and even at times from my children.  The years have shown me that in almost every circumstance, I by myself come to life with something like five loaves and two fishes.

A miracle that the Lord offers us is his multiplying power of what we bring to any situation. Our meager "loaves and fishes" of effort and strength can be multiplied by Christ and literally feed and serve thousands, far beyond our own power to do so. Just as amazing as this effect was in the days of Jesus and his Apostles, it is a modern-day miracle when it happens to us. The Lord can still feed thousands through our loaves and fishes.

How is it accomplished? I have found that these amazing miracles are triggered by us. We and our offering of service are the critical catalyst that Jesus can multiply. It is easy to become discouraged and think our contribution is so insignificant that we should just stop trying, but that is the wrong way. We must have faith that Christ makes something amazing in the lives of others from our tiny efforts and we must recognize the Lords' hands in all of this. As we see ourselves multiplied by the Savior, we should act more often in his name, doing what he commanded, and giving more loaves and fishes so that he can feed thousands upon thousands more. 

As my small contribution that Christ will multiply, I leave you with the blessing of my fathers:

The LORD bless you and protect you!

The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

29 October 2022

"Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways;...

It sounds like it might have been hard for the record-keeper at this point to write what the Lord Jesus Christ told them to say.  It certainly isn't politically correct and paints an entire section of the human family with a very broad brush of defamation. I can't think of many modern people who would defend these words for fear of being shunned. This is the entire contents of a chapter of the Book of Mormon and the closing statement on the record of Christ's visit to the western hemisphere.  It is both damning and hopeful, which typifies the tenor of the root message that Jesus has always given.

 3 Nephi 30

1 Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:

2 Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.

I hope we aren't too offended by the sins of our "Gentile" nation as called out by the Lord himself. How many of them do we personally imbibe in? Christ isn't shy or waffling - "all ye Gentiles", not just some; "your wicked ways", not mistakes.  These are strong words that don't quibble or downplay what Jesus finds very serious sins.

On the more hopeful end, Christ commands that we "Turn" and "repent of [our] evil doings". That requires abandoning our "evil doings" and changing our behaviors and desires.  The doctrine of Christ is reiterated yet again - "come unto me" and "be baptized".  Jesus assures again that we get "a remission of sins" and "be filled with the Holy Ghost".  Finally, you are not longer counted among the wicked Gentiles but are "numbered with my people".  When we change as the Lord directs, there is no distinction between the covenant children of Israel and anyone else - all followers of Jesus are treated the same, no matter their ancestry or their past actions. 

We can all turn from our "wicked ways" and follow Jesus instead.  We can all enjoy the promised rewards that Christ offers to all of those who "come unto me".  Make the change!

20 October 2022

"...the sword of his justice..."

I hope I have made it more than obvious over the years that the disobedient should fear God. The scriptures we have are replete with warnings of the destruction that will come to those who choose not to reconcile themselves to Christ and his commandments, who broadcast behavior against publishing gratitude for their personal blessings from the Lord and his merciful kindness toward us.

All of the quotes in this post come from the 3rd Book of Nephi, chapter 29 and were written by an ancient Western hemisphere prophet named Mormon living three hundred years after the coming of Christ to the Americas, following his resurrection. This comes to us through the larger Book of Mormon

1 And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.

Mormon here is talking about the Book of Mormon that he was assembling and that would be translated and published by Joseph Smith in the 1820's. The Book of Mormon is a tool to bring the children of Israel to the knowledge of their God, another witness alongside the Bible to the fact that *all* of God's promises will be kept and are already in the midst of being kept. 

2 And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.

3 And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.

Here is the idea that "the Lord delays his coming" or the modern analogue that God doesn't exist because we don't see evidence of his presence. The covenant the Lord made with the children of Israel is not forgotten or disbanded.

4 And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you.

5 Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!

"...spurn at the doings of the Lord,..." is an apt phrase - this is at the crux of modernity. It is so common to decry God that it isn't even trendy or chic anymore. We once called the poor and lowly "humble", but even these have adopted godlessness and curse the heavens.

The term "wo" or the more modern "woe" is to be noted here. Christ the Lord bears a sword and he will use it to punish those who have "spurned" him and cause such people "woe".  I think this goes beyond feeling badly - many people will find that, when the grace of God is removed from them, many things that they thought were dependable, such as water and crops growing and well-oxygenated air, will be denied them and a deeper agony with a "Jesus signature" on it will come.   

6 Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!

7 Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!

For those being described here, upon whom "woe" will come as a proclaimed by Christ himself, it is stated by Mormon why people deny the Lord and his abilities:  "to get gain" - as in power and money. It is even said that such people are like angels of Satan (sons of perdition) and will get the same reward - "no mercy" - as further proclaimed by Christ. 

8 Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.

9 Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.

Again and again, Mormon affirms that Christ will keep every promise he ever made, even the ones said by his prophets.  He will bless those who obey (the right hand) and he will punish those who reject the Lord (the left). There is that dirty "judgement" word again and an assurance that those who put themselves on the "left" hand of God will not get the merciful result they have assured each other that a "loving"  God showers down on everyone, no matter their behavior. It has never been so.

As Mormon does, let me assure you that the children of Israel will be redeemed as they obey God. You can be adopted into the family of Israel through sincere repentance and authoritative baptism and receive all the blessings and promises due to every righteous child of the covenant.  You can do it because Christ has made it possible for you as you seek for it.


09 October 2022

Opening Ourselves Up to Heaven's Inspiration

Recent messages from general conferences remind us of the imminent second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to prepare ourselves and to warn our neighbors of this prophesied future event. A common theme is the absolute necessity for all to better hear and feel the Spirit of God and act on its promptings.

We are counseled to turn more purposefully toward Christ and to follow the Savior far more stridently and be more dedicated as his disciples. Doing the will of Christ for each of us in the last days is a personalized endeavor that you and I only learn through direct inspiration from the Spirit.


One of my purposes in this talk is to persuade more of us to open ourselves to the influence of the Lord and the Spirit so we can be led to the situations we are meant to be in and so we can become the people we are meant to be. This has been referred to with the phrase Let God prevail , because he loves us, knows what is best for us, and we need to better learn to put our trust in him . 


In 2012, I was in a very stable job based here in Tucumcari. Lisa seemed happy but I was very unfulfilled. Should I go back to college, find a different career field, or just look for a new situation? I offered some prayers about my problem, but they weren’t very specific and how on earth was the Spirit supposed to answer a question like “What is my next step?”


“What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of [Heavenly Father’s] trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.


Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2007, 10.


I began to pray new prayers.  I wasn’t asking Heavenly Father for an detailed explanation of what I should do. I decided to pursue opportunities that I found appealing and pray that wise opportunities would come to pass and that bad opportunities would fall apart, because on my own, I usually can’t tell them apart.  Like praying for things like patience, our Heavenly Father has proven eager to steer me toward improvement and the best path for me and my family and throw up obstacles to paths we should not tread.


Here are some examples of failed opportunities from 2012 and 2013:

  • Going to graduate school in Scotland;

  • Working with an old employer doing marine seismic oil exploration;

  • Entering the US Foreign Service and working at embassies; and

  • Taking the family and working in Alaska.

(Lisa actually agreed to some of these, I won’t say which.)


It was very difficult to see some very tempting opportunities disappear, but I trusted that the Lord knew better what I should do than I did.


Ultimately, this method got me to earn an online master’s degree, jobs working with computer servers, military and government contracting work, a move to Oklahoma City (and back), and finally to the executive position I hold presently.  As Lisa and I look back, each situation prepared us for further opportunities and contributed to our progression, all without much planning or goal-setting on my part.  The Lord and the Spirit have been in the driver’s seat and it has worked out very well and in ways that I would have never anticipated.


The random conference talk radio station


I wanted to listen to General Conference talks each Sunday Morning.  At first, I had downloaded all the sessions and created a simple script to play each complete session in turn during the morning - The problem was that because I woke at very specific times, I only really listened to one or two talks from any one session.


It went a little better when I played each session randomly instead of in order, which gave me a different session each Sunday Morning.  Although an improvement in providing conference sessions on different days, I only heard the first few talks of each session and often missed the Prophet who commonly speaks last.


I changed my setup and downloaded each individual talk and hymn and randomized those - now I heard a different talk or piece of music as I listened in the mornings.


BUT I DIDN’T!  I discovered that randomness let the Lord influence what was heard and when it was heard!


I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the talks from the First Presidency. It’s disproportionate relative to how many other talks are available in the randomized playlist, but it is still there. Through this mechanism, I have somehow allowed the Lord to produce his own “general conference mix” tailored to the needs of myself and my family, I believe.  By doing this, I have come to realize that I opened something of a door in our lives and let the Lord in.



Pres Nelson - https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/revelation-for-the-church-revelation-for-our-lives?lang=eng


Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.”


Does God really want to speak to you? Yes! “As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course … as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.”


You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust. Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that this is the Lord’s Church. Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.


I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.”


Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”


Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.


For several months, I worked during the week relatively close to the temple in Albuquerque. In a very miraculous way, I was able to acquire a car that reduced my expenses sufficiently to make twice-weekly trips to do temple work. I don’t think that I would have been led to the opportunity to buy this particular car unless I had been committed to using it to attend the temple often.  When we are resolved to do the work the Lord commands us to do, the Lord provides us with time and resources to accomplish that work, it seems. God rewards those who are obedient in numerous ways, large and small.


https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/10/59nelson?lang=eng :


My brothers and sisters, I plead with you to make time for the Lord! Make your own spiritual foundation firm and able to stand the test of time by doing those things that allow the Holy Ghost to be with you always.


Never underestimate the profound truth that “the Spirit speaketh … of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.” “It will show unto you all things what ye should do.”


President Nelson has summed up the grand key to getting the inspiration all of us need.  “Let God prevail.”


https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/46nelson?lang=eng


When your greatest desire is to let God prevail, to be part of Israel, so many decisions become easier. So many issues become nonissues! You know how best to groom yourself. You know what to watch and read, where to spend your time, and with whom to associate. You know what you want to accomplish. You know the kind of person you really want to become.


Now, my dear brothers and sisters, it takes both faith and courage to let God prevail. It takes persistent, rigorous spiritual work to repent and to put off the natural man through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It takes consistent, daily effort to develop personal habits to study the gospel, to learn more about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and to seek and respond to personal revelation.


During these perilous times of which the Apostle Paul prophesied, Satan is no longer even trying to hide his attacks on God’s plan. Emboldened evil abounds. Therefore, the only way to survive spiritually is to be determined to let God prevail in our lives, to learn to hear His voice, and to use our energy to help gather Israel.


As we face these last days, may we heed the counsel of our prophets and apostles and better connect with the Holy Spirit.  As we do, we will get the specific answers that we need.


Now, I leave you with the blessing of my fathers:

  • The LORD bless you and protect you!

  • The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

  • The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!