Discussing Spiritual Differences- Revelation 3:19-20, Ezekiel 18:32

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

COMMENTARY

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten
The first and most important thing to understand when giving moral reproof is that it should only ever be an act of love. And the first and most important thing to understand when receiving moral reproof is that love can exist in a painful experience.
Everyone who has sought out God will know what it is to be chastened. Everyone who has become a true follower will have felt the reproof of their maker. When someone I know to be a genuine disciple of Christ has called me to repentance I have been greatly helped by the knowledge that they have sat in my seat, too, being called to repentance themselves.
For as the verse above says, there are none whom God loves that He has not chastened. And there are none that God does not love.

I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, wherefore turn yourselves, and live
I believe it is easy to take offense when called to repentance because we confuse the intentions behind it with the world’s use of reproof. The world criticizes those that are wrong in order to condemn them, to justify cutting them off, to argue that they should die socially, perhaps even literally!
But unlike the world, God takes no pleasure in death, or condemnation, or the loss of any child. He does not call us out on our sins to say “so you see, this is why I have no reason to love you.” If God is chastising us it only means that we are still within reach and He is trying to save us. True condemnation from God would not be words of fury, it would be silence.
If you feel moved to call out another on their follies, then you should pause to consider whether your own motivations are similarly pure. Are you driven by the worldly form of reproof or the divine call to repentance? Is your desire to make them feel your displeasure or to awaken them to God’s love? Are you doing this to rid yourself of their sins or to sow a brighter future? Are you trying to damn them or to save them? If it is the latter, then carry on as that same spirit guides you. If it is the former, then they are absolutely right to reject you and take offense.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- 2 Timothy 2:14, Matthew 22:38-39, Doctrine and Covenants 121:41

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.

This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

COMMENTARY

Strive not about words to no profit
When you find yourself needing to express a moral conviction to someone else, what is your motivation behind doing that? To get them to change their behavior for your benefit? To get what you want from them? Because if so, then you are not testifying of truth, you are having an argument or a debate. And in some circles argument and debate might be fitting, such as in academia, but as this verse makes clear they are of no use when testifying of the truth. Ultimately, when we are trying to influence the religious perspective of another person it should never be motivated by a desire to receive something from them.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself
The motivation for expressing our moral convictions and exercising an influence over another person should only ever be one of love. Rather than asking them to change for our own benefit, we should be inviting them to change for their own benefit. We should be making our case because we care for them and truly believe that their lives will be happier with this piece of enlightenment.
Recall the example of Daniel that we just examined. He was petitioning the prince of the eunuchs to let him eat a diet that conformed to his religious convictions, but he only made any headway when he illustrated how this approach was also going to help the prince of the eunuchs get what he wanted as well. When those we teach can feel that we sincerely seek their own good, and are not just trying to mold the world to our own preferences, they are far more likely to care about what we say.

Influence ought to be maintained only by love unfeigned
But remember that our display of care and concern for the person we speak with must be “unfeigned.” We must not pretend to care for someone just to coerce them into doing what we want. The account of Daniel also made clear that the compassion between him and the guards was sincere.
So do change those around you, but only do it because you sincerely love them and just want to help them.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:8-10

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

COMMENTARY

Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs
Yesterday I spoke of how Daniel’s moral beliefs were at odds with the prince of the eunuchs’ fears. The two men were at an impasse, but notice from this verse that the relationship between them was not hostile. Daniel had already established a positive relationship with those whom he wished to have respect his culture. Read again the prince’s rejection and you will see that it is not motivated by malice, only by a fear of self-destruction.
In fact all of the exchanges in this story seem to be laced with a certain tenderness, both from Daniel and from his caretakers. All that follows in the tale is only able to occur because it is founded on the love between Daniel and these men.
Surely this is a lesson to all of us when discussing differences in our beliefs. These matters will go far more smoothly if we are able to first establish a mutual respect between us. And if we want respect for our different beliefs, first we need to establish a respect for one another’s person. Love for one another is the foundation of equality.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Calloused Hearts- Mother Teresa

Previously I considered a passage of scripture that described a dark cloud which falls upon us all, temporarily blinding us from the love of God. This phenomenon has also been referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and this condition seems to describe Mother Teresa’s experience perfectly.

Though the woman dedicated her life to the service of her fellow man and constantly professed her love for God, she admitted in letters and personal writings that she had ceased to feel His love coming back to her. In her own words she expressed that “even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness.” She also wrote that “for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

After ten years of this darkness she described a month of reprieve, a time where “the long darkness … that strange suffering” was lifted away and she could feel God’s love again. Later the darkness returned.

Of course one could be cynical about the whole thing. Maybe she was hiding secret sins, maybe she had a mental condition, maybe she was agitating a passing sensation into a consuming obsession.

Maybe.

But having no compelling evidence that these were the case, I prefer to give her the benefit of a doubt. I like to remind myself that even Jesus had his moment of disconnection where he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). My assumption is that Mother Teresa was simply caught in that same dark cloud which falls on each of us. It comes upon us at different periods of life and for different durations, and for her it appears to have been particularly late in life and of particularly long duration. But I like to believe that like her Savior, she felt her way faithfully through it and finally rested in the light at the end of the tunnel.

Calloused Hearts- 1 Nephi 8:10, 19, 21, 23-24

And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

COMMENTARY

There arose a mist of darkness; insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way
I have just considered how our hearts will feel subdued and inactive when we are not sincerely striving to follow Christ. And while this is a reason for why we might have a “calloused heart,” it is not the only one.
Today’s verses share an allegory for our walk in life and it includes a mist of darkness that descends on us, blinding us from God’s love. And that mist of darkness descends on everyone, even those that aren’t lost in the ways of sin or ignoring their conscience. Even those that are trying their best will at times find themselves in the mist. They will faithfully keep moving forward, but won’t feel the effect of what they’re doing. Even as they advance they will feel as if they’re treading in the same place. They will remain lethargic in the soul, and won’t see God’s light shining about them. They will wonder what they’re doing wrong.
And if you are feeling that way perhaps you aren’t doing anything wrong at all. Perhaps you are just passing through a part of life that we all pass through.

And they caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree
As these verses describe, those who finally do overcome this mist don’t do so by holding still until it passes. They keep moving forward, even when they don’t feel like they’re actually progressing. It is always nicer to move onward when feeling bathed in God’s light, but you can move forward even if you don’t. Sometimes God invades our hearts with His love to motivate us to move, but sometimes we have to motivate ourselves and move to where God’s love is waiting.

Leading to Water- Genesis 29:9-11, 18, 20

And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

COMMENTARY

When Jacob saw Rachel, Jacob went near, and kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve seven years for Rachel
With yesterday’s passage we read Jacob’s plea to “come again to my father’s house in peace.” At the time, all he wanted was to go back home to exactly what he had before. But at that point he had not yet met Rachel. For as soon as he did meet her he stopped speaking of a hasty return to his father and instead committed to seven years of labor in a strange land so that he could marry her!
And when that dowry was doubled to fourteen years he prolonged his absence from home without hesitation! In fact, Jacob’s relationship to his childhood home becomes so unimportant that his story doesn’t recount anything more of it until he and Esau are burying their father after his passing (Genesis 35:29).

And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her
Jacob had a love of his own now. And through that love he found a new vocation and a new home. While his father and grandfather had been well-diggers, he became an accomplished herdsman. While his father and grandfather set their roots in Canaan, Jacob took an extended leave of absence to Padan-Aram. In short, Jacob had become his own person. It was a hard thing for him to leave the nest, but truly it led him to spread his wings.

Give Thanks- Variety

I am grateful for variety.

We didn’t have to have mountains and valleys and forests and tundras and deserts and islands and plains. It could have all been just one biome. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices and meat and grain. It could have just been one superfood. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have art and music and inventions and dance and theater and humor and magic. Humanity could have only had cravings to do the work necessary for survival. But we don’t.

One of the greatest signs of God’s love is that the world isn’t only survivable, it is thriving. And it isn’t only sufficient, it is overflowing. And it isn’t just plain, it is beautiful.

#givethanks

Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 18:21-22

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

COMMENTARY

Peter said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, not until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Each of us must learn in life how to deal with those that disappoint and offend us. And while often we speak of that in terms of other people sinning against us, the truth is that the person who most often upsets us is our own self.
And in return, we usually are also our own worst critics, giving ourselves self-talk that is far crueler than what we would say to any other person. When we do something that lets us down, we mentally shake ourselves and ask when we’re finally going to get it right!
But I feel that Jesus’s counsel in this verse condemns withholding forgiveness from ourselves, as much as from another. And eventually, I started treating myself better after I felt God say to me: “Hey, don’t be so hard on Abe. I love that guy!”
We can forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and still ask ourselves to grow and improve. In fact, our behavior is most likely to improve, when we set our expectations for ourselves with a heavy dose of self-love.