Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus and Sinners

What did Jesus teach about sin, repentance, and judgment? The most widely invoked saying of His is "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone..." (John 8:7). Yes, Jesus did say that and we should not go around seeking to destroy sinners in the manner of the scribes and Pharisees as described in the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).

But often when this particular saying is invoked, the implication is that we are all sinners (which we are) and that we can't ever expect change, reform, or repentance from each other (which simply isn't true). The mindset is that expecting such infers judgment ("Judge not," we readily quote from Matthew 7:1), and is like throwing stones. Unfortunately, we live in a time when many invoke Jesus’ teachings to justify sinful behavior rather than use them to overcome it. Lest anyone think that this is an indictment of all but myself, think again. This is as applicable to me as it is to anyone, and truly it applies to everyone.

The following synopsis of Jesus' words spoken during His mortal ministry as recorded in the Bible is given to bring to our consciousness His expectations of all of us. I highly encourage you to follow the links to the references to read His words for yourself and to come to your own conclusions on the matter.

Obedience, not lip service, is the first law of heaven (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus taught that to know God’s law and not comply with it is sin, but ignorance of God’s law is forgivable (John 9:39-41). Sin is a type of slavery, but the truth will make us free (John 8:31-34). Jesus declared that all but the unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, are forgivable (Matthew 12:31-32). But once made whole, Jesus instructed, we shouldn't continue in sin lest a worse thing come upon us (John 5:14). Ultimately, evil works lead to damnation (John 5:29).

Without question, Jesus preached repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). He also commissioned others, like His twelve apostles, to preach the same (Mark 6:12). He taught them to “rebuke the transgressor,” to admonish sinners to cast away their sins (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus instructed that repentance should be preached in His name, for He alone had power given Him of God to remit sins, and His atoning sacrifice and resurrection bring about the conditions of repentance and the remission of sins (Luke 24:46-47).

Unequivocally, Jesus proclaimed, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:1-5). He taught that the unrepentant will be condemned at the last day and will not go into the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41; 21:28-32; Luke 10:13-16; 11:31-32).

Often accused of defiling Himself by associating with sinners, Jesus taught that the whole need no physician, but they who are sick (Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30-32). Sin, compared to an illness, requires repentance to be healed by the Physician. Jesus taught that all efforts to reclaim even a single sinner are worthy of our time and attention. God, His angels, and all heaven rejoice over repentant sinners (Luke 15:1-10). We too should celebrate and rejoice rather than be as the brother of the repentant prodigal (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus has power to forgive and heal those with faith in Him (Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 5:5-12; Luke 5:19-26). The faith of friends and family can work great miracles in the lives of their loved ones. Faith in Jesus and repentant service to Him bring forgiveness. Those who feel that they need little forgiveness love God the least, whereas those who perceive that they need the most forgiveness love God the most (Luke 7:36-50). The faithless do not perceive or understand God’s will for them; they usually are not converted to Jesus and will not be forgiven of their sins (Mark 4:11-12).

Forgiving others opens up the avenue for our own forgiveness (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:37-38; 11:4). Jesus taught that we should forgive as often as we are sinned against (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, Jesus instructed His followers to forgive unceasingly the repentant sinner (Luke 17:3-4). As we extend mercy to repentant sinners, we in turn receive mercy from God (Matthew 18:23-35).

Jesus commanded His followers to judge righteous judgments (JST Matthew 7:2; John 7:24). He also emphasized that we correct our own faults before we attempt to correct others’ (Matthew 7:2-5; JST Matthew 7:4-8). God the Father has given Jesus authority to judge all humankind (John 5:22-30). His judgment is reserved until the “last day” (John 8:1-11, 15-16; 12:47-48). Christ’s word, or teachings, will judge us (John 12:47-48). Christ came to save the world (John 3:16-17; 12:47), not to judge and condemn the world (John 3:17; 8:10-11, 15-16), but some will be condemned at the last day by their works and unbelief in Jesus’ word (John 5:28-29; 12:47-48). Rather than judging others and justifying ourselves (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:36-38; 18:9-14; John 8:7), we ought, as the publican, to acknowledge our unworthiness before God at all times (Luke 18:9-14).

In summary, Jesus did not condone sin—He preached against it and taught about the consequences of sin: separation from God. He taught that He came to take away the sins of the world by the shedding of His blood (Matthew 26:27-28; John 1:29-34). He showed mercy to repentant sinners and indicated that final judgment would be reserved till the last day. However, He indicated that unrepentant sinners would incur stiff penalties for their lack of faith and their disobedience to His commandments. Jesus commanded His followers to repent, forgive, and extend mercy and to not justify their sins and find fault with others. That we all have need for repentance and improvement should be self-evident. That we will do Jesus’ words and not simply hear them; that we will repent and not perish; that we will have faith on His name unto salvation is my prayer and hope for all of us.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Samoa 18: Changing of the Guard

After three months of serving together in the Pesega area, Elder L. was transferred to American Samoa. I stayed in Pesega on Upolu where I was joined by Elder W., or Uilifoti as we called him, also from Arizona.

Uilifoti and I were mission companions in the Missionary Training Center for two months. Of the eight of us in our batch, only Uilifoti and I began our service in the field on the big island of Savaii. Due to my bout with dengue I only spent three months out there, but Uilifoti stayed, primarily on the very culturally strong west end of Savaii, for six months--one quarter of his mission time.

When we were reunited, the assistants to the mission president gave us the instruction that neither of us would be the "senior" companion, a break from tradition due, in part, to our being batch-mates. We were told that we were on equal status with each other because Uilifoti had better Samoan and I knew the area.

Thus began our service together in Samoa which, unfortunately, would only last for one month's time. But it would be a period of rapid growth and many adventures.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Got Teens?

Earlier this year I got pretty despondent about my thesis. I had been through a few different topics and nothing was coming through. It didn't help that I've been hoping beyond hope to graduate in two years and equally antsy to move to a new and exciting place--preferably Samoa.

Finally, with the help of my thesis chair, or advising professor, I got a good topic: the teens on a treadmill study. On the day of my thesis proposal I wrote, "Now we need to figure out all the logistics of bringing in over a hundred teenagers to test their cardiorespiratory fitness levels."

Those logistics have proved much more difficult than we could have imagined. We felt pretty confident that ~4,500 flyers in staff and faculty mailboxes would result in sufficient subjects. But we may have gotten 15. Now we've started recruiting through local sports teams. Still the response has been meager.

In total, I need to do almost 160 tests to have sufficient data. If the kids came at a rate of a mere 10 per day I would be finished in 16 days! But since they haven't come in as expected I'll be tacking on an extra semester--15 weeks--to make up the difference. That is, if the local kids are any more willing to help out during the school year than they have been during their summer vacation.

I have a friend, currently pursuing his PhD, who once mentioned that he spent a lot of time playing Insaniquarium during his Master's degree. I'm beginning to see why that might have been. I haven't yet picked up video gaming to pass the time: Blogs and books still do a good job at captivating my attention. But should they ever lose their appeal...I'll begin a search for a taco like the one in the commercial below. That ought to keep me satisfied for a while.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pure Love of Christ

Yesterday, the speakers at Church addressed the topics of faith, hope, and charity. I'll focus my remarks on just the last one.

Charity has been defined as the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47). One of the speakers mentioned that Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice, His taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins--the "chastisement of our peace" as Isaiah calls it (Isaiah 53:5)--was the greatest act of charity ever done.

I got to thinking about that. On the surface it makes sense: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). But I wanted a little more insight.

Soon I realized that Jesus Christ suffered infinitely, even to the point of bleeding from every pore, to pay the price of sin and transgression and feel the pains of all mortal vicissitudes for all God's children--even for those who completely reject the idea of God and Jesus.

That Jesus would suffer as He did, with the complete understanding that a significant portion of humanity would hate, deride, and militate against the very idea of Him, is indeed incomprehensible.

I cannot think of a greater love, or charity, than this, even the pure love of Christ.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In Praise

Blessed be the name of God! Let us sing to His praise. Let us give thanks to His holy name, for He doth work righteousness forever.

Who can glory too much in God? Who can say too much of His great power, and of His mercy, and of His long-suffering towards the children of men?

Why do you suppose that God would be so merciful as to snatch us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?

Why does God not now consign us to an awful destruction? Why does He not let the sword of His justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?

God is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

God, who has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding, is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on His name.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

So we will talk of Christ, we will rejoice in Christ, we will preach of Christ, we will prophesy of Christ, and we will write according to our prophecies, that all may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.


Sources: Alma 26: 8, 16-17, 19, 35; John 3:16; 2 Nephi 25:26; JST 2 Peter 3:9.

The foregoing panegyric was inspired by my scripture study. Much is direct quotation whereas some is paraphrased. All is my testimony of God, our loving Father in Heaven.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In the Mouth of Two Witnesses

Within the space of a month’s time, two modern-day Apostles of Jesus Christ have taught and testified of the importance of heeding the prophet’s voice. President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have again reminded us that there is safety in the prophet’s counsel.

Wrote President Eyring, “In our own time we have been warned with counsel on where to find safety from sin and from sorrow. One of the keys to recognizing those warnings is that they are repeated.” (1)

Twice, now, we are reminded that God calls and sends prophets with the intent to “lead us to safety….” (1) President Eyring reminds us that “when the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time.” (1)

Anciently, the Lord established the law of witnesses: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1; see also Deuteronomy 17:6). So, in accordance with the ancient law, two modern prophets have testified to us of the importance of following the prophets and of the peace and safety gained in pursuing such a course.

President Uchtdorf asked, “Are we following the inspired counsel of the prophets?” (3) President Eyring added that “having listening ears requires humility.” (1) We can know that prophet is truly called of God by the power of personal revelation as given through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost. This is not an exclusive knowledge; it is available to all who would seek it. But it requires humility and meekness to receive revelations from God and a real intent to live according to the knowledge gained.

Often, the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, are criticized of blindly following the prophets. I can personally attest that such a view is not only false, but it is impossible. Latter-day Saints are free to choose whom they follow. To choose not to follow the prophet may mean straying from the fold, but that choice is given to each Church member. None of the prophets would, neither could (legally or morally), lead by compulsion, rather they lead by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge…without hypocrisy, and without guile….” (D&C 121:41-42)

President Eyring further emphasized this point. He wrote,

...Men and women have falsely argued from the beginning of time, that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel that comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of his love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose. (1; emphasis added)

At this time of great turmoil in the world we can find peace in these words of President Uchtdorf:

“Today, we have again apostles, seers, and revelators who are watchmen on the tower, messengers of supernal, healing truth. God speaks to us through them. They are profoundly aware of the different circumstances we…are living in. They are in this world but not of this world. They point the way, and they offer help for our difficulties, not through the wisdom of this world but from an eternal Source.” (3)

Prophets, like the Savior, have our eternal interests in mind. Like the Savior, they cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. They know that no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of heaven and live in the presence of God. Thus they preach repentance to a sinful world. In doing so they are often accused of being harsh, bigoted, or hateful. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like the Savior, prophets are motivated by love for all of God’s children. God commissions them to lead us to safety and eternal life if we would follow their counsel.

President Eyring shared this insight about receiving counsel, “Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear, and I have been grateful.” (1) Time, as Hugh Nibley wrote, will always vindicate the prophets. (2)

Finally, a plea from President Uchtdorf, “Let us listen to the prophets of our day as they help us to focus on the things that are central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” (3)


Sources:

1. Eyring, Henry B. “Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, June 2008.

2. Nibley, Hugh. The World and the Prophets, 3rd ed. Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987.

3. Uchtdorf, Dieter F. “Heeding the Voice of the Prophets,” Ensign, July 2008.