If You Really Want to Be the Good Samaritan, You’d Better Consider This…

samaritan2The story of the Good Samaritan as found in the Bible is, for good reason, a favorite of so many. I’m not going to do a play-by-play of the story since you can read for yourself. I just want to point out a small, but significant, observation that may be helpful.

There seem to be two main ways to look at this story:

1. We should help those that we would not normally help. The people listening to Jesus tell this parable would have been surprised to have the Samaritan being the hero, especially if he was helping a Jew. The Samaritan’s willingness to bless another is inspiring.

2. According to John Welch, this story may have originally been a vehicle for teaching the Plan of Mercy and the mission of the Savior. I’ll let you study that one out, but I love this interpretation.

Both interpretation #1 and #2 can be correct. They probably both are. There is one other small point I think we should focus on:

If the Samaritan hadn’t had oil, wine, a donkey, and some money, this wouldn’t be much of a story.

It is almost as if the Samaritan assumed he would cross paths with someone who was in the middle of a struggle, so he prepared himself to be helpful. The path on which this story takes place is actually named “The Way of Blood” because of the frequency of attacks that happened along the route. If the Samaritan was familiar with the path and the likelihood of happening upon a person who had suffered an attack, the wisdom of carrying oil and wine (for healing purposes), bringing a donkey (for transportation purposes), and carrying some coinage (for lodging purposes) are obvious and well thought out.

I don’t know why the priest and Levite weren’t as well prepared and were unwilling to help. There may be some cultural reasons that I’m not aware of. And I don’t really know exactly why they chose not to stop and help the suffering man though that item has been addressed by others. What I do know is that the Samaritan not only desired to help the sufferer, but was prepared to help the sufferer.

President Henry B. Eyring shared the following:

When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise district president in the Church. He tried to teach me. One of the things I remember wondering about was this advice he gave: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”

I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life. (“In the Strength of the Lord”, April, 2004)

If more than half of those you meet each day are in some kind of need, wouldn’t it be wise to stock up on oil, wine, money, and donkeys as you make your way out of bed, out the door, and out into the world each day?

How can I help others today if I’m nothing bringing my testimony with me, out the door, and ready to share. What if I’m not bring charity–the pure love of Christ–with me as I start of the “Way of Blood” we refer to as life? Physically, can I help a stranded motorist if I don’t have jumper cables or a jack?

Physically and spiritually, we can gear up for our trip down “The Way of Blood”, where, surely, we are going to cross paths with someone in the middle of a struggle. Are we prepared to bless them? What can I do, today, to be more prepared, physically and spiritually, the help others?

Be Encouraging…

BJM

How to Know if You Are Really a Christian…

samaritanThere are certainly all kinds of sites out there trying to answer the question: Are Mormons Christians? and the answers cover the spectrum.

I’ll answer, as a Mormon: Yes. Of course.

But this post isn’t about certain religions being Christians as much as it is about Christians being Christians. I’m really asking, What makes a person a true disciple of Jesus Christ?

Here is at least one sign. Maybe the sign. This is how you know if you’re really following Christ:

“Years ago I attended a fireside at which a General Authority asked the audience how to tell if someone is a true follower of Jesus Christ. The chapel full of adults responded with a chalkboard full of answers, none of which was the one he was looking for. Finally he wiped the board clean and said something I’ve never forgotten: ‘Observation and personal experience have taught me that the way you can tell if someone is truly converted to Jesus Christ is by how that person treats others’.”

(Sheri Dew, If Life Were Easy, it Wouldn’t Be Hard, 31)

Think about how often the scriptures discuss our relationships with others. Our baptismal covenant rests in part on our interactions with others (Mosiah 18:8-10). Mourning with those who mourn. Comforting others. Jesus taught us about our interactions with the naked, hungry, and imprisoned (Matthew 25).

I know we spend a lot of time trying to be “good children”, but I believe I need to spend more time worrying about and helping God’s children. I mean, that is what He has asked for…right?

Be Encouraging…

BJM

If You Are Celebrating Kate Kelly’s Excommunication, At Least Consider These Two Thoughts…

"Repentance of Peter" by Carl Bloch

“Repentance of Peter” by Carl Bloch

Let me start with a little transparency:

1. I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and believe this is Christ’s church.

2. Kate Kelly’s situation really isn’t any of my business. I mean, I’ll defend the Church and I don’t see things the same as the Ordain Women movement, but as far as Kate Kelly, the individual, goes, I don’t have an opinion about her recent excommunication. I’m not the decision maker in that situation and so, though I haven’t agreed with her tactics and public choices, I just don’t think it is a very fair–or kind–thing for me to do to decide if she should be in or out of the church. That is between the Lord, the bishop, and the individual.

3. I really do believe that any church, especially the Savior’s, has a right (and sometimes a duty) to excommunicate members. I trust the process that is involved. And I believe that church discipline, mixed with a humble heart and loving friends and family, can prove to be an immeasurable blessing to all involved.

Ok, with all of that said, there is something that has been eating at me. I know it shouldn’t. I certainly have other things to occupy my time, but I’ve been bothered a little by two thoughts that have been expressed online, repeatedly, regarding Kate Kelly’s excommunication. Both sentiments are provided here, word-for-word. I’ve seen them on blogs, Facebook posts, and comment sections on online news sites. Neither of these are from people I know. Here they are:

“Good! She got what she deserved!!”

and…

“Good! I’m glad she’s out!”

I’m as shallow and mean-spirited as the next person…I know that. And I’ll address that at the end of this post. But here a just a couple thoughts regarding these two sentiments.

“Good! She got what she deserved!!”

Think about this for a second. What if you actually got what you deserved? The blessings I enjoy come in and through the Savior and His mercy…not because I’ve earned anything. Can I qualify for certain blessings? I suppose, but that is only because God is very kind, more kind than He is required to be. I know that every blessing comes “by obedience to that law upon which [the blessing] is predicated” (D&C 130-21), but if that were the only way blessings came, I would be stuck. Bad. Because I’m a sinner, and not that good at qualifying for blessings. If I got what only what I really, really I deserved, I don’t think I’d like that. And if you only received the blessings you deserved, I don’t think you’d like it, either.

I believe that Kate Kelly’s choices up until last week may have qualified her to be excommunicated from the Church. But if you and I spend too much time determining what someone else deserves, we may get what we deserve… We should be shouting, “Thank goodness I don’t only get what I deserve!”

“Good! I’m glad she’s out!”

From one perspective, Kate Kelly’s excommunication is good. She has a chance at a fresh start. The church has the right to protect itself. Maybe this stanches some harm to both parties. We’ll see.

But I can’t think of anywhere where the Savior celebrates the excommunication of any of His disciples. He celebrates the cessation of sin or apostasy or rebellion. He celebrates the repentance of His people, for sure. But if there is “great joy” over one soul that repents (D&C 18:13), the opposite must be true for one soul that chooses not to in this situation or that. Why would any other disciple of Christ feel cause to celebrate the loss of a member of Christ’s Church?

I’m not glad Kate Kelly is out. I wish she were in. And one day she may well be back in. Back with us. That would be cause to celebrate… “Good! She’s back in!”

Conclusion

Let me also end with some transparency. I have probably said or thought these two thoughts at some point as well. I’m often frustrated by those who seem to, from my perspective, slow down the progress of the church and the spread of the gospel. I lose my temper, my cool, and my ability to even approach a Christ-like attitude…and I lose those things all the time. I lose perspective regularly and don’t see things the way Christ does. And for that very reason, I’m going to try–really try–to be less unkind when someone else seems to be doing the same thing…

Be Encouraging…

BJM

So, Did Kate Kelly Get An Answer or Not?

ImageKate Kelly was recently excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Anyone who celebrates that decision shows a deep misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel and the Church. I feel for her, as she feels as though she has lost something very dear to her (though, I believe that could have been avoided, at some personal cost, of course).

Do I think she should have been excommunicated? That isn’t my call. I do trust the process (I know that not everyone does), and I trust the role of revelation that aided her bishopric in the decision (again, some may question that part of the process as well). I don’t know Kate Kelly’s heart (most people don’t either), so it would be unwise–and unkind–to speculate on whether she should be in or out of the church. What’s done is done, for now. Heavenly Father loves Kate Kelly and loves me, I know that.

So here’s my question: Kate Kelly wanted the Brethren to ask the Lord to allow women to be ordained to priesthood offices (I know she wanted more than that and that I’ve oversimplified). Did they? Did they ask?

Of course, I don’t know exactly what happens in the meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve or the First Presidency, but I think there is enough data to at least put forth a theory. Here it is: I believe the Brethren have been praying about the role of women in the Church, and I think they’ve been doing it long before Kate Kelly…

Here’s why (this is, for the most part, just from my memory….but I’m only 42, so I haven’t “seen it all”):

1. In General Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard addressed the idea of women, the priesthood, and the different genders’ opportunities to contribute to “the work”. Notice that he made these statements in 1993, twenty years before any mention of the Ordain Women movement:

In a recent council meeting with the presidencies of the women’s auxiliaries, the sisters told me that very few women in the Church express any interest in wanting to hold the priesthood. But they do want to be heard and valued and want to make meaningful contributions to the stake or ward and its members that will serve the Lord and help accomplish the mission of the Church.

For example, not long ago we were talking about the worthiness of youth to serve missions. President Elaine Jack said, “You know, Elder Ballard, the sisters of the Church may have some good suggestions on how to better prepare the youth for missions if they were just asked. After all, you know, we are their mothers!” The sisters’ suggestions can help equally regarding temple attendance and a host of other matters with which priesthood leaders may be struggling.

Brethren, please be sure you are seeking the vital input of the sisters in your council meetings. Encourage all council members to share their suggestions and ideas about how the stake or ward can be more effective in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead. (M. Russell Ballard, October 1993)

2. I don’t know what relationship the Relief Society President has had with the Bishop in the Church down through the decades of the Church’s existence. I do know that the relationships that I had with the Relief Society Presidents with whom I worked were central to the success of the ward. More than central. Mandatory is a better word. And a blessing in every sense of the word. I’ve posted about this before.

3. Recently (2013), changes in women’s roles in the mission field were made. Sister missionaries were invited to serve in the leading councils of the mission:

Each mission in the Church will organize a mission leadership council that will include both elder (male) and sister (female) as missionary leaders. (Church Adjusts Mission Organization to Implement “Mission Leadership Council”, 5 April 2013)

4. For the first time in the Church’s history, a female leader of the Church offered a prayer in General Conference. See it here.

5. The Priesthood Session of General Conference is now broadcast, live, to homes via the internet, allowing anyone (regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion, etc.) to view it. Access to this session of conference had been requested.

There may be more, I don’t know. I don’t know the exact genesis of any of these recent changes, but it looks as though the leadership of the Church is discussing, praying about, and making changes regarding the role of women in Christ’s Church. I believe as they’ve listened to members of the Church, both men and women, they’ve felt inspired to make changes in how “we do things” in the church. I think that has been happening for a long, long time.

Why have they not changed the policy regarding women and priesthood ordination? It seems as though the Lord has not commanded it. Understandably, that may be very frustrating for some people. Far from being unwilling regarding women’s roles though, the leadership of the Church seems very willing to listen, take matters to the Lord, and put any changes in place that they feel the Lord allows. That trend, that divine process, will continue, as it has since Peter and Paul…

Be Encouraging…

BJM

A “Sheltered Life” From Giving In To Sin…

32501_all_014_01-RepentenceI’m noticing two trends. One is lame and one is beautiful. Put together, they may be causing us to miss a wonderful, empowering, beautiful opportunity that we each have.

Here’s trend #1, which I’m not going to spend much time on: We (society) are pretty focused on “rights” and “doing whatever makes you happy”. This probably isn’t new. But there are more memes on Pinterest about just forgetting responsibility and duty and doing what feels good. Letting go. Being free. There’s usually a picture of a beach or a misty lake behind the quote. They’re pretty.

I won’t go on. I’ll sound like an ornery old man.

Here’s trend #2, which is beautiful when understood in the context of the whole gospel: We (as God’s children) are understandably pretty focused on, enabled by, empowered by, and inspired by our opportunity to repent. Who doesn’t feel a sense of relief and hope at the thought of God’s willingness to forgive us when we really strive to change? I am very grateful for this blessing.

But with the world shouting at us to just live in a way that feels good combined with our focus on the chance we have to repent (which, again, I am grateful for beyond words), we may be not as focused as we could be on one other truth: With God’s help, we can withstand temptation. We can qualify for an incredible heaven-sent power by not giving in to temptation in the first place. Rather than revving up our engines only when the time to repent comes, we can start putting forth our efforts when the temptation is first noticed. The gift of repentance is there, mercifully. But the Atonement of Jesus Christ also helps us withstand sin, not just repent of it.

Is summary, try on this thought from C. S. Lewis. I think you’ll like how this feels:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.” (Mere Christianity, 126)

Be Encouraging…

BJM

Are Mormons Being Excommunicated for Questioning?

A screen grab from Kate Kelly's Facebook wall...

A screen grab from Kate Kelly’s Facebook wall…

The news media has reported that two Mormons are facing excommunication for questioning the LDS Church’s policies, doctrines, and history*. I’m certainly not privvy to the details of their situations, as I don’t know either of them, nor do I know their local congregational leaders (not that they would share any details since they are under an obligation not to divulge those details to other parties). But, I think there are a few misunderstandings floating around out there about these, and related, situations that I’d like to discuss…

First of all, I wish all the best to Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. I don’t know their hearts, and only hope that their stories are eventually full of faith and happy outcomes.

Secondly, I don’t think either one of them is facing the possibility of excommunication for having questions about the church’s stances on issues (not all, but some of the media outlets have painted that picture). In this church, you may face church discipline for your actions that lead others to leave the faith. And that makes perfect sense. Here is a thought from a paper titled “Mormonism and Intellectual Freedom” by Rick Anderson:

As a member of the Church one may believe, without sanction, any number of things that fall outside the realm of official or approved doctrine—but to teach such things in church as a youth leader or a class instructor or bishop would be to set oneself up for correction by those in authority over the Church. To resist such correction would mean, in all likelihood, being released from one’s position as a leader or teacher, and in some cases might mean disfellowshipment or excommunication (the mechanism by which the Church separates itself from the teachings and/or behavior of a member who refuses to submit to its strictures).

In other words, you can believe whatever you want, question whatever you want, and have any opinion you’d like. But when you begin to try to lead others to believe your opinion, and that opinion is in disagreement with the church, of course there may be action taken against the status of your membership in that church.

3. The church doesn’t have the right to limit a person’s ability to express their thoughts. At the same time, the church doesn’t have to allow a dissenting individual to express those thoughts as an official member of the church. The church and the local leaders would not tell Kate Kelly or John Dehlin to stop talking. But the church may eliminate their opportunity to speak as a member in good standing, of course. Anyone can blog, yell from the steps of their local courthouse, write letters, start a podcast, circulate a paper, etc., all they want, church or no church. The church cannot, and will not, limit the freedom of speech we all enjoy. Being excommunicated doesn’t limit one’s ability to teach anything they’d like.

4. Imagine a church where anyone can teach anything, anytime, to anyone, and present it as “official”. The church has an official correlated group of ideas known as church doctrines. The church, of course, should define what is considered its own doctrine. No one has to believe it or follow it, but the ability to define official church doctrine isn’t the prerogative of the masses. Allowing for a member’s discipline if they try to re-define doctrine allows for the church to define its own doctrine, and that is the right of any entity. From the above-quoted article from Anderson:

All of us have the right to speak according to our conscience, but none of us has the right to insist on continued association with an organization whose expressed tenets and principles are at odds with the ones we publicly teach. I can no more expect the Church to let me teach what it considers false doctrine in Sunday School than I could expect People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to let me hand out free bacon in its meetings. (“Mormonism and Intellectual Freedom”, Anderson)

There’s more, of course, that I think about these situations and others like them, and many other writers and bloggers have chimed in on the stories. I don’t know what will happen with Dehlin and Kelly, and it really isn’t any of my business. In fact, if I learn the outcome of these cases, it will most probably be through the information that each individual shares with the media.

Not the most fun topic, but timely, I suppose…

Be Encouraging…

BJM

*This post isn’t about whether Kate Kelly or John Dehlin are “right” about their views, it is about how the church may deal with these members of the church.

Why, oh why, would you only pick up that much manna?

MannaSo, you can be obedient in a couple different ways, right? I mean, you can be an obedient person for a number of different reasons as far as I can tell, garnering any different level of blessings…right?

You know enough about manna in the story of the Israelites that I don’t need to cover all of the details. But recognize this: the Israelites had to go out every day (except the Sabbath) and gather enough manna to sustain themselves for one day. For reasons known to the Lord, they couldn’t pick up a week’s worth; the extra would go bad. So, I’d imagine that every Israelite went out everyday, like clockwork, and gathered enough manna for the day.

But maybe there was one in the group who was a little bored of this daily task. I doubt many Israelites skipped the manna gathering, as they would spend the day hungry. But I’m guessing there were one or two in the group who thought: Gosh, again!? Every single day with the manna…I mean, I’ll do it, but I just don’t think my heart is in this…

And that is fine, except that there would come a day when they’d walk out of the tent, grab a small pinch of the first manna they saw, and say (to anyone who would listen), “See? I’m obedient! I grabbed some manna, just like we’ve been asked!”

Well, of course, a pinch of manna does’t sustain a person for the whole day. But out of spite, or boredom, or pride or whatever, an “obedient” person did, technically, gather a small amount, even though there’s not much a pinch of manna can do for a person…

So, we read a verse or two of scripture at night. We rattle off a prayer during the morning. We “show up” for our calling without much planning or forethought. But, hey, I showed up, right? I mean, technically, I was obedient…

How long can one or two verses sustain us? How much nourishment can a half-hearted prayer provide? Who can really be deeply blessed by doing the minimum, purely out of duty? I’m not saying that a short session of reading or a quick prayer can’t bless us. Just showing up for a calling is, at least, showing up, and people are blessed, for sure.

A couple nights ago I turned in, prayed, opened my iPad for my scripture study, and felt unusually tired. So I decided just to read any random verse and “count it”. I did so. As I was about the shut the iPad the thought crossed my mind, “Is this effort going to qualify you for much?”

And with that, I opened the iPad back up, found where I was, and spent a few thoughtful minutes studying and pondering 3 Nephi 15…

We always run the risk of being too hard on ourselves and allowing guilt to take over. Please don’t do that. But grab enough manna to make leaving the tent worth your effort…

Be Encouraging…

BJM