Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Do You See Small Enough?

I been thinking about the repentance process and my last post talked about some of the BIG changes that repentance can bring about in a person’s spiritual progression.  I gained additional insight today as I was listening to a horse trainer explain how basic maneuvers are repeated with the horse until the amount of pressure to the reins can be reduced to just a few ounces of pressure and yet the horse responds. Horses learn very quickly but often the trainer fails to get the results he wants.  This is not because the lessons are difficult for the horse or difficult for the trainer.  This is not because the horse is somehow unable to achieve that level of mastery.  The reason that the trainer fails to achieve the desired results is that the trainer stops repeating the lessons.  The trainer stops because he or she doesn’t see the smallest changes.  Every repetition of the exercise produces smaller and smaller results.  This is logical. The horse becomes better at the exercise and responds quicker. The trainer sees big improvement at first but does the trainer continue to see the subtle changes in behavior, attitude and stance?

In the repentance process, the biggest changes occur first.  As the spiritual progression continues, the changes are smaller. Each repetition brings a quicker response, a more submissive reaction and a humbler stance. God being infinite can see infinitely small changes.  He is the Creator and his designs reach all the way down to the atomic level. In God’s training methods, we can expect to see repetition.  We might even wonder why he is repeating a lesson that we feel we have already mastered.  What is the purpose in this uniquely challenging Earth experience? 

As we repent, we show submission and humility.  We can choose to accept the changes or we can choose to distance ourselves from God and avoid his correction.  C.S. Lewis’s great quote gives insight into the purpose to God’s training and our acceptance of his correction.  He said, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.) The process of repentance does change us in large structural ways but it also changes us in the details of our souls. Do you see small enough?
Hohenschwangau Castle, Bavaria
The best way to benefit from repentance is to choose to make corrections rather than having correction forced upon you by the circumstances.  Any person can choose to become more spiritual by designing a course of action that includes regular study, meditation and prayer.  Any person can choose to become more charitable by engaging in a service project that takes 20+ hours to complete. The choice to engage in faith-building activities is a choice to repent because changing from a habit of less engagement to one of more engagement entails progress.  Personal growth will happen and within a short time the new self will be significantly improved. As a mentor of youth, I often give them a set of exercises to do that will result in these kinds of changes.  Being young and easily influenced, they do the exercises without knowing why or how it will change them.  As adults, we are less likely to be mentored in this way, however we can learn from and adapt the programs designed for youth to our own purposes.  Begin today on a self-directed exploration of your faith and commitment to our Heavenly Father. I promise you it will be worth the effort.

Programs for Youth

This video is about why parents take a leadership role in mentoring kids spirituality

Image credits: All photos are in the public domain and available on Pixabay

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Four Stories about Repentance plus My Own Thoughts

Enos was a guy who had grown up in a religious family but he hadn’t thought much about it.  He attributes his father to what he does know.  When he finally started to feel that “hunger” to know, he took the opportunity to pray in private while out hunting.  He says he prayed all day.  And when night came he was still praying. He doesn’t specify what exactly he was praying for or about but he heard a voice that gave him a sense of Divine forgiveness and his “guilt was swept away.”  He asked the Divine a question, “How is it done?”  This is truly the essence of repentance stories.  How is it done?  What does it feel like?  When is it over?

God’s answer to Enos was: “And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.”

This answer is very similar to the kinds of things Christ said when he healed a person.  Repentance is a process that makes a broken, damaged, corrupted person whole.

Lamoni was what we would call an indigenous man who was a minor king since his father was still alive and reigning in a different part of the land.  He believed in “the Great Spirit” which is a common belief in native peoples of America.  He was taught about Christ and he believed what he heard completely.  However, his culture valued prowess in war and he had recently killed some servants who had lost his sheep to plundering villagers.  So his past actions conflicted with the new value system and he was worried about the repercussions.  In this story Lamoni falls to the ground and remains unconscious for a period of 48 hours during which he experiences the Divine and is taught the truth.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could all have a personal experience with the Divine?  The only reason I can think of why Lamoni got this when most people don’t get it is that he was a king and had the ability to influence many people by virtue of the leadership position he held. The kind of Divine manifestation Lamoni had is not the major takeaway.  What is instructive is that his unmitigated faith led to a complete change in his character.  He went from a leader who routinely punished small offenses by death to a leader who had “no desire to do evil” and was willing to bury all his weapons of war in the ground and give up his life before committing another murder.  That commitment was tested and he and his people did experience a war where they refused to fight.  Who do you know that has made a commitment to shun evil and been true to that commitment when their life was in jeopardy?

The third story is about a man named Alma.  He grew up in a religious climate and chose to fight it.  “He was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” The fire of rebellion gained strength especially when it got social approval from other people. His father was understandably concerned and began to pray for him. In a Divine manifestation much like that which Saul/Paul had in the New Testament, an angel stops Alma in his tracks.  He describes his repentance process, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit…Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.”  The great passion with which he attacked the religion is redirected to a passionate testimony of how God frees the soul from the bondage of sin and leads it into the marvelous light of truth.

In the fourth story, Ammon talks about the great anger that motivated his actions before he went through the repentance process.  He was a friend of Alma in the third story and witnessed Lamoni’s change of heart in the second story.  He explains how God’s justice should have resulted in eternal despair for himself and his friends. Instead Ammon took the mercy offered him to repent and change his ways. His anger was dissipated. His life took on new meaning. In addition, the same process that he took personally, he also witnessed in the people of Lamoni who he says “were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love. For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.” (Alma 26:15, 32)

The repentance process is one of change from dark to light, a shift from bondage to freedom, a shift from despair to purpose.  In the traditional sense, it implies a wrong action on the part of the repentant person.  In my opinion, repentance is a generic process that neutralizes the wrong actions of anyone whether I did them or someone did them to me. If I feel any bitterness or bondage, and I’m willing to face it and work through it, the atonement of Jesus Christ can and does dissipate my anger and hurt.  Allen Bergin described the process of repentance as a person who came before the Lord in mighty prayer and confessed fully and frankly exactly what they had done, step-by-step, intention by intention, they began to realize more deeply how they had betrayed the Lord who loves them; how they had violated their own ideals as followers of the Savior; and how they had betrayed, in many cases, sacred covenants. This self-examination is like psychotherapy in that the process of spiritual reform requires overcoming defenses and accepting painful self-awareness. It is an exercise in honesty, guided by the spirit of truth. This is not an easy thing to achieve.  I have noticed in my personal introspection that my desire for evil often is tied to an injury I received. In my repentance, I have experienced the bondage of sin break under the light of truth and the desire for evil shift to a desire for goodness.  I want to emphasize that walking through the gall of bitterness is often a part of the repentance process. On the other side of this proximity to “death” is the matchless bounty of God’s love. The fear of “death” is real but if you understand that what is dying is the corrupted part of yourself, then you can walk with confidence the path that burns it out of you. I testify that the result of repentance is wholeness. If you run away from repentance you may end up in an addiction which is a flawed attempt to assuage guilt and pain without resolving it.  There are a hundred ways to run but only one way to be free.  Ultimately a personal experience with the Divine is essential.  I believe faith in Jesus Christ and participation in the nuanced repentance process is the only way to experience lasting peace in this life.

Watch a video about the repentance process here

Additional Scriptures on Repentance

If you liked this post you might also like What It Takes to Turn Around

Allen Bergin, Psychology and Repentance. BYU Speeches. 1994.
Image used with permission

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Greatest Work

In an election year, each candidate has some carefully crafted “talking points” — oft repeated goals.  What actually gets accomplished by an elected official is complicated.  An elected official’s productivity can be compared to our own.  Our real intentions are not in the things we talk bout but in the things we actually do.  And some of the things we do are just escape routes to avoid the real work at hand.

In people with addictions, the intention may be there, but the mechanism for choosing what actually gets done is broken.  An addiction is stronger than will power.  It must be dealt with before any of the real work can be done. This post helps to identify the real work that can both bridle the passions and lead to a full recovery in people who are looking for relief from addictions.

There are two kinds of work.  The natural appetites are called carnal, and all of us must work to feed ourselves in order to survive.  The work that is spiritual or altruistic requires a determined effort because it is not required for survival.  I believe that the real work in life happens in and for people, first in families, second among friends and co-workers.  A good balance is maintained between the real work and those tasks that appease the appetites by choosing to prioritize real work with lasting value to society.

This post answers the question why soul-enlarging spiritual work in families should be a higher priority than carnal work.  Work among people, specifically family, is the closest imitation of God’s work.  God has said, “My work and my glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.” Moses 1:39 The work done in families includes teaching, correcting, developing patience, forgiving and learning to repair relationships.  The pain caused by broken families shows how important it is to succeed in this work.

We are immortal, but this life is mortal or temporary.  After we die you won’t have our wealth or status but we will have the truths in our souls that we gained by living and working in families.  These truths and the work by which they are gained should be a higher priority than acquiring wealth or appeasing the appetites.

The family is the ideal place to learn and develop virtues like faith, hope and love.  Specifically love emerges as an expression of lots of virtues.  For the unmarried man or woman moving from relationship to relationship, love is mixed with selfishness.  Ideal love comes from a pure, unselfish heart. 1 Tim 1:5 Family responsibilities demand an unselfish response.  Family responsibilities also moderate the natural appetites to eat, drink and have sex in excess.

We are all natural or carnal until we begin to choose spirituality and develop the virtues Christ exemplified.  “The natural man is an enemy to God.” Mos 3:19  In family life, parents guide and correct children to avoid the lusts of the flesh while they are young.  This gives the seeds of spirituality and virtue a chance to grow and develop.  Children taught in this way reach adulthood with virtuous principles and habits which protect them from unknowingly falling into the trap of trying to appease the carnal desires.  Adults who received no family protection and training have discovered how easy it is to prioritize the appetites over spirituality and how futile it is to try and appease the appetites.  To those who try to choose both the spiritual and the carnal, Jesus said, “no man can serve two masters.” Matt 6:24

The soul of a human being has two parts.  One is immortal and spiritual; the other is mortal and carnal.  Paul teaches in 1 Cor 2:11-14 that the natural man or carnal aspect of the soul cannot understand spiritual things.  It follows that to understand spiritual things and develop virtue, a person must gain mastery over the carnal aspect of themselves.  Christianity teaches that the resurrection will restore the physical aspect of the soul to its original state.  What is not as clear is that the spiritual aspect of the soul will also be restored to the state of mastery developed during the mortal experience.  Alma teaches this principle in Alma 41:11-14 which may sound similar to the Buddhist teaching of karma.  Essentially, the soul is resurrected to an evil spiritual state if the person chose evil with a perfected physical body or it is resurrected to a spiritual state of righteousness if the person chose righteousness with a perfected physical body.  Choosing the carnal over the spiritual has an eternal consequence in the state of resurrection achieved.

A story is told in the Bible of a woman who was brought to Jesus.  She had been capitalizing on the sexual appetites and the Jews expected Jesus to condemn her because that behavior is forbidden in the Mosaic law.  Jesus did not condemn her at that time because she was still mortal and she still had the opportunity to change.  He told her to repent when he said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8) This story gives hope to all who have spent time and money appeasing the carnal appetites.  Change is possible.  Addictions can be bridled.  Following the path Jesus walked requires nothing less.  He submitted to the will of the Father and so must we.  (Matt 7:21, Matt 12:50, John 5:30, 2 Ne 31:7-15)

The spiritual work done in and for families should be a high priority. It imitates God’s work.  It enables the acquisition of truths that have eternal value. It enables the development of ideal love by moderating the appetites. It protects and prepares the rising generation for adulthood. It enables the soul to reach it’s highest state of mastery. It also helps those who want to regain mastery of their appetites channel their energy and resources into more productive areas.

image credits: used with permission