Take You Back

The reason why I stand
The answer lies in You
You hung to make me strong
Though my praise was few
When I fall I bring Your name down
But I have found in You
A heart that bleeds forgiveness
replacing all these thoughts of painful memories
But I know that Your response will always be

I’ll take you back always
Even when your fight is over now
I’ll take you back always
Even when the pain is coming through
I’ll take you back

Take You Back ~ Jeremy Camp

We are imperfect beings sent to live on an imperfect world. We live, make mistakes, and grow from those experiences. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. In fact, He expects us to make mistakes. Of course that’s not saying He condones our failures, but He knows we will always fall short. It’s inevitable.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

But this doesn’t excuse us from not trying our hardest.

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

We are told to be perfect, as God is perfect. An impossibility, yes. But God is no dummy. We must strive for perfection. Ahhh, now that sounds a little bit easier, right? Well, maybe not, but at least it makes more sense.

To be completely honest, however, I’m absolutely terrible at this whole ‘striving for perfection’ thing. Even more candidly, I often feel like a failure. But such thoughts do not come from the Big Man Upstairs. More specifically, the source of that negativity is the small man in the basement, Satan himself. He wants us to feel as though we cannot return to the straight and narrow path. It’s too late to turn back around. It’s too far to walk back. Its no use, you’ll just miss it and stray from the path again. Perhaps Satan’s most deceitful lie is the idea that Jesus doesn’t want us back. But who did Jesus spend the majority of His ministry chillin’ out with? The publicans and sinners!

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17)

Satan would have us believe that Jesus will not take us back, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jesus will always take us back, so long as we repent and have faith in Him. Jesus said to take His yoke upon us and we will find rest. Allow Him to carry your burdens. He suffered and died for us. He took our sins upon Himself. He wants us to turn to Him and place our troubles upon His shoulders. So let’s allow Him to do us. Let’s use the atonement of Christ. Let’s repent and follow Him. He will always take us back.

Privileges

Growing up, I attended church… mostly because my parents made me, and I liked to hang out with my friends. Church really wasn’t a spiritual thing for me, and if I could find a reason to not go, I exploited it. I remember one weekend when I was thirteen, I got a bad sunburn on my shoulders and used that as my excuse. I was convinced I had gotten away with it until a couple of my youth leaders showed up at the front door and made me come to church with them.

We moved to south-central Idaho when I was fifteen. Once again, church was more of a chore, something I was obliged to do. On top of that my family didn’t feel entirely welcome in our congregation. I made friends though, and they were the main reason I tolerated it.

Shortly after we moved, my dad lost his job and we eventually could no longer remain there. We got split up a little bit. My mom and I moved to Idaho Falls, my sister was going to college, my brother was living in Provo, Utah, and my dad moved to Salt Lake City to stay with some relatives while he looked for a job. This time around, I said “screw it” to church. Pardon the French, but that’s honestly how I felt. My mom worked just about every night, so we she was busy trying to regain her energy Sunday morning. I, on the other hand, had no such excuse. The meetinghouse was only a mile and a half away, and I could easily have attended by myself, but I didn’t. I simply didn’t care.

Did our lives fall apart? Did we lose the influence of the Spirit in our home? Etc? Etc? No. In fact, those nine months I spent there were awesome. I loved going to another new school and having new experiences. I loved the time spent with my mom; our relationship was strengthened tremendously, and the other relationships I developed have changed my life forever. I continued to grow and learn from my experiences.

My dad eventually found a job and house down in Utah, and once my school year finished we moved down. We began attending church again. I was a bit apprehensive about the whole “Utah Mormons” thing, but something strange happened. For once, I felt as though I actually belonged in that pew. I felt at home, and church quickly became an event I looked forward to, instead of dreading its arrival as I had done for so many years.

As I began to finally get something spiritual out of church, I realized what I had been missing those nine months I blew it off. Yes, my life hadn’t been terrible, but I had been missing out on spiritual growth and experiences. My life could’ve been so much better, yet I had settled for less than what I was privileged to receive. The Lord gave me a wonderful opportunity and I had only taken a small portion of it. Who knows what might’ve happened had I possessed a different attitude and looked at life through a brighter shade. Well, I know. I know I would’ve learned so much more had my heart and mind been more focused on the Lord, seeking out good things, instead of trying to run away from what I had been taught as a child.

This is just a simple example. Take from it what you would like. But so many times in our lives we live beneath our privileges. We can’t comprehend the blessings God has in store for us, if we only seek Him out and do what He has commanded us to do.

Nothing and Everything

At times we feel insignificant. Sometimes it happens in our own homes, among our family and friends. Take that and compare it with the community, now it may seem like we really are invisible. Then widen the perspective and look at the state, providence, or territory we live in. We’re even smaller. Keep panning out and go the country… the continent… the planet… the universe. We truly are very small when we look at life’s big picture.

Indeed, we are nothing compared to the vastness of the universe and the power of the One who organized it. Understanding this fact is what it means to be humble.

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon stated, “...I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily…” (Mosiah 4:11)

However, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that because we are unworthy, we are worth nothing, or capable of nothing. This is not true. There is a great potential within each of us, but God is required in order to reach that potential.

In the last LDS General Conference, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency said, “And while we may look at the vast expanse of the universe and say, “What is man in comparison to the glory of creation?” God Himself said we are the reason He created the universe! His work and glory—the purpose for this magnificent universe—is to save and exalt mankind. In other words, the vast expanse of eternity, the glories and mysteries of infinite space and time are all built for the benefit of ordinary mortals like you and me. Our Heavenly Father created the universe that we might reach our potential as His sons and daughters.

This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God.

We are everything to God, and with Him can be everything. Near the conclusion of his talk, President Uchtdorf states,

Brothers and sisters, the most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love. God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season—He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him.”

We do matter to God. His work and glory is to help us achieve eternal life. That is the reason He created this universe for us, His children. We truly and literally are children of deity, and our Father loves each of us with an incomprehensible love. We are unworthy,  yet we are of great worth. Without God we are nothing, yet with Him we are everything.

Applying the Blood

Faith and works is a big topic of debate among many Christians. I’ve discussed it with many people in and out of the LDS church and I’ve thought about it a lot within my own mind. As missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people will sometimes seek us out and single out a particular point of Mormon doctrine to hammer on. Faith and works is a favorite among some.

“You guys think you can earn your way to Heaven,” many have told me. I emphatically respond with, “No, that’s not true.” But the point never comes off very clearly as they explain to me and my companion that grace is a gift from Christ, and therefore faith is the only thing required to enter into God’s kingdom. This Biblical analogy of the Atonement as a gift has made me think a lot about how to properly explain the Latter-day Saint viewpoint of faith, works, and the grace of Jesus Christ. Here’s where I’ll start…

A gift must be received. No one gives a gift forcefully, otherwise it is no longer a gift. Likewise, Jesus Christ suffered and died for us, giving us the gift of the Atonement. With outstretched hands, His grace is within our grasp. He will not force it upon us, but we must reach out to Him and take the gift. It is not enough to see the gift in His hands and say, “Hey thanks, Jesus! I can see that that gift can bring me salvation.” Such is faith, dead without works, recognizing that only through Christ can we be saved but doing nothing about it. Here is the reaching out…

We read in Exodus 12:23-24, And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

This is known as the Passover. The Lord sent the destroying angel to kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The children of Israel, however, were instructed to take the blood of a lamb and strike it on the posts of their doors. This would cause the destroying angel to pass by them and spare the firstborn.

In the most recent General Conference, W. Christopher Waddell, of the Seventy, said,

“The blood used by the Israelites, symbolic of the Savior’s future Atonement, was a product of the sacrifice they had offered. Nevertheless, the sacrifice and the blood alone would not have been sufficient to obtain the promised blessing. Without the application of the blood to the door posts, the sacrifice would have been in vain.

As he states, it was the application of the blood that saved them. The blood itself, without applying it in the way instructed by the Lord, would have left the firstborn dead. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, by itself, cannot save us. We must apply His atonement in our lives, which requires both faith and works.

So… no, we can’t work our way to Heaven, and a belief in Christ without applying His atoning sacrifice in our lives will not save us either. We must believe and do.

Who We Are

A lot of people have recently heard about a certain Texas Evangelical pastor and his comments regarding “Mormonism” and Mitt Romney. Apparently, in the eyes of this particular individual, Latter-day Saints do not qualify as Christians.

Ignore the fact that the name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ignore the fact that we whole-heartedly profess that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world and that only through Him can salvation come. Ignore the fact that each week we partake of bread and water that represent His body and blood. Ignore the fact that we do believe in and follow the Holy Bible.

I believe that this was one thing this man brought up. In his mind, Mormons do not adhere to the teachings of the Bible, and that because we do not conform to this standard we are therefore non-Christian and, theologically, a cult. I’ll be a bit bold and straight up say that this man is a very confused individual. Latter-day Saints do in fact follow the teachings of the Bible. In fact, we’re the closest thing to Christ’s primitive church. Where else do you find prophets and apostles? Where else do you find temples and baptisms for the dead?

This man also said that the LDS church is a cult because while a true church is founded by divinity, a cult is founded by a man. He cited Joseph Smith as his example. Once again, this pastor does not understand. Who started his church? The Protestant movement began in what is commonly called the Reformation, a time period most schoolchildren are (or should be) aware of. The men that led this movement were indeed inspired, yet they never claimed to be prophets. They never claimed to have been sent from God to reclaim Christ’s true gospel. No, they were good men trying to fix what they knew how to fix. To this pastor I would say, “Your church was founded by a man. Not mine!”

Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. In the Bible we read that surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)

And how will the Lord reveal Himself to His servants the prophets?

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. (Numbers 12:6)

Yes, false prophets will exist, as we read in Matthew. But we will also know them by their fruits. The Book of Mormon is the fruit of the prophet Joseph Smith. By reading it one can know of its divine nature. People say Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, and that it’s crazy to think the Book of Mormon actually came from God. I challenge such people to read it, and they’ll know for themselves that it’s crazier to think Joseph Smith did write it. No wicked man could write the Book of Mormon, and no good man would write it unless he was commissioned of God to do so.

Cult. Crazy. Non-Christian. Call us what you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are Christians, that we do believe in and follow the teachings of the Bible, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s kingdom upon the earth today.

A Trip Through Galatians

This is going to be a kind of… random/disorganized post. I’m just going to let my thoughts run straight into my fingers on this keyboard, so bear with me. So my companion and I were walking down a street one day in the great Montanan metropolis of Hungry Horse when suddenly, a man pulls up beside us. He says something random that I can’t remember and then asks,

“What company are you with?”

“We’re LDS missionaries,” I respond after a pause, somewhat perplexed by his question. I tap the name tag on my shirt pocket.

“Oh,” he says. “I guess the shirts and… Well hey, you ever read Galatians?”

“Yeah, I have.”

“Well, you should read it again. Read it over and over again.” He smiles. “Eventually you’ll get it.”

I smile back. “Alright, sir. You have a good day.”

Well, this morning I remembered that short conversation and decided to break out Galatians again. Paul begins boldly, speaking out against those of The Church who were engaging in the perversion of the gospel.

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

I wonder if the man we talked to was trying to perhaps… suggest something. Well, if I could talk to him again, I’d tell him that Paul was referencing an early apostasy of The Church, an embryo, if you will, of the Great Apostasy, the Dark Ages.

Paul then continues,

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Here Paul basically says that anything other than what Christ taught is not His doctrine. It doesn’t matter if an angel came down from Heaven to preach it. If it’s not Christ’s gospel, it’s no good. The doctrines of man will not and cannot bring salvation. But here’s where it gets good, and here is where I’ll end this little rant of mine.

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

I will echo Paul’s question. Do I seek to please men or God? I could easily preach things pleasing to man. “All you have to do is believe in Christ and you will be saved!” Easy as that, and people would give me money to do it. But no, that’s not what I do. We don’t seek to please men, but God. Work out your salvation with a steadfast faith in Christ. We are not saved in an instant, but through a lifetime of dedication to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Yes, there are things one must do along with things he or she must believe. Salvation is not cheap, and God didn’t put us on this earth to waste our inheritance on worldly junk.

Does that sound like a doctrine pleasing to man or to God? As missionaries, we sometimes tell people stuff that’s hard to take. We don’t tell them it’s easy, because that’s a lie. We don’t even tell them that all they need to do is get baptized in our church, because that is also a lie. We tell people to have faith in Jesus Christ (for only through His name can salvation be made possible) and to work. Jesus Christ filled His life with service to His Father in Heaven. As Christ’s disciples, we must do the same.

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As Paul, I can certify as well that the gospel which is preached of me is not after myself or mankind. It is after Jesus Christ. And just like Paul, I received it by revelation, which has not ceased, but continues today.

I’ve only read through Galatians a few times, but I think by now I get it.

Mormons are weird.

So… who thinks Mormons are weird? Many people roll their eyes or cringe when they hear about us or talk about us. “Oh great, it’s the Mormons!” I’m sure a lot of folks have exhaled such a phrase as they see me and my companion approach their front door, ready to preach what the world likes to call the “Mormon bible.” But are we really all that crazy?

I’ll admit, we’re a peculiar people. I mean, come on, just look at our doctrine and the things we teach! Don’t smoke? Don’t drink alcohol? Don’t do drugs? Don’t swear? Follow Jesus Christ by being baptized? Go to church? Give tithes? Be kind to others because we’re all children of God? Strive to be like Jesus and follow His teachings? Read the scriptures every day? Study the Old and New Testaments and the Book of Mormon? Pray daily? Share Christ’s gospel with others? Take two years out of your life when you’re 19 to spread the Word? Don’t have sex out of marriage? Be loyal to your spouse? Keep your thoughts clean and avoid pornography? The family is ordained of God? We can be together forever? Happily!?

Yeah, weird stuff, huh? Who would want to involve themselves in such thinking! Oh, wait, yeah there are some even more peculiar things. We do believe that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to a 14-year-old farm boy from Vermont to restore Jesus Christ’s church to the earth.

That’s obviously ridiculous considering a burning bush told Moses to go free an entire race of people from Egyptian slavery.

But we also believe that three years later that same boy received golden plates on a hill from an angel named Moroni.

And that’s also downright crazy since Moses received stone tablets from the Great Jehovah on a mountain.

Mormons are just out of their minds, huh? I mean, going along with that 14-year-old boy’s account, we also believe that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate, distinct individuals. That can’t be right, ’cause Jesus obviously talked to Himself on the cross and in the Garden of Gethsemane! Stephen was obviously seeing double vision from getting pegged in the head with stones when he saw Christ on the right hand of God. Jesus was obviously just patting Himself on the back whenever He gave glory to the Father. And God was obviously just traveling at a super fast speed when He got baptized by John, appeared in the sign of a dove, and shouted down at Himself from Heaven all at the same time!

Yes, Mormons are indeed weird. We also believe in prophets and continuing revelation. That’s ludicrous! Why would God want to continue to reveal His word through prophets as He’s done since the dawn of time? Why would He want to give us more scripture? A God who loves His children would obviously find one book sufficient to help guide them back to His presence.

If the world finds us strange, so be it. I know that our doctrine is correct, and I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only [completely] true and living church on the earth today.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9)

 

Articles of Faith XIII: Christ-like

Finally, the last one. Here’s the biggy.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

These are all qualities Latter-day Saints seek to acquire. Not saying that all Mormons possess these qualities, but these are the characteristics that the LDS church teaches and endorses. We believe in being Christ-like to all men, not just to other members of our church. We are all children of God, all part of the same spiritual family.

The admonition of Paul is referencing Philippians 4:8, which states:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

We seek out the good things in life, the things that uplift us and bring us closer to our Father in Heaven. This is what “Mormonism” (as some people call it) is all about. We are The Church of Jesus Christ. We praise the things that come from Him, and seek to be like Him in our thoughts, words, and actions. We are Christians.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (1 Peter 2:21)