Sunday, January 25, 2015

So you think you're Celestial Material?

So you've been married in the temple.  Or you haven't, but have been through all you believe the temple has to offer.  You're pretty sure, according to what's taught at church, that you're aaaalmost celestial material.  If you've been married in the temple, you're probably pretty confident that you have hit all the benchmarks required of you, and now the only task at hand is to endure to the end, faithful.

(This was a pic I took several months ago, when my nephew went through the temple for the first time before his mission.  He was going to receive his "endowment", or gift.  Sun just before noonday, when he was to arrive.)

What does enduring to the end mean?  It likely means you go to the next stage of life, whether that means to get married, or to do so in the temple.  After that, you listen to the Spirit and have babies, whom you rear in righteous, and then they too go to the temple and repeat the process.  This is how we endure to the end, right?  We don't flub up, commit adultery, start using drugs, and most certainly keep the Word of Wisdom.  We sustain our leaders and magnify our callings.  We endure and grow in patience and virtue and inevitably are pretty much surely considered celestial material.  Add in becoming Bishop or Stake President, and if we're lucky we might even make it to become a General Authority.  Or shake their hand. ;) 

My friend and I used to make up mottos at girl's camp, and one that stuck for a very long time was that we were going to make it in the Celestial Kingdom.  Yes, we were going to the CK.

If someone would have told me that my interpretation was incorrect, I would've told them they were insane.  

So what if someone told you your interpretation was highly incorrect?  What if you learned, despite your emotional confirmation that you're a pretty good, righteous person, that your expectation is incorrect?  What if you meet God when leaving this life, and have quite the shocker brought to your attention that while you thought it was you who was making it to the CK and everyone else was unfortunately not accepted (because of course they weren't baptized and part of his One True Church), it was actually not the case?  What would you do?  Would you be shaking in your boots, wondering why you deserved to be taken and swindled in this manner?  Deceived?  

If it were me, I would be crying, sobbing actually, asking God why he didn't correct me along the way.  

What does it mean in Philippians 2:12, to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"?  Why would Paul say this to the Philippians, if they had already become part of Christ's church?  

In D&C 76, I got a crazy wake-up call the other week.  I mercifully learned more recently to wrestling the scriptures to mean something everyone else would tell me, and began interpreting them for myself, as they stand.  When I actually read D&C 76 according to the words on the page, I was blown away.  In this section, the qualities of those who inherit this Celestial glory are set forth, specifically in vs. 50-70.  I'm going to list the qualities out in bullet form, because I do really well with lists.  Here is my interpretation.  Feel free to take it or leave it, but it's pretty much largely copied directly from D&C 76.  Those that are "Celestial" are as follows:  
  • They come forth in the resurrection of the just.
  • They received the testimony of Jesus - meaning Jesus appearing and testifying of himself.  (This is explained later in vs. 74, when the Telestial are explained, yet the understanding is largely ignored in mainstream Mormonism.  Sorry if this hurts, but it's true.)
  • They believed on his name.  
  • They were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, according to the commandment (3 Nephi 11:25) which he has given.  {We don't do it this way anymore, but have changed the words ever so slightly.  In Revelations Book 1, where the original copy of the first revelations is recorded, in the area where the baptismal prayer is instructed, it reads "calling them by name having authority given me of Jesus Christ I baptize thee in the name of Jesus Christ the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost amen."  It says the same words in 3 Nephi ("having authority given me of Jesus Christ"), however someone, somewhere changed the word "authority" to "commissioned".  So we say "having been commissioned of Jesus Christ", rather than "having authority..."  In Isaiah 24:5, it is prophesied that when we change the ordinances (of which baptism is a crucial one), we have broken the covenant.  It reads, "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.  Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth..." (Isaiah 24:5-6).  Is changing the words of a covenant ordinance, in fact, changing the ordinance?}  
  • They kept the commandments (see Isaiah 24:5 once again) and were washed and cleansed from all their sins.
  • They received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and SEALED unto this power.
  • They overcame (what? the world?) by faith.  Interesting that the Sons of Perdition were also overcome, but by Satan (vs.30).
  • They were sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are both just and also true).
  • They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
  • They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things.  (What in the world does this mean?)
  • They are they who are truly priests and kings.
  • They are they who have received of his (the Father's) fulness.
  • They are they who have received of his (the Father's) glory.  Not just the glory of man, or of the church, or of the "Priesthood" as we know it commonly.  I believe this is something magnificent, that we cannot even fathom in our limited estates, unless we receive it truly.  
Whoa Nelly!  This is only a third of the list of what we know regarding these people who are celestial.  Before I go on, one insight I have gained from this is that the Celestial truly is in glory like the sun.  It is one giant fireball of Glory.  Hot, bright, lighting the entire solar system and then some.  Going on.
  • These are priests of the Most High.
  • These are after the order (pattern, system, organization) of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.  {Both terms are special names, in and of themselves to be pondered.  This verse alone could likely be expounded greatly by someone who truly understood the mystery and vastness of what is the Priesthood, and what are these special names.  I am not one who yet understands completely enough to begin to expound.  I think Denver Snuffer offered an eye opening talk on the Priesthood which is best read in context of his other writings, but is definitely worth studying.  This link is to the 5th talk in a series of 10, which is best understood after reading his books, in my opinion.  Reading it out of context can dam up one's progression.  But it is worth studying, as I believe he's on to something.}   
  • They are gods!  GODS!  (This reminds me of Annalee Skarin's book, "Ye Are Gods".)  
  • They are even the "Sons of God".  What does this verse mean for those of us who say everyone is a child of God?  Are we calling ourselves something that we have not yet achieved?  Or are we already children of God?  Is this a false tradition?  It makes me feel good to sing "I Am a Child of God", but I wonder, having read this now, if there is so much more here I don't understand.  
  • All things are theirs, whether in life of death, or things present or future.  They are all theirs, and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
  • They shall overcome all things.
  • They glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet, rather than in man.
  • They shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
  • They shall be brought with Christ when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.  (How are these people different – those of his whom he reigns over, vs. those he brings with him?)
  • They (again) shall be part of the first resurrection, which (we presume) is also the resurrection of the just.  
  • They come unto Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
Regarding this last point, have any of us who claim to be CK material experienced being brought to Mount Zion?  The "City of the Living God"?  Has anyone reading this experienced what it's like to be in this holiest of all cities and places?  I do not imagine the Celestial Room in the temple counts, as pretty as it is, but I could be wrong.  
  • They have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.  At my daughter's baptism last April, the bishop mentioned something about how "Now [she] had joined the Church of the Firstborn."  I think that is a misunderstanding of the term.  Unless attending church each Sunday means she is joining an innumerable company of angels/general assembly and CoE/CoF.  I think the Church of the Firstborn is quite different than many of us believe.  Again. :)   
  • Their names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
  • They are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant, who wrought out this Perfect Atonement through the shedding of his own blood.  Interesting how here it is said that he shed his own blood.  
  • And finally, 
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.  
I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not there yet.  And I wonder what it will yet take for me to get there.  Each one of these points could easily be dug into and discussed for quite a bit of time.  I'm not an expert and don't know what it all means, but I have come to the conclusion that I must certainly refocus, and work out my salvation with fear and trembling before God.

"O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day."  (Mormon 9:27)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Spiritual Gifts and Talents

This past summer my family went to a family reunion about 2 hours away, and we got to attend a small local church.  Our family literally doubled the number in attendance, and got to really participate.  The lesson was on gifts of the spirit, but the congregation interpreted it mostly to be about talents, and offering to share talents with the church.  The take away was that there, if someone had a talent, it'd be a good idea to speak up about it and let it shine.

In my ward here, growing up there were few pianists, so since I was 12 or so I had an opportunity to play in church, whether it were just for the Young Women, or sometimes in sacrament meeting.  As a college student home on summer break, I would once in awhile get asked to play the organ (not my main instrument), and learned to adjust.  But it's been almost three years since I had a music-based calling, plus a cross-country move, and people have moved into our ward and most people forgot that I even played, so it was a surprise to a lot of folks when I got called as an asst. organist a few weeks ago.  I get to trade off and on with another organist.  

Well our building got upgraded a few years ago, and I'm not trained on the new organ, with 50+ buttons and stops.  (Who knew it was desirable to play the English Horn on your organ???)  So since the start of the year, I've been up there trying to just find out where the volume pedal is, and kinda feeling like a buffoon when I couldn't even get the basic sound I wanted.  Someone offered to get a more experienced organist up to help me figure things out, and while I didn't want her to know how ignorant I was, I accepted the offer.  So this seasoned organist shows me a few things, and WOW, what a difference!  From there on I was able to go to town, and really enjoyed playing.

Again yesterday, another organist friend (also a counselor in the Stake Presidency) was around and I asked him to help me find the buttons that the lady had shown me previously (yeah, I forgot from week to week!  It turns out the buttons toggle on both the top AND bottom.  I was only pushing on the top...)   Again, had even more of a blast.  Playing the organ!!!  I never thought it was my my thing, but I seriously loved it.

I'm sharing this because I really loved an example I heard Denver Snuffer share about mowing the lawn in Zion.  (Can't recall if I saw it on his blog or read it in a book.)  In Zion, he explains, one might feel inclined to mow the lawn, and love it so much that he keeps on mowing into his neighbor's lawn.  And so on and so on until he feels content and pretty much mowed the whole neighborhood and then some.  Can you imagine if that were how church were?  To sit and play music and learn/master a new instrument, just because you feel like it?  Or to stay at the church, studying scripture or visiting as long as you want, without worry of vacating the space?

What would you do, if you had all the time in the world, and no worries or pressure?  What gift or talent or service would you volunteer to go to town on?  And is this remotely related to any calling you have now?  How would church be, if it were small and quaint like the one we visited last summer, and you had to stretch and grow in the service of a calling that you chose, because you simply desired it?  I really love this idea.

For added fun, I must share.  Two Sundays ago, I realized if I really wanted to master the sound, I'd have to learn to start playing the pedals.  The only problem was that I couldn't see them because of my skirt.  So guess who's wearing pants to church!!!  First time in my life and I have never had such a fun time at church as I did yesterday.  I almost sat Indian style in Relief Society too, but didn't want to make my friend jealous that she had to sit in a skirt.  That is, after all, my favorite way to sit.  Maybe next week.

And for your viewing pleasure, a most amazing organ performance.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Last Temple Recommend Interview

I had a pleasant visit today with a member of my bishopric.  He is a really good man, and I think he did a beautiful job magnifying his calling as a counselor.  I don't know him very well, but my limited interactions speak well of him.

About three weeks ago, he alerted me that I would be released from my calling at the start of the new year (today, hallelujah), and then extended a calling as an assistant ward organist.  He also asked if we could renew my temple recommend, which was set to expire at the end of December.  We set up an appointment for the next week.

I warned him as we got into the interview that it might not be his average interview.  He was already filling out my new recommend and I figured fair warning would be kind.  I said I have a few concerns.  Had he not called me in for the interview, I would have just let it lapse, knowing that it would very likely not be renewed.

So the questions began.

Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?  Yes, absolutely.     

Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?  Yes, absolutely.

Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days? Yes, (nod).   

Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Here we go. As of October, this has become a fully loaded question. I'm concerned that my response won't be what you are expecting here. May we discuss this?

First, the word "sustain". I have always believed sustain means to support. I eat food to support my body in having energy, stamina, and life. I can't think of many other places where we use the word sustain. I'm actually quite a bit perplexed here, because Elder Nelson, in the last General Conference, as a "living oracle" effectively shape-shifted how the church interprets that word, and I cannot agree to it if that is what the word means. In fact, I quite object to it. He said,

"Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us."
Something about this talk just felt all wrong.  It caused an argument between my mom and I before Elder Nelson had even finished speaking.  The internet was ablaze with those who objected to these words.  In essence, and put briefly, I do not feel comfortable making such an oath.  And why should I have to?  In sincere honesty, it feels, looks, and smells Satanic.

Sustaining the prophet or leaders is not an ordinance.  It is not something of eternal significance, and if you believe it is, you are guilty of idolatry.  Idolatry is when we insert someone or something between ourselves and God.  I can follow a prophet's counsel insofar as he speaks the word of God.  Does that mean I must sustain him?

Are there any accounts in the scriptures, the Old or New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or Pearl of Great Price, where prophets insisted that membership of the church sustain them?  The one account I can think of which remotely includes the word sustain was when Alma was teaching and at times the people offered food and supplies for the sustenance of the men preaching.  It was to sustain life.  There was no need for any "oath-like indication that [his] calling as a prophet [was] legitimate and binding upon [them]."  In fact, I would assert that Alma would have shrieked in terror at the thought of making such an oath.

It is one thing to raise the arm in agreement, as in a vote.  It is completely another beast to not mean that you are making a promise.  A "Heil Hitler".  A salute to Mao.  I won't do it.

But do I pray for these men?  Do I hope for them to lead this people righteously?  Do I hope they will learn from the City Creek debacle and not continue to build malls which people are begging on the street for dispursements?  Absolutely.  Do I go to church and attempt to magnify my callings?  Do I support the other people called and try not to complain about how they do things?  Yes.

As other questions followed, they were more of the same "sustaining" questions.  My counselor was not familiar with Elder Nelson's talk, so we agreed to reconvene two weeks later, which landed us on today.  I also had some questions regarding why we do not honor the Word of Wisdom as it is written.  He requested I email him a copy of a document which put my previous beliefs in question, and I forwarded him this.

I shared personal testimony about the importance of NOT making oaths to humans, outside of ordinances, and that they are only to be done when approved by God.  I learned the folly of it in my own life, and I take it very seriously.  He seemed to understand, and we adjourned until today.

Today, this sweet brother shared several stories and examples today of his personal testimony of the prophet.  I didn't mind this, but in truth my issue is not whether or not Thomas S. Monson is a prophet or not.  He could be, and in all honesty it does not matter to me.  Because I don't worship him.  It is God who saves, and it will never, ever be a mortal man.  To indicate that I recognize his counsel as "binding" upon me means that somehow I know the future, and can predict that whatever he says, I will follow.  I won't do it, because I can't predict the future.  If we fall back to sustaining, pre-October 2014, then we have another discussion at hand.  But we don't.  And we know – at least I do – that this new phraseology will be regurgitated over and over again in conferences to come.

If memory serves correctly, I went through the temple for the first time on Saturday, August 27, 2000.  I remember coming home and crying because I felt suffocated in the garments, but I quickly adjusted, thank heaven.  Since then, I have been to the temple countless times, both on my own and with family.  In the last 14 years I can guarantee that I have been to the temple more than all of them.  That's not to say I'm holier than anyone; I just had a drive to go.  And for the first time in 13.5 years, I do not possess a current temple recommend.

Not because I don't have a testimony of God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, or of the Holy Ghost.

Not because I don't have a testimony of the restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Not because I don't keep the law of chastity.

Not because I don't keep my covenants.

Not because I don't go to church every week.

Not because I have a Word of Wisdom problem (although I do struggle with eating too much meat and sugar, and have lots of questions about why we don't use wine in our holy sacraments.)

Not because I have a problem with any egregious sins.

Not because I struggle to wear the garment.  I have no problem with it.

Not because I beat or abuse my spouse or children, although surely there is a better way to raise them properly.

I do not have a current recommend to attend the temple because I refuse to raise my arm to make an oath-like indication that I recognize the "prophet's" calling to be legitimate and binding upon me.

Some may say I'm being nit-picky.  I'm not.  In fact, I take this very, very seriously.  Probably more seriously than many.

As I left and came home, I felt some sadness around this.  Not because I am attached to the card itself, or because I feel deprived of blessings.  I attended and served enough in the temple to get a good idea of what it's all about.  I have done quite a bit of work for my ancestors, as well as my husband's ancestors.  I do not regret being honest in that interview, and I was completely honest.  We could have talked for hours, but I didn't care to keep him that long.  After all, it was fast Sunday, and I was feeling nauseous and headachy as things went on.

The sadness I felt is the darkness and blindness of the minds, which Joseph Smith warned us about.  We do, quite sincerely, worship a prophet.  Or I should say, a president of an earthly organization which will not endure through the millenium because it will have been done away with.  And we likewise worship the other men in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

Today in church the bishop read a letter from one of the missionaries serving from our ward.  This elder wrote that he was in a meeting where Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was entering, and how everyone in the room stood when he entered.  He didn't know who was entering at first, and then imagine his surprise when it was Elder Holland who entered the room!  He was ecstatic!  It was better than "Justin Bieber"!  He even got to shake his hand!  And he joked that he was never going to wash his hand again.

The congregation laughed, and it was all fun and silly, but the severity of this joke set in and it took all I had not to look from the organ where I was sitting, down to my husband in the congregation.  It would have done me in.  We hero worship.  Elder Holland and the apostles could quickly squelch this hero worship by insisting it stop.  Immediately!  A quick scolding over the pulpit would put an end to it in a heartbeat  But we promote it.  The congregation is never scolded.

Apostles are not royalty.  They are not the Savior.  We ought not need to stand to show them respect.

It was not always this way.  When Joseph was alive, he would have struck down such an idea that one would be prohibited from entering the Holy of Holies for this reason.

President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel--said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church--that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls--applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall--that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy. (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 5, p. 237.)
But what does it matter what Joseph thinks.  As my leader rightly reflected, "A living prophet is better than a dead prophet."  So what do the scriptures matter at all?

In 2015, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they don't.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Read it Differently - 3 Nephi 16:4-5

3 Nephi 16: 4-5

"And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer."  
And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel." 
For some reason I can't quite get over the notion of there being other tribes in the earth that we know not of.  I remembering reading a book by Cleon Skousen, "The Cleansing of America".  He purports that there are people living beneath the North Pole, who shall come forth.  I don't have an opinion on that, but I think this verse may be less dramatic.  That we have other tribes, and we ourselves might possibly fall into these tribes, whom we know not of.  Could it be that the people in China (for example) are one of these massive tribes of Israel, and through the teaching of this book, the remnant of their seed (these other tribes) shall be brought in to a knowledge of their Redeemer?

With the ability of the internet, this is increasingly popular.  I had a friend who said that the Chinese filter their emails, so that pieces which mention Christ are omitted.  I don't know how they do it.  She was visiting there, and was surprised to come home and find that her messages were edited en route.  Either way, I trust that simply by sharing things online, the people that need to read it will discover it.  Thank God for the ability to speak freely.  I hope those who need to read these words will be brought to them.

I find less and less intrigue in critiquing others' faith, whether it be within my own religion, or without.  People will be held accountable for their own sins.  I can only share my own beliefs, and if there be truth in it, I trust that if that soul gives place in their being for the Holy Spirit to administer, it will.  God will be the judge.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Read it Differently - Helaman 5:12

Helaman 5:12.  Read it differently.

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind; yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."
I believe I have commented on this verse before.  Lately it's been fresh on my mind, and today I was guided to read here first.  I think oftentimes, when we grown up reading verses in church which are "scripture mastery" or often read, we tend to read them in a rhythm and our brain bypasses the true meaning.  I have this one memorized from when I was 16 or so, but all I think of is Christ as a sure foundation.  There's more to it.

Then the devil sends his mighty winds.  Oh wait – do we even believe in the devil anymore?  How can he send forth mighty winds?  Do those exist?

Yea, his shafts in the whirlwind.  What are shafts?  Is this like when we have a tornado, and things are flying in the air, and if you're not careful you get impaled?  Like you're just minding your own business, and things come out of nowhere and punch you in the gut?  Just when things are going well, something random comes and messes things up big time.

Yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you.  These seem more predictable.  You see them coming.  Dark clouds gathering, winds building, thunder and lightening.  And then the hail just beats and beats upon you until it leaves dents and bruises, just like on the cars in the car lot.  The damage takes a long time to fix, but it's repairable.

It shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo.  How many times does the hail and mighty storm get us down?  In the last few months I feel like I've been pounded upon.  Why?

Where was my foundation?  I say it is Christ, but I believe I have been pushed to and fro because it was not sufficiently on Christ.

My foundation was on money, business, other peoples' opinions,..

If it were truly on Christ, would the devil have any power over me, to bring me down to the gulf of misery?  Would I be miserable?