Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Note on Ordination, Ordinances

All of us know ordinations and ordinances are vital to our salvation and exaltation. We have often defined ordinances in our various church meetings as sacred acts which, when performed properly, contribute to our salvation. Ordinations are necessary to pass along a priesthood office or calling.

This general understanding of ordinances and ordinations are correct. There are certain ordinances, such as baptism, which we must have for salvation; and there is a certain connection to the priesthood required for exaltation. Keeping this in mind, Elder Packer teaches: "Remember, the word order means to put in rows or in proper relationship. Ordaining is the process of doing it, and ordinance is the ceremony by which it is done" (The Holy Temple, 217).

Ordination, then, is the process of putting things into proper relationship and ordinances are the ceremony by which this relationship organization is performed. More specifically, through ordinations and ordinances each of us may be put into our proper relationship with God and with our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is done piece by piece, bit by bit, ordinance by ordinance until we become "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).

If this is true, than ordinances such as sacraments, baptisms, endowments and marriage are more than symbolic expressions of faith and devotion; on the contrary, these are also the practical means by which we are justified, restored and sealed to our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, His Son, and our heavenly family. No wonder we are required to extend these blessings to both the living and the dead, for how could a person without these ordinances expect to return to their Heavenly Father?

It becomes us as Latter-day Saints to do all we can to help in this great work putting the family of God into their proper relationship with their Heavenly Father. We can do this through missionary work, temple attendance and teaching our families. The Lord has promised us that as we do all we can for the salvation of others we will also bring salvation to our own souls (Mark 8:35-37). Let us all do all we can for this great cause.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moral Discipline and Public Policy

The sacrament meeting remarks in my ward today were based on an excellent conference talk from Elder Christofferson called, "Moral Discipline." As I came home and reviewed that talk, I found significant commentary on current policy decisions. Rather than paraphrase poorly, I think it would be worthwhile to simply include an excerpt of that talk. After defining moral agency as the right to make choices and the obligation to account for those choices; and after defining moral discipline as the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right; Elder Christofferson says this:

The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16).

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. . . .

“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”

In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.”

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.

The policy implications here are many, but I am especially intrigued by the question of the role of government in the development of the moral fabric of society. It seems an especially frustrating question for the current political schools of thought: the right can no more ignore their way into a satisfactory laissez faire solution than the left can regulate their way into a socialist one; nor can either claim innocence in this failure of society that we are taught has spanned periods of heavy influence for both sides over more than a generation.

From Elder Christofferson's talk, it seems the role of government and society in developing the moral discipline required for the common good is twofold: 1) fostering home atmospheres where moral discipline may be taught and 2) denouncing sin. These solutions require active doing; as a society we should protect and promote traditional marriage, reject obscenities and sexual content in our entertainment and be family friendly in our legislation. There is much that can be done. There is much that must be done.

Elder Christofferson warns: We cannot presume that the future will resemble the past—that things and patterns we have relied upon economically, politically, socially will remain as they have been. Perhaps our moral discipline, if we will cultivate it, will have an influence for good and inspire others to pursue the same course. We may thereby have an impact on future trends and events. At a minimum, moral discipline will be of immense help to us as we deal with whatever stresses and challenges may come in a disintegrating society.

Ultimately, the improvement or continued decay of moral discipline in our societies rests with us. If all of us were to be more morally disciplined in our personal lives, that would soon be reflected in our government and in our society. Whether enough of us are morally disciplined to turn the tides of decay or not, this principle will help each of us in our personal lives. On that, we have a prophet's promise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who's on the Lord's Side, Who?

There seems to be a growing trend among LDS bloggers to attempt to be scientific or neutral in their posts. Perhaps we hope in this way to make our blogs appear more credible, less biased or more attractive to a nonmember audience. Speaking of blogs generally rather than individually, I suggest this is not the correct approach.

Elder Packer taught, "The idea that we must be neutral and argue quite as much in favor of the adversary as we do in favor of righteousness is neither reasonable nor safe." He continues, "We should not be ashamed to be committed, to be converted, to be biased in favor of the Lord" (The Mantle Is Far, Far Geater Than the Intellect, 22 August 1981).

Elder Packer warns, "In an effort to be objective, impartial, and scholarly, a writer or a teacher may unwittingly be giving equal time to the adversary."

Might I be so bold as to suggest Elder Packer's advice applies to those of us blogging under the name of Mormonism or as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know we cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). We know the Lord spews the lukewarm (Rev 3:16). So let us then no longer be lukewarm.

As you and I try to improve our blogs, we can easily reference this talk by Elder Ballard. Both Elder Packer and Elder Ballard's talks are worth reading in full. Among other things, Elder Ballard teaches:

Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior. Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul has admonished us to not be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Let us all stand firmly and speak with faith in sharing our message with the world.

As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of new media, remember who you are—Latter-day Saints. Remember, as the proverb states, that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that contention is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29). There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.

This is sound counsel. I hope my blog, as my life, will be seen as an example of a believer (1 Tim. 4:12); that you and I will let our light so shine (Matt. 5:16) and help edify, inspire and uplift a downtrodden world.

Happy blogging!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Not This The Fast That I Have Chosen?

When we dig deep, most of us want the same things. We want to feel peace, freedom and the love of God. We want to be healthy, happy, making progress and to know God is listening and approves of us. Deep down, these are the kinds of things we really want more than anything else. The Lord taught Isaiah how obeying the law of the fast brings us the things we want most:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be they rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. 

If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out they soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:6-11).

We can become the celestial person described in these verses if we follow the examples of Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ in obeying the law of the fast. These three prophets, including Christ who is the son of God, also represent three different causes for which we may fast.

Under Mosaic law, the children of Israel would fast each year for their own welfare. On this day, known as the day of Atonement, special sacrifices were made by the high priest, in combination with the fast, to bring forgiveness and strength to the people (see Lev. 16:30, Heb. 9:24). As Moses, we may also fast for our own welfare or help in our daily lives.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah laments the iniquity and hardness of the people. He feels like no one has heard him, that his efforts have been in vain, and he is discouraged enough to wish he could die. The Lord had Elijah fast for forty days and directed him to Mount Horeb. Then, fasting and in a temple-like setting, the Lord taught Elijah through wind, an earthquake and a still, small voice. Elijah was told of faithful thousands and directed to the home of Elisha, his new missionary companion. Like Elijah, we may see miracles as we fast for others.

Finally, Christ fasted at the beginning of his ministry. Victor Ludlow taught, "Jesus' atoning sacrifice symbolizes the potential value of a fulfilling fast. His fast was a valuable preparation for his mortal ministry, culminating in his atoning sacrifice. When we fast, we symbolically reenact the sacrifice of Christ in our own flesh: we deny ourselves the things that sustain our physical being so as to bring our spirits into communion with God, and this makes us better Saints... In fasting we reconcile ourselves spiritually to God and sacrifice our physical means for our fellowman in a truly Christlike manner" (Principles, 316).

A fast for our own welfare, the welfare of others or to bring our spirits into communion with God will be most effective when we remember the two great commandments: to love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-40). We add power to our fast when we show our love to God through frequent prayer; similar power is added when we show our love to our neighbor through generous fast offerings.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it's simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation" (The Law of the Fast, May 2001).

Of our offerings, Elder Wirthlin reminds us that "our offering to bless the poor is a measure of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father." President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, "Each member should contribute a generous fast offering to care for the poor and the needy. This offering should be at least the value of the two meals not eaten while fasting. Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord... We ought to be very, very generous. I think that we should give... perhaps much, much more-- ten times more when we are in a position to do it... If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally" (And the Lord Called His People Zion, December 1984).

Through the law of the fast we may develop the discipline, the confidence, the gratitude, the spiritual gifts, the freedom from sin, the soft, unselfish heart and the eye single to the glory of God to become the glorious people described by Isaiah. In fasting for ourselves, for others and for communion with God, and combined with prayer and generous offerings, we can obtain the important things we want most in life and thereafter.

Is this the fast that you have chosen?

(See also: Exodus 34:28, 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, Judges 20:26, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Matthew 4:2-11, D&C 59:13-14, D&C 88:76, 119, D&C 109:8, 16, Luke 10:30-34)