Just outside of Palmyra, New York is a grove of trees. In 1820 a young man named Joseph Smith came here to pray about the truth of religion. He was visited by God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Only the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus has impacted my life more than this event.
Following Christ in 8 Words
Simple Thoughts for a Christian Life
Following the example of Jesus Christ is not a trivial thing. It takes a lot of work in the midst of the difficulties of our lives and those around us. However, the fundamentals of the gospel of Christ are not complicated. In listening to a number of people lately, I have boiled it down to 4 pairs of words.
Charity and Virtue are two words that capture the life we are supposed to be living. Charity has been defined a “the pure love of Christ” [Mor 7:47]. I like to think of that kind of pure love for someone to be the willingness to do what truly best for them. If we have that Christ-like charity we will really want what is best for everyone rather than what we want ourselves.
Virtue, particularly in our thoughts, is our first line of defense against wrongdoing. No bad deed occurred without preceding unvirtuous thoughts. Virtuous thought can prevent any number of painful mistakes.
Return and receive
Knowing where we are going, why we are following Christ and what we hope to gain is critical to staying the course. It is hard to keep working at something for no particular reason. M. Russell Ballard recently gave a talk in which he captured the goals of a follower of Christ in these two words: return and receive.
As followers of Christ, practicing charity and virtue, we hope to return to our Father in Heaven and receive all of the blessings that he has prepared for his children. That is the goal of a Christ-like life. God is our Father and has prepared this life so that we can choose what we want to be. If we choose to follow Christ then we can return to our Father. We can choose other goals and receive the fruits of those choices, but the goal of a Christ-like life is to return to our Father and receive what he has prepared for us.
Rationalize and Rebel
Living a charitable and virtuous life is hard. Lots of people do lots of unlovable things. In our media saturated world, maintaining virtuous thoughts can be a challenge. We all have thoughts, feelings and sometimes actions that we are not proud of.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ has made it possible to repent of our mistakes and to recover from our failings. What a blessing that is. It is the only thing that makes progress possible. However, all of us find ourselves repeatedly repenting of the same mistakes. After a while it does not feel like we are repenting or progressing at all. This gets very discouraging.
J. Devn Cornish recently gave a talk in which he indicated that the key is to not rationalize and not rebel. When we do something, see something or feel something that we should not have, it is easy to say “that was no big deal.” That is rationalization. The problem is that by minimizing and excusing the mistake we block ourselves from repenting. Not repenting prevents us from returning to a Christ-like life. As long as we are not rationalizing away our mistakes we can fix them, with Christ’s help.
Rebellion is worse. That is when we refuse to follow him. Someone else’s mistake is too hurtful to forgive. Someone deserved what we did to them. We rather enjoy pornography rather than fleeing from it. As long as we are in rebellion, we deny ourselves the opportunity for improvement that Christ offers. We drift away from a life of charity and virtue. We are no longer on that path to return and receive.
However, if we do not rationalize and we do not rebel Christ’s Atonement can help us back. We can enjoy the fact that although we are mortal and fallible, the goal is still ours to achieve.
Scripture and Spirit
The discussion above generally applies to everyone. However, we are not living everyone’s life. We are living ours. We need guidance as to the specific choices that we personally need to make right now.
Our personal guideposts come from scripture and the Holy Spirit. Scripture is words received from God, by prophets, written down and preserved for us. We can’t achieve the Father’s goals for us if we will not pay attention to he who set it. Daily scripture study serves as markers and reminders of things we need to fix or places we may not have noticed are in need of repair.
The greatest guidance of all is the Holy Spirit. It is his role to show each of us, individually, what we need to do today to live a more Christ-like life. It is through his guidance that we get down to the real nitty-gritty of day to day choices.
So there you have it. Following Christ in 8 words. We should live a life of charity (love) and virtue which will lead us to return to God our Father and receive all the blessings he has for us. If we fail we can continuously repent and improve provided we do not rationalize our sins or rebel against a Christ-like life. We can best see our own personal way back to God through scripture and spirit.
Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?
In a world filled with war, illness, abuse and greed many ask why a loving God would allow such things to be. As I have pondered this question, I think there are three reasons: teaching, agency and perspective. God wants to teach the important lessons that each one of us needs to know and he wants us to make choices for ourselves. God is also interested in the long term, way beyond just this life as we know it.
God created this world so that we, his children, could come and learn lessons for ourselves. These are not lessons of math, literature or economics, but character, strength of purpose and love. He is interested in who we become rather than what we know. God knows us individually and personally in ways that I do not understand. Because of this he sends each of us into our own personal life challenges. As a teacher I always gave hard assignments, not to punish my students but to build their success. Illness, disability, devastating family situations and war are all challenges from which we can learn. One must take great care with this principle. Just because some of us have lessons to learn does not justify those who cause the pain or refuse to help. How we respond to the suffering of others is enormously important to our Father in Heaven. “It serves them right” is not a principle taught by God. Continue reading “Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?”
Hope and Joy of Easter
It is Easter morning 2017. Most of my neighborhood is still asleep and the sky is just starting to brighten over the mountains. Easter is such a special day.
When God, our Father, sent us to this earth he gave us agency to choose how we would live. Many of us choose love and caring for those around us. Many choose hate and war against those who are different. Many choose to build good families while others choose sexual behaviors that tear at or eliminate the foundation of a family. All of us unintentionally harm others and suffer the purposeful or unintended consequences of the acts of others.
Into a world filled with the pain caused by people’s choices was born Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father and Mary of Nazareth. Because of his special role as the Son of God he could choose not to die. But he did choose to die so that we might live again. He committed no sin himself, but chose to pay the consequences of the choices of all of us, his brothers and sisters.
Because of his sacrifice we may live again. Because of his sacrifice we may overcome the consequences of our mistakes and those of others. It is now our choice whether we will follow him and avail ourselves of what he has to offer. This is the hope of Easter. This is the hope of Christ. This is my hope on this quiet morning. I choose to follow him as best I can.