Drawing Closer to God and Eliminating our Sense of Spiritual Entitlement #ldsconf

This conference has been an absolute delight. So many sermons have stood out to me with clarity and power. One of my absolute favorites was delivered by Elder Dale G. Renlund at the conclusion of the Saturday Morning Session.

There are three themes from Elder Renlund’s talk that stood out to me and that I want to write about briefly. First, the relationship between distance and spiritual entitlement. Second, how our desire to sin is reduced as we draw closer to the Savior. And third, the role that sacred ordinances play in the process of drawing closer to God.

Distance and Entitlement

Elder Renlund spoke about the relationship between our distance from our father in heaven and our sense of spiritual entitlement. He noted, that the more distant we are from our Father in Heaven, the more likely we are to voice grievances and to see unfairness in our circumstances in life. At first glance, this seems wholly contradictory. Surely, those who are closer to God would be those who feel entitled to blessings for their obedience.

But when we consider examples in the scriptures and in our own lives, Elder Renlund’s teaching ring’s true. He used the story of Nephi and Laman and Lemuel, but we can find many other instances in the scriptures where those who were unfaithful also felt particularly entitled to blessing and protection from Heavenly Father. For instance, the people in the days of Isaiah and Lehi felt that because they were “chosen” they were entitled to God’s protection. They felt this was the case irrespective of their spiritual standing or willingness to live righteously. Christ also strongly condemned those hypocritical Pharisees who made long prayers as a sign of righteousness, but devoured the widows mite and were distant from God. In our day, Joseph Smith was warned of those in the world who “draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

In contrast, there are many examples of the righteous bearing indignity with long-suffering. From Job to Joseph Smith, the scriptures are replete with such exemplars who understood and did not murmur. And of course, we can consider as Elder Renlund did, the matchless example of the Savior who suffered without cause and yet bore his suffering for our sake. Self-righteousness and entitlement truly are inversely correlated with our relationship to God.

Our Desire to Sin 

Just as entitlement and Self-righteousness dissipate as we draw closer to God, so too does our desire and disposition to Sin. When we are distant from God, we are likely to expect him to excuse us in our sins. For after all, we think we deserve mercy and grace. And we see our selves as righteous and deserving of salvation.  But as we realize the price that our redeemer paid to redeem us of our sins, we cease to think of grace as cheap or cost free. We realize that when we sin, we add to the burden borne by the Savior in Gethsemane. We realize also that we are hopelessly in need of redeeming grace. Without God’s mercy, we are truly reprobate and the worst of sinners. This recognition pushes us to repentance and true change. We no longer take for granted the many drops of blood which were shed for us.

The Role of Ordinances

Elder Renlund spoke of ordinances, particularly the sacrament, as the vehicles by which we can draw closer to the savior and gain a greater appreciation for his redemptive sacrifice.

I loved his example of the sacrament being administered personally for a woman who the deacons had accidentally forgotten. One of the most tender experiences on my mission came as we would weekly go to the home of an elderly sister in her 90’s and administer the sacrament to her. She was one of the most humble and faithful individuals I have ever met. And each week, she would radiate such joy and gratitude as we brought her the emblems of the Lord’s supper. From her, I learned so much about the sacred importance of the sacrament. Each week, that ordinance is an opportunity to remember our savior and to improve ourselves through his grace and through the power of the Holy Ghost.

The other ordinances of the Gospel are likewise essential. I have especially felt the healing and sanctifying power of the holy temple. Every time I go to the temple, I feel my nature incrementally improved and feel myself drawing nearer to God. I am grateful for the ability to go frequently to the temple and to again and again participate in those sacred ordinances. And I am grateful to weekly partake of the sacrament and reflect on the atonement of the savior. These ordinances point me to Christ and draw me closer to God.

Cross-posted on Symphonyofdsisent

Donald Trump, the Rule of Law, and the Arm of Flesh

Members of the Church often voice outrage when the Prophet or one of the apostles speaks out on a political issue or offers his thinking regarding the qualities necessary for political office. But nevertheless supporting righteous leaders and opposing wicked ones is a religious as well as a civic duty. In Utah, the First Presidency recently released a statement urging members to participate in our caucuses coming up on the 22nd. I don’t believe similar statements were read over the pulpit in other states, but general statements encouraging civic participation have also been common.

This is not surprising since Latter Day-Saints are commanded, “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.”

In the April 1972 conference (a few months before a Presidential election) President Benson spoke of civic standards that we as latter day saints should follow  when selecting leaders. Aside from references to communism, most of this sermon could comfortably be delivered next month in conference and be just as timely and topical. Continue reading

The Smoke of the Fire

Elder David A. Bednar in the LDS Face2Face event for youth was asked a question by an eighth grader named David regarding how to stay strong in the face of constant opposition and skepticism from his peers at school. In response, Elder Bednar turned to the scriptures and pointed David to the story of Sadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He promised that as David (and we) study this story, we would learn how to overcome opposition and stay unspotted from the world.

In particular, Elder Bednar pointed out one detail of the story that he thought was highly significant. When these brave young men emerged from the furnace, not was “an hair of their head” not “singed” but significantly “the smell of fire had” not “passed on them.” Elder Bednar noted that anyone who had ever been at a campfire would know that it was exceedingly difficult to keep the smell of fire off of us. And yet, these young men had been thrown into the midst of an exceedingly strong fire and yet emerged unscathed.

Elder Bednar suggested that we should ask ourselves how they were able to emerge from the midst of the fire without the smell of the smoke. I don’t know that I have a definitive answer to that question, but I did have a couple of thoughts.

First, the three were among those who consecrated themselves by avoiding the meat and wine of the king. Thus, they had kept the commandments of God and kept themselves pure from taint. Second, they were therefore given great spiritual knowledge, skill, and wisdom by God (Daniel 1: 17). Third, the three were unapologetic when asked by Nebuchadnezzar whether it was true that they refused to bow down to him. Fourth, they had sufficient faith both to be rescued and not to be rescued (“but if not”). It is significant to me that they did not demand rescue from God, but were willing to accept whatever he had in store. They placed their will in line with his. In Nebuchadnezzar’s words, they “yielded their bodies” in the service of God.
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The Tree of Life, the Great and Spacious Building, and Suicides

I had a follow up thought to Geoff’s post about recent LGBTQ suicides that I thought should have its own post.

Last week in Sunday School, I taught a lesson on Lehi’s dream. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on the symbols of the dream and their meaning for members of the Church. And I believe the dream reveals a fallacy in the argument that the Church’s teachings cause gay suicides.

If we think about Lehi’s dream, there are four groups. One goes straight to the great and spacious building, one looks for the tree but quickly wanders off, one reaches the tree but falls away because of the mocking from those in the building, and one group remains at the tree and continually enjoys the fruit.

What I noticed as I’ve been thinking about this dream is that while a great multitude of those “feeling” their way straight to the building eventually get there, none of those who started on the path towards the tree (or those who get to the tree) but wander off to try to go the building ever actually get there. They are all simply described as wandering off and lost.
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When the Temple Helps: Manaus Temple Caravan

There hasn’t been a post in the When the Temple Helps series in a while, and I felt impressed to share this video when I saw it today. It is a beautiful story about the Saints in Manaus, Brazil, who had to travel over 3,000 miles to go to the Sao Paulo temple. As one who served in a place that is about as far from the temple as possible, I could relate to the faith and perseverance of these saints.