30 June 2015

A Partial Explanation

Q: If God is perfect, why are things anything but, even at Church or among Church members?

A: "God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes." --Dieter F. Uchtdorf 

In Which I Outline a Few Principles of General Application

With respect to recent events, it is needful to take a step back and outline some basic principles that I follow. I am deliberately keeping this generic. As always, I speak only for myself.

  • 1. In my case, silence does not necessarily indicate acceptance or consent on a particular topic, issue or event. It may simply mean I've not had a chance to formulate a response. 
  • 2. I may not always formulate a public response. 
  • 3. Not everyone has the same religious beliefs that I have. The faith that I have adopted for the past two decades, for instance, is quite different from the faith of either of my brothers, and very likely the balance of my extended family on both sides. 
  • 4. Not everyone has the same political beliefs that I have. In fact, I am probably a centrist on many issues, and as such, would likely disagree with certain factions from BOTH of the major political parties.
  • 5. I feel that we must be respectful and considerate of others, even as to certain subjects and topics of disagreement, and regardless of how the political winds are blowing at the moment. This means finding areas of common ground where possible, but also includes agreeing to disagree when necessary. [Note: Someone will recognize this is a repeat of something I said sometime back, but I felt it was worth repeating.]   
  • 6. It is not necessary to change one's religious faith (or any essential portion of that faith), in order to be respectful and considerate of others. 
  • 7. It is not necessary to change political party affiliation (or even to have a formal party affiliation) in order to be respectful and considerate of others.
  • 8. I don't believe that a difference of opinion should be construed as hatred towards those of the opposing view, unless it is expressly worded as such.
  • 9. I am not perfect, and do not know anyone who is, save for one individual who is well known throughout history. Within the bounds of reason, we need to be more patient and forgiving with each other, within our families, and also with ourselves. 
  • 10. I will teach and share those things I know for myself to be true, and would accord others the same courtesy, provided it is peaceful and in keeping of the laws and Constitution of our land.
  • 11. I believe the First Amendment incorporates more than public conduct, or even private conduct. It incorporates matters of our very conscience. 
  • 12. This list is not intended to be exhaustive or to cover every possible situation. I'm only covering the heavy hitters. I reserve the right to amend as necessary. (Or not.) :-)

Regards, --SJR

01 June 2015

Talk: Come and See (31 May 2015)

09:00 – Talk given at Church today.  Assigned topic: “Come and See,” by Elder David A. Bednar, October 2014 General Conference

Note: Because I had received several requests for a copy of my talk, and received one request to share it over the web, I will go ahead and post it at this time.  --SJR   

               The scriptures speak of at least three events, and these are representative of many others.  The first event I speak of comes to us from the book of John.  There, the Savior reaches a man by the name of Philip.  Now it came to pass that he received his own knowledge regarding the Savior’s divine role, for he finds Nathaniel and exclaims, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathaniel, perhaps with some skepticism, inquires, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Philip responds, “Come and see.”  Whereupon he did, and by the time we approach the end of the first chapter, Nathaniel himself exclaimed, “Thou art the son of God…the King of Israel.”
               The second event comes through the Book of Mormon.  In the book of 1 Nephi, in the 8th chapter, Lehi sees in a vision the tree of life, which is a representation of “the Love of God,” which is “the most desirable above all things,” and “most joyous to the soul.”  Lehi would go on to say that he was able to partake of the fruit of that tree, receiving joy in the process.  Afterwards, his first priority was to invite his family to partake of it also.  He didn’t say, “Come and see,” but his words carried essentially the same meaning. 
               The third event comes through the Book of Mormon also.  There is the account of a man by the name of Enos.  We know that he struggled mightily in prayer, for what appears to be many hours, for we read that his soul had hungered, and that he prayed through the day and into the night.  Now Enos had learned for himself the power of the Atonement, because His sins were forgiven him, and when this happened, he proceeded to pour out his whole soul for the welfare of his family, friends and associates.  He wanted for others what he received for himself.  In that sense, his prayers rang with the words “Come and see.”
               All three events have at least three things in common.  The first is that the central figure in each story either acted to invite others, or had prayerfully expressed a desire to invite others.  The second is that each involved—whether directly or symbolically—a profound change of heart, one that was not triggered by the persuasion of others, but by a direct act of God Himself.  And a third is that all three were referenced or outlined in a talk by Elder David A. Bednar in the October 2014 General Conference.  And it is this talk that I will be focusing my attention upon this morning. 
               Elder Bednar had directed his remarks to those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and if there be any here who are in that category, please know that my words are also one of invitation.  Having said that, my assignment is to liken Elder Bednar’s words to ourselves as members.  The central question to be asked is: What is our role as a disciple of Jesus Christ?  More fundamentally, what attitude shall we have in our hearts as we carry out His divine commission? 
               Elder Bednar begins by explaining that “Devoted disciples of Jesus Christ have been and always will be valiant missionaries.”  Who is a valiant missionary?  You’ve heard it a number of different ways, but I will start with my own words.  It’s not just the Elders or the Sisters who happen to wear the black name tags.  Granted, their every waking moment is oriented towards the Gospel in some way, but shouldn’t that also the case with us as we endeavor to work at our profession, go to school, maintain the home, or go on with a multitude of other tasks?  So if it’s not just the Elders or the Sisters, then who is it?  The mirror provides a portion of the answer, but Elder Bednar supplies the rest: “A missionary is a follower of Christ who testifies of Him as the Redeemer and proclaims the truths of the Gospel.” 
               Now, it happens that in my profession, one of my responsibilities is to persuade others.  I take the law, and I take the facts as I get them, and I have to build arguments that are designed to persuade somebody to do something that my client wants, whether it’s a jury to find in her favor, or to get a judge to grant a motion.  It’s kinda like selling, isn’t it?
               But does the proclaiming the Gospel work that way?  I submit to you that it does not.  Listen to what Elder Bednar has to say: “When we invite you to attend church with us or to learn with the full-time missionaries, we are not trying to sell you a product. As members of the Church, we do not receive prizes or bonus points in a heavenly contest. We are not seeking simply to increase the numerical size of the Church. And most importantly, we are not attempting to coerce you to believe as we do. We are inviting you to hear the restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ so you can study, ponder, pray, and come to know for yourself if the things we are sharing with you are true.”
               There are two things to consider when we ponder these words.  First, our role is to invite.  It’s the “come and see” part that God asks of me, you, and each one of us.  Second, if we’re doing it right, we’re not even the ones that are doing the persuading.  For if there is one thing I am able to testify about--above or beyond anything else--it is that God is able to speak to us directly, and He is able to do his own work.  If there is a conversion, or more precisely, if there is a lasting change of heart, it’s not because of something we say or do, it’s because of something God says or does.  The whole point of passages such as Moroni 10:3-5 is to show He is capable of confirming things directly, and he is capable of answering prayers directly.  He not only does it for people like Moses, Abraham, Nephi, or Joseph Smith, Jr., but He is capable of doing it for any one of us, and I testify that he has done it for me personally. 
               Let me close by very briefly relating this experience, and in doing so, I hope it will tie everything together without causing the clock to runneth over.  When, over 20 years ago, a certain coworker felt prompted to have his daughter, then not even seven years of age, give thanks and pray for a blessing on a meal in my presence, even knowing that I was not a member of the Church at the time, or even one who treated the Christian faith very seriously, he was, in his own way leaving an invitation.  When the same coworker felt prompted to mention a Church activity to his colleagues, he was still inviting.  When, several months later, I told a general authority who presided at a stake conference, after he had asked, that my testimony of the Book of Mormon was yet a work in progress, his response was an invitation to continue studying and praying.  (At this point, I departed from my prepared remarks for a brief time in order to say that Elder Perry told me that a testimony would come to my heart, and that he proceeded to physically point his finger at my chest, even at my rib cage, as he said those words.)  And when I did receive the ultimate answer on whether the Church is true, it came in a manner entirely consistent with how he said it would.  A few of you were present at that stake conference, for it was in Franklin in 1992, and you know that the general authority I speak of was Elder L. Tom Perry.  And I recognize that it is a rare experience to receive a direct apostolic witness.  But at the end of the day, it was God Himself who set into the motion the path I would willingly follow.

               I testify that the things I have said today are true.  That all of us, myself included, have an increased vision of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and to raise the voice of invitation to those around us, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.