Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Refugees Today and How to Help

The question why is often used when we lack understanding and want the big picture. It often is used to channel our frustrations into condemnation of one particular person or event. If we can’t find someone to blame, we end up blaming God.

Instead of asking why, we can ask what is the way forward and how can I be part of the solution.

Buduburam Refugee Camp
A refugee is defined as people who flee their country of origin and cannot return due to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion.

Migrants leave or flee their home to seek better or safer surroundings. Migration can be volunteer or forced but generally a combination of choices and constraints are involved.

The world saw a massive migration of people into Europe that sharply rose in June 2015 but still continues today. One million Syrians relocated to Europe. Five million stayed closer to home in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. (source) A quarter of a million refugees and asylum seekers left Afghanistan. (source)  The United States accepted 85,000 refugees from Myanmar between 2005-2017 (source). The United States admitted 53,716 people who are refugees seeking asylum in fiscal year 2017. (source)


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thanksgiving Playlist

November is the time for heavy Christmas marketing and very few advertisers are interested in the major US Holiday of Thanksgiving. However, I think a lot of people have good feelings about Thanksgiving because family gets together and people feel more connected to each other. This playlist will help you get in the mood to really enjoy this special holiday. I purposely omitted songs about the fall season/autumn because they are neutral. These types of songs can be added to your playlist if they remind you of home. If you desire to celebrate this holiday but you live in another country, be sure to add songs of thanks or harvest from your country's folk traditions. Feel free to submit the name of a special song to you in the comments section.


Feast Songs
Thanksgiving (Instrumental) performed by Michael Silverman
Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie Polka performed by The O’Neill Brothers Group
Fly, Turkey performed by Geof Johnson
Food, Glorious Food performed by Cantus
Pass the Peas (instrumental) performed by the J.B.’s
Meat and Potato Man performed by Alan Jackson
Prayer of Thanksgiving (instrumental) performed by David Tolk

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How the Disasters Affected Me

Last September, I was invited by my local church leaders to attend a preparedness workshop offered by the city of San Antonio, TX. At this meeting I learned about the plans the city has to prepare for disasters. I learned about different recent disasters and how to get notifications during upcoming disasters. I also signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross. At the time, my local church leaders were also encouraging us to be more active in our communities.

Damage to a home in Port Aransas, TX after Hurricane Harvey
I trace my involvement with the Red Cross to these events but in addition, I must mention that I attribute divine intervention to my choice to volunteer at this time since I have so many young children at home. In December or January, I began to wonder what kind of disaster God was planning to send on my area. Not knowing the answer, I held that thought.

In August, we had three hurricanes hit the United States one after the other. In addition, Mexico experienced two earthquakes greater than 6.5 magnitude on the richter scale. Then we had a series of fires in California that burned many acres and displaced 100,000 people. While each disaster was regional, the effect was far reaching. Every disaster affected the local population as well as the family and friends who live elsewhere. In a sense, they have affected all of us. As one friend posted on Facebook before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, “I don’t know if I have the emotional energy to handle another hurricane.”
Extensive flooding from Harvey in a residential area in Southeast Texas, Aug. 31, 2017. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez
In my volunteer duties at the Red Cross, I was tasked with answering phone calls from concerned citizens who were worried about people affected by all of these major disasters except the fires. I felt their pain and I offered what resources were available usually in the form of a referral because the Red Cross defers to local authorities for leadership in disasters on US soil. I was grateful to be able to offer direct advice and sympathy in a time of great need.

TX National Guard rescuing citizens of Houston, TX after Hurricane Harvey
My Take Aways
  1. This phrase from scripture “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” became crucial in the California fires.  (D&C 88:81) The first few hours were extremely dangerous and the people who woke their neighbors up were heroes.
  2. The modern prophet’s counsel to have a month’s worth of food, water and fuel was validated as people in Houston waited in their homes to be rescued. They were given voluntary evacuation orders and then told to shelter in place. By staying in their homes, they were caught as water quickly rose after heavy rains inundated much of the city. Food and water have also been extremely valuable to the citizens of Puerto Rico who are still without power and clean water a month after the storm. Those who have food can go out and serve in other capacities. Those who don’t have it, must focus all their attention on where that next meal is located.
  3. “Be Prepared” is a Boy Scout motto. There were lots of unprepared citizens who wanted to help out in both Texas and California.  The Red Cross chapters in Texas had 6,000 citizens offer to help in Hurricane Harvey. The Red Cross chapters in California had 10,000 citizens offer to help in the wake of the fires. The problem is that during a disaster there just isn't time to train lots of people. The training isn't complicated. Much of it can be done online. However, you just can’t leave your kids with a local teen babysitter overnight who has no training any more than you can run a shelter for 5,000 without a trained shelter manager. The people who were the most helpful were trained and ready to go when the disaster hit.
  4. Seldom have I seen more opportunities for service than in September and October. Reaching out to help is good for the giver and the receiver. A lot of people were touched as citizens with private boats joined in the search and rescue effort in Houston. Others witnessed strangers come to help them remove fallen trees, sheetrock and debris. One man sacrificed his vehicle to ram through a gate blocking his community from the world because the gate was without power. People took friends and coworkers into their own homes. I saw a massive local movement to help provide food and shelter to evacuees. I saw citizens help map Puerto Rico so that aid workers could find alternative routes into devastated areas. Lots of people gave a little and some gave everything.
  5. Waiting for aid is a powerless place to be. As people in Puerto Rico waited for food, water and gasoline, they became frustrated. As the food, water and emergency supplies waited at the docks for truck drivers with gasoline to move it into affected areas, the outside observer watched and waited as well. Eventually evacuation became possible and many families with young children left the island to settle permanently in San Antonio. Waiting was not the game they wanted to play anymore.
  6. I don’t think these disasters represent the Lord’s condemnation but I could be wrong. I think the disasters are an opportunity for the good in people to come out and shine. They are an opportunity for reflection on what matters most. They are a shake-up of day-to-day living that demands change. Change is good, and change is hard.
So that is how these disasters have changed me. My life was affected directly and indirectly. My routines were changed. My family was out mucking on multiple weekends. My family and my friends’ families were in harms way and they made it. My world got a little smaller as I realized how close to home these things hit. Happiness is possible in every condition; in poverty and wealth.

photos at wikimedia and defense.gov

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How to Accept God’s Grace

The notion common to most Christians is that you accept God’s grace by declaring your belief in Him. This comes from Romans 10:9 which says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (KJV)

My understanding of grace is that it is applied by a loving God universally to his children in the form of a full restitution of the physical body after death, a full restitution of broken hearts and (conditional upon repentance) a full restitution of sin.

I believe that in order to accept God’s grace I have to do more than say “I do” but I have to “do what I say.”

What you send out will come back to you

Monday, August 21, 2017

Divine Mentoring


“I remember once a seven- or eight-year-old son of ours jumping on his bed hard enough that I thought it might break. I felt a flash of frustration, and I moved quickly to set my house in order. I grabbed my son by his little shoulders and lifted him up to where our eyes met.

“The Spirit put words into my mind. It seemed a quiet voice, but it pierced to my heart: “You are holding a great person.” I gently set him back on the bed and apologized.

“Now he has become the great man the Holy Ghost let me see 40 years ago. I am eternally grateful that the Lord rescued me from my unkind feelings by sending the Holy Ghost to let me see a child of God as He saw him.” (Source: Eyring, “My Peace I Leave with You.”)

In this story, the Holy Ghost mentored a father in the very moment when he was about to discipline his child, showing him the great worth of the child in God’s eyes. The Holy Ghost is the vehicle by which God offers us divine mentoring in our life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Author of Salvation

Jesus Christ introduced the sacrament of bread and wine/water at the Last Supper in preparation for his great atoning gift to the world.

In the sacrament he gave two great symbolic elements, bread and water, to help the people understand his gift. The bread was likely unleavened because the Last Supper was a Passover meal. Because unleavened bread does not have yeast, it has less moisture and is less prone to decay. The bread represented the purity of Christ’s body and the incorruptibility of his gift.
The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness with Moses. The manna was a gift from God at a time when other food was not available. This taught them to depend physically on God before introducing the idea of relying spiritually on God. When Christ came he expanded the metaphor of manna when he said, “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” (John 6:58) Christ was the bread from heaven. He was the epitome of the symbol from the Old Testament.

The sacrament at the Last Supper used wine but water has been used interchangeably for this symbol. Christ declared, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) The water is a symbol of the blood which Christ was about to give in his atoning gift to the world.

Christ was the lamb of God. His death was a fulfillment of a symbolic ritual of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament where a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people. (see 1 Pet 1:18-19) “In Leviticus the sacrificial offerings for sin fall into two categories, those designed to atone for unintentional transgressions and those that atoned for willful sins.” (Stephen Ricks, Source) Under the law of Moses unintentional sins were paid for by the transgressor himself. Willful sins cannot be redeemed by the transgressor and require an intercessor. Intercession by Christ on our behalf is necessary because no unclean thing can dwell with God and all of us are unclean due to our intentional sinning. 

While observing the Mosaic law of sacrifice, as we understand now from Christ’s own teachings, was not fully effective in perfecting the people.  It was part of the author’s plan to show his people where to look for their salvation. Jesus Christ, the author of salvation, uses imagery, symbolism and poetic words to explain his great gift. The gift of salvation has much deeper levels of meaning which are understood after we participate in and ponder the physical representations of bread and water, lambs and sacrifice, the cross and the garden.

In the garden and on the cross, Jesus Christ experienced personally and individually every pain and sorrow from every sin committed and all it’s repercussion for each and every person who has lived on earth before and after his life on earth. Peter thought Jesus should flee the evil men who wanted to kill him. Jesus knew that the pain was necessary. He said to his Father, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matt 26:42) He showed perfect submission to the will of God in the way that we all must submit both to God’s laws and to his punishments. During this time of intercession, the pain caused Jesus Christ to sweat drops of blood from every pore. (Luke 22:44) The blood sanctified us his people.
If we are sanctified by his blood, why must we appeal to him via repentance to have mercy on us? Jesus Christ became the one to hold the key of salvation because he broke the confining bands of death and sin. Only through him can we be saved. This means that he sets the terms and conditions of the salvation that he offers. 

Because Christ is the author of the terms and conditions, we have no right to demand his grace. As we submit to his authority and guidance, we begin to understand what our role is in turning away from sin and what his role is in finishing our faith. The first condition of salvation is baptism by an authorized servant of God. John the apostle taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Being born of water is baptism. Being born of the Spirit is a process of sanctification that must occur during this mortal life through the obedience and direction of God’s emissary, the Holy Spirit. The remaining terms and conditions are spelled out in scripture and in the divine tutelage that the Spirit gives. 



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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How My Concept of Salvation is More Specific Than Mainstream Christianity

The concept of an afterlife is vague in mainstream christianity because the Bible gives few details. Mostly I hear about grace and glory and choirs of angels.

My religious tradition contains teachings that are exquisitely more specific. I will share with you the original text and then my comments. To set the stage, the afterlife extends through time and space. It is composed of many spaces which are governed by law. The glorified beings who inhabit these spaces are subject to God’s laws and invigorated by his glory.

Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man: And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.

I see in this verse a resurrection for all who hear the voice of Christ. It is qualified by some quality of the person which is herein labeled in a unique way as “just” and “unjust.” (so vague - yet it makes me wonder when I’ve heard God use the terms just and unjust before)

For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

This tells me that there are three main kingdoms: celestial, terrestrial and telestial. They are governed by law and the inhabitants abide in that law. That word abide makes me think that they choose to obey and are not forced to abide there.

D&C 88:29-32
Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

This tells me that the inhabitants of the kingdoms receive a portion of the glory of that kingdom in which they reside which renews and quickens their body and spirit. The resurrection is a gift of glory and this shows me that it is measured out based on our willingness to receive. The gift of glory is not described as a punishment but rather a reflection of what we are capable of accepting. This is curious to me.

D&C 76:70-71
These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

I see a little bit clearer what it means to be resurrected by or of a celestial glory as opposed to a terrestrial glory. And yet, the magnitude of the sun’s light as compared to the moon’s light is really hard to compare.

D&C 88:34
And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.

This tells me that the law is an integral part of the glory of God and the sanctifying influence that emanates from his kingdoms.

D&C 88:37-38
And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

This echoes Christ’s teaching that in his Father’s house there are many mansions. This also tells me that He sets the boundaries. From what I understand of boundaries in this mortal world; they are what gives me a sense of safety and structure. 

D&C 76:98
And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world…

I understand that the third kingdom, here named telestial, is not a group of equal states but a group of unequal states. The idea that God has an infinite number of kingdoms which exist in an infinite array of glory shows me that his judgement will be just. There is only one grace and it glorifies us in a precise way. I think the author of liberty understands freedom.

And in all this discussion of God's kingdoms, the details remain in God’s possession and we are left to imagine His glory from our finite perspective.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

How My Concept of Salvation Differs from Mainstream Christians

I have noticed that mainstream Christians spend a lot of time talking about whether they are saved. They are always encouraging an audience to declare their faith and be saved even if the audience is mostly Christian. In my faith we don’t worry about whether we are saved and we rarely talk about it in that way. Here’s why…

 I chose this picture because of the subcategories. In my theology there are many subcategories of glory in God's kingdom.
We teach that God has a Plan of Salvation. In this plan, we are born to mortal parents, tested, and die. God sent his Son to redeem us and this makes it possible for us to be resurrected after we die. Our choices here on Earth put us in paradise or prison after death until we are brought before the bar of God to be judged. Our judgement and resurrection precede our reward of a heavenly home in one of God’s many kingdoms which vary in their glory. The best kingdom has the highest glory and there are three degrees of glory in general. But as the stars differ one from another, the worst kingdom is like all the stars of heaven in its variety. In this way, the judgement that is pronounced is rewarded with exactly the right amount of glory in God’s kingdom. The idea that a mortal could declare with certainty someone’s salvation seems ludicrous to us. For all but sons of perdition, we believe that everyone will be saved from death with a resurrected body and from spiritual death with a restoration of the spirit but the glory of that salvation will vary. It doesn’t make sense to us to try to guess what glory someone will receive so we just focus on trying to make good choices and be worthy of the highest glory in God’s kingdom.


People in my faith are criticized for focusing too much on “works.” Our concept of salvation leads to this kind of focus but it doesn’t exclude us from teaching about the great Atonement of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. What “works” do Mormons do?

  1. I “work” towards unity and oneness with God. This means that ‘I’ll go where you want me to go. … I’ll say what you want me to say. … I’ll be what you want me to be.’” Hymn 270
  2. I “work” on personal religious observances like prayer, scriptures study, fasting and worship.
  3. I “work” on family. I have eight kids that all need my nurturing, instruction and discipline.
  4. I “work” on taking care of the poor, needy, widow and fatherless. I am assigned to look after four sisters in my congregation some of which are single.
  5. I “work” on teaching the rising generation how to worship God. My current assignment is to teach 4 year olds in sunday school, but I spent over five years teaching teenagers.
  6. I “work” on serving in my community. My leaders encouraged me to find a way to help refugees so I now volunteer for the Red Cross in a capacity that directly helps refugees.

Do I think that these “works” save me? Well not exactly. I’m well aware of my sinful nature and the necessity I have for a Redeemer. I also see my “works” as saving me from idleness and sin in this life. I don’t really worry about whether I’m saved or whether I’m doing enough. I don’t know that I’m saved but I don’t need the certainty because I’ve gotten little reassurances from God himself that I’m on the path. Focusing on a path and not the ending is to focus on walking and not arriving. A path requires flexibility because we can’t see where it goes short term even if we know where it leads. 


I hope this clarifies a little what has become a very divisive debate about grace, works and salvation. I have also written about it here and here. I know that Christ is my savior. I have been blessed to receive forgiveness for some of my sins and I continue to ponder, pray and make small incremental changes on others. I don’t expect to be able to change or correct my sinful nature enough to be worthy of redemption but I do intend to work towards purity while I am able.

Image credit: Subcategories of Twilight by TWCarlson 

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Why Imagination is Vital to Faith

If you have stopped believing, it is possible that you have stopped imagining what is possible.


When Jesus started his ministry he had a barrier to entry that he crossed by engaging his listeners in a way that made them think about and question the possibilities.  He came in a time when the leadership had stifled questions. They had done this by threatening all who opposed them with death. Very few people were willing to think out loud. John 6:13 says that “No man spoke openly of him (Jesus) for fear of the Jews.”

Jesus was bold in declaring his message despite the well-known threat of death (John 6:25). The people who listened to him questioned his education and learning. They were sure he was a fake because he came from Galilee. But a few questioned this assertion and remembered that he was born in Bethlehem. (John 7:41-42)

Jesus circled his listeners with puzzles that distracted them from their certain resistance and got them thinking about what he might intend. He said, “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.” (John 7:34) They imagined that their problem would disappear if he killed himself. (John 8:22)

The officers said, “Never man spake like this man” and imagined the Prophet who was to come. (John 7:46) They questioned him, “Who art thou?” and he answered, “Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.” (John 8:25)

Poetic words with layers of meaning and especially hidden meanings would have been used by people who were afraid of the authorities. Jesus was not afraid. Yet, the people, hearing this kind of language, began to wonder what it could possibly mean. Within the attitude of wonder is the ability to believe. Their resistance came down. Their certainty became uncertain. And “As he spoke these words, many believed on him.” (John 8: 30)

He saw their faith beginning and he told them that they need to believe and act. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) In an oppressive society, freedom is a dream. Jesus promised freedom and the people began to hope a little that what he said was true.

The conversation turned to legitimacy. The Jews were at odds with their half-breed neighbor Samaritans and Roman rulers. Jesus said to them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.” (John 8:40) There were those in the establishment that clung to their legitimacy. But there were those in the audience that started to think about the difference between how Abraham acted and how the Jews acted. Later, Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56) Can you imagine Abraham rejoicing? Can you imagine what he saw that made him glad?

To imagine the joy is to begin to wonder how a society of people oppressed by their Jewish leaders and Roman rulers could be free. Jesus came to free them, not from their rulers but from their sins. His potential to remove chains that bind leads to unsurpassed joy because it is permanent.

Expectation leads to despair. Unlike imagination, expectation demands that what is imagined become real. Jesus can make it real but we cannot control him. We must submit our will to his. Jesus offers us hope and he expects us to continue with him without knowing how or when our hope will become real. Stay open. Believe. It’s real!

Image credit: Abraham and the Angels by Aert de Gelder in the public domain

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Day 12: Good, Better or Best

This is Day 12 in a challenging new series of posts. Each post will focus on a way to increase spirituality, focus or efficiency in dealing with life. Each post will provide a speech or essay to read, a 5 question quiz and a personal challenge statement or goal. The hope is that through self-directed learning and some coaching from me, you will grow in refreshing new ways.



The fact that life has choices means there are more than a thousand ways to go about it. In giving us a world of choices God surely knows that some will be bad, some will be good, and some will be "best." His written law, the ten commandments, his beatitudes and other parables point the way to the choices that lead to the "best" outcomes. His prediction is that "few there be that find it (meaning the best path)." This speech encourages us to be strategic about our use of time and resources so that we are on the best path.

1. Read the Speech:

Speech

2. Take the Quiz

Quiz

3. Personal Challenge Statement: I will take responsibility for my past choices by making better choices today.

4. Goal: Make a plan to align your inner desires with your outward choices.

5. Dig Deeper: Best Family Councils

Do You See Small Enough?
Course Correction

image credit: flickr/Steven Guzzardi

Monday, April 3, 2017

Day 11: It isn't a Sin to be Weak

This is Day 11 in a challenging new series of posts. Each post will focus on a way to increase spirituality, focus or efficiency in dealing with life. Each post will provide a speech or essay to read, a 5 question quiz and a personal challenge statement or goal. The hope is that through self-directed learning and some coaching from me, you will grow in refreshing new ways.



This life is a test. None of us is perfect at any time during the test but we can overcome many things and increase our capacity to feel joy. Our weaknesses can lead us to fall into sin, but "God can use human weakness to teach, strengthen, and bless us." Understanding our capacity and our potential can help us to have realistic expectations for this life. Working towards our potential, we will need to call upon the grace of God to augment our efforts. This essay discusses the difference between grace and repentance and how to use both on our journey. 

1. Read the Essay:

Essay

2. Take the Quiz

Quiz

3. Personal Challenge Statement: I will respond to the reality of my weaknesses with humility and faith. I choose to replace fear and shame with humility and faith.

4. Goal: Make a plan to develop humility and faith.

5. Dig Deeper: "Faith is More Than Belief"

"Grace Needed in the Kitchen"
"In Confidence is Your Strength"