Sunday, June 29, 2014

Look Unto Me In Every Thought

In John 11 we learn the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus was seriously sick and the Lord wasn't around, so his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent to the Lord with the hopes that He would come and heal him.

In verse 4 we learn the Lord's reply: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." If I were either Mary or Martha, I would interpret this is as a promise that my brother would not die. However, we also learn in verse 6 that the Lord stayed were He was for two more days, and verse 14 teaches us that when He arrived, Lazarus has indeed passed away.

In verses 21 and 32, the Bible records Martha and Mary's words to the Lord upon His arrival. They said the same words: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." We do not have the context behind those words, but we can imagine the anguish of the sisters. Perhaps they wanted to ask why He stayed two more days before coming, or how come He has healed so many but He didn't make it in time to heal a beloved disciple, or even how His promise could possibly have failed?

I believe they said this instead because even in this excruciating trial they both kept their faith. His following conversation with Martha includes one of my favorite passages of scripture in verses 25 and 26:

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead He promises eternal life, which only Christ can. Even death, as absolute and insurmountable as anything, bends the knee and obeys the will of our Lord. He is teaching that no night is too dark and no burden is too heavy for those who lean on Jehovah for strength.

Martha, though suffering, would not let her pains dim the brilliance of her faith, and she responded: "Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." Martha's response to this potentially disillusioning sequence of events in life was to express faith, even though the Lord just said words that seemed to be directly contradicted by her brother's death.

Shortly after, we read in verses 43 and 44 that the Lord brings Lazarus back to life. The Lord knew all along that He would restore Lazarus' life to him, but Mary and Martha did not. They did demonstrate that no matter what happens they wouldn't lose their faith in Jesus as the Christ.

In life, many things happen which are beyond our comprehension. We will have trials that seem impossible to reconcile with our beliefs and our understanding. I pray, for myself and us all, that we can match the examples of Mary and Martha and follow this council:

 36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
 37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
I testify that our comfort and our answers lie in following the Savior. He has the words of eternal life.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Purpose of Excommunication

On its face excommunication can seem like something very incongruent with Christ's love. When I was a teenager, I thought excommunication was all about punishing someone who was wrong, sort of like judgement coming a little early for an individual. I think that my teenage understanding was definitely incongruent with the mission of the Church as well as our Lord's love. Because of my poor understanding, I remember being surprised when my dad explained that people who are excommunicated can be re-baptized and rejoin the Church. To my confusion my father clarified: "actually, the whole purpose of excommunicating someone is so that they will eventually get re-baptized."

When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings. - Elder Ballard
Elder Ballard wrote this article for the Church News in 1985 and it was republished in a 1990 issue of the Ensign. Later in the same article he states:

Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name.
The first purpose of a disciplinary council is to help someone repent. I remember someone sharing a testimony about being disciplined in a disciplinary council. Wisely, the reason for being disciplined was not shared, but she stated that these councils are courts of love, and that throughout the entire process of repentance (she was not excommunicated) she felt how much her leaders cared for her and wanted to help her. In my friend's case, the disciplinary council was essential to helping her repent.

Certainly, repenting fully is easiest and best in private. Unfortunately, some sins are committed publicly or become known publicly, either in a small community or in general. Repentance can often be a sore and trying experience, and my heart goes out to those who have the misfortune of baring public shame in addition to the normal guilt that comes from sin. To help minimize this damage, Church leaders who participate in disciplinary councils are commanded to keep things strictly confidential. Even simple questions whose answers may likely be innocuous are usually not answered. The message is clear: we are here for repentance, and people can repent best when given space and privacy.*

I know that God's love doesn't have a beginning or an end for any of us. He is the God which leaves the ninety and nine to search for the one. I have seen firsthand how He diligently searches, and I trust His love.

*Some may ask why, if we want to provide space and privacy, does anyone have to know about any of the sins. Why do certain sins have to be confessed to a bishop or other church leaders? The answer is that people need help repenting of certain sins. I will compare it to smoking: many people quit smoking, but very few, if any, do it completely alone. People experience the most success when quitting with support. Repenting is a process of changing and becoming someone better; it includes healing our very soul. Serious sins are more difficult to overcome, and here the role of a bishop, stake president, or even a council in the most serious circumstances is to assist in that process.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Understanding Modesty

Oddly enough, I've read two stories about modesty in the news recently. One about a girl in Canada who felt humiliated by her school's dress code and another about a school in Utah that digitally edited yearbook pictures. Although I'm a strong believer in modesty and teaching the benefits of dressing modestly, I want to note that I don't agree with the way that either of these schools went about it. It seems to me that forcing teenage girls to stand in line and be measured for modesty is ridiculous, embarrassing, and perhaps hypocritical; editing people's yearbook photos without notifying them - and doing it unevenly - also seems silly at best.*

At any rate, some of the discussion around this asks why we don't simply teach boys not to view girls as sexual objects instead of forcing girls to dress a certain way. Some say that teaching girls they must dress modestly is the beginning of blaming rape victims for getting raped. Sadly, there are some people who teach modesty in exactly those ways and say those same horrible ideas. Obviously, no one who is raped deserves it; sexual violence is among the worst sins that one can commit, and the victim is never at fault. However, dressing modestly is important for all, and I want to explain why I believe so.

I believe that all of us, every male and female, is a child of God. I believe that we were given bodies for the purpose of coming to this earth where we are tested and have the chance to learn. Humans were the crowning creation, and in my opinion the people on the earth and the most interesting and beautiful part of it. This is saying a lot when you contemplate the beauty of the earth, but I believe it is true.

With our bodies, God also gave us the power to take His hand and join in creating life. This is a simple, obvious, and powerful reminder that we are divine in nature, not mundane. Our Creator also gave us deep, powerful feelings so that we might join together, and that "... they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh." (Mark 10:8) Twain is a word that means two, and teaching refers to the importance of marriage.

If our bodies are given to us for a divine purpose, shouldn't we treat them as such? When something is important and personal, do we tell everyone about it? Or do we share it only with closer friends in a context where it will be meaningful?

The primary reason for dressing modestly ought to come from how we see ourselves and not from fear for how others might see us. Dressing modestly should be a way that we say to the world: I'm a child of God; I have divine potential and destiny.

In other words, I reject the idea that teaching people (I keep using gender inclusive words because all must dress modestly, and if we are teaching modestly only to women and girls then we are failing.) to dress modestly is meant to shame them. It is quite the opposite. Dressing modestly is meant to help people recognize their divine nature and purpose on this earth; nothing would do more for self-esteem than for all to grasp it.

*I went to a public high school in Chicago that enforced a dress code for yearbook pictures. They would tell people to change their clothes if they felt it didn't meet the school's dress code, and I think that's a very reasonable way to go about it.