As an addict involved in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, I had to dig deep to find and embrace my inner Mormon. What follows is my journal from this point forward.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dependent on the Savior

During the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior fulfilled the Law of Moses.  He did not remove the commandments. Simple reading of the sermon on the Mount reveals not only did he not remove the necessity for obedience, he significantly raised the bar for obedience.  

During this sermon the Savior took the commandment "thou shalt not kill" and extended it to command us to be reconciled with those who have angered us, to forgive them. In fact he went so far as to give a timeframe for that forgiveness.  Do not come to do your alms without first being reconciled.  In our day it would be the same as saying do not come to the this meeting and partake of the Sacraments, do not pay your offerings, do not perform your service without first being reconciled to those who have offended you.  Leave thy gift at the Altar, the savior said, and remember thy brother who hath ought against thee.  

The sermon includes similar additions to the commandment of not committing adultery and higher law about loving one another with a special emphasis on loving, doing good, and praying for your enemies.  Indeed the teachings of Jesus and what he wishes us to be is no less that "be there for perfect even as I or your father in heaven is perfect."

The Savior concludes his sermon with the parable of the wise man in the foolish man and the respective homebuilding venues. Those who follow the Savior's commandments are like the wise men and built his house upon the rock and the tribulations of the world allowed to hold firm. The foolish man who hears these things only as built his house on sand and is unable to withstand the tribulations of the world. Clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of action, it moves beyond believing and focuses on doing.

This teaching is reinforced in the Doctrine and Covenants when he says “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance”  and in the Book of Mormon when it is written that “No unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God.”  

This fact, that the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree allowance, combined with the fact that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and continue to do so puts the latter-day Saint at risk of spiritual frustration.  These feelings can turn the gospel into a burden that one must carry. We may desire to remove this burden but a sense of duty and responsibility to live according to the gospel keeps us carrying it.

However, if unchecked, these feelings of frustration and turn to feelings the desperation. And in the most sorrowful situations, these feelings of desperation become abandonment of Gospel principles.

I have heard these emotions expressed in different ways.  They  appear in statements like: Lord would not want someone like me as a missionary.  I am just a bad person.  I have decided that I am not meant to be happy in this lifetime. I feel out of place a church because they’re all so good and I am not. Or, they know my life and I just feel judged there. I heard in the sisterly laments of “I’m not like sister Jones.”  or I can’t keep a clean house or bottle fruit.  I hear in rebellious statements such as, your religion is all about control and fear and you can’t ask people to change who they are.  Or you are all like robots.   

These statements, varied though they are, are all expressing the same thing; a sense of an inability to live successfully according to the commandments of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We try, but we find ourselves failing again and again.

This feeling, that one is simply inadequate to live the gospel of Jesus Christ is not new.  The Prophet, Alma declared the desire to claim the gospel as an angel and then later lamented that he was sinning in this desire. The Apostle Peter asked the Savior to depart from him for he was a sinful man and unworthy of the Lord's favor. The prophet Elijah had shown great miracles and demonstrated the power of the Lord over the pagan gods only to be pursued by soldiers seeking his life. He wished he Lord to take his life for he believed he had failed in his mission.

Isaiah upon seeing the Lord in the heavens proclaimed himself to be a man of unclean lips. And perhaps the most beautiful and instructor of all lamentations, Nephi whose demonstrated capacity to have faith and follow and obey and achieve things that would seem to be impossible to the normal man cried out not as a child but as a grown man rich in a of  service, "O wretched man that I am."

Thus latter-day Saints can take comfort in knowing that our feelings about inadequacies and our frustrations at being unable to completely perform all that Lord asks of us are not unusual.  But this is not enough.

We are told to be of good cheer.  The first time this was spoken was Just before Jesus’ betrayal which resulted in his arrest and arraignment.  Just before his illegal and mocking trial.  Just before  scourge of a whip, a crown of thorns, the scattering of his twelve apostles, a vocal denial of him by Peter.  Just before his tortuous crucifixion at the hands of those who had mastered the art of inflicting pain.  He stated this before his apostles would be left to carry on the ministry, which resulted in the martyrdom of all but one.  Just before this chain of events would occur, the Savior instructed his followers to “Be of good cheer.”

Later, the Apostle Paul would be imprisoned and while there, visited by the resurrected Lord.   Wherein the Lord told him to be of good cheer.  In the early days of the restoration, the heavenly admonition to be of good cheer, was given following life threatening journeys on the Missouri river and while trying to figure how to provide for the poor.  

Finally, in the cold and damp of the cellar of a jail cell in the ironically named Liberty, the savior gave comfort to Joseph Smith and after sharing his perspective, gave him a similar admonition, “therefore hold on thy way, thy days are known and thy years shall not be numbered less.  

It would seem that regardless of the burdens of our life, whether we feel them from external or internal forces, the Lord wants us to be happy.  Yet, so often the burdens of our own inadequacy bring us down into sorrow.  Are we wrong for feeling sorrow?  Of course not.  It was only last week during one of the most profoundly comforting sacrament meetings I have attended,  a beautiful examination of scriptures revealed to us the truth that it is okay to feel sorrow.  This was followed up with instruction on what to do about it.  It is something I feel the need to expound upon.

Those of us who labor under the burden of inadequacy while trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ feel as though there is something missing in us. We somehow feel fundamentally flawed and incapable of the celestial life and thus unworthy of the celestial eternities. We feel as though there's something missing in us that others seem to have.

There is nothing missing. There is no flaw that makes us unable to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often, the  only thing we are lacking in many cases is perspective.

We understand how the sinner must come to Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. We understand that those trapped grievous sin or who have yet to understand that they are sinners need to turn to the Savior.

But what about those that we may not classify as sinners? What about those who are not steeped in serious sin or committing sins habitually. What about those who strive to follow the Savior and stumble along the way? What about the lamenting Nephi, the guilt ridden father of a wayward child, the heavily burdened Bishop or Relief Society president? Or, my personal favorite, one about the Relief Society sister feels incapable of doing all she supposed to do and believe herself inadequate when compared to the other sisters feels her work is hopeless and in vain?

There are no more comforting words in all of the Scriptures than the oft quoted but perhaps seldom understood passages in Matthew 11:28-30.

28. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

For me I find the universal nature of the invitation significant.  He wasn't speaking only to sinners or saints. He was not addressing any specific burden he was addressing all who feel burden under whatever way it is whether it be the burden of a sinful life or the burden of attempting to do more than be just good or the burden put upon us by others.  Come unto me, all ye that labour, he said.

Whether we see ourselves as the sinner trying to find a way back to relief, or the person who has long embraced the gospel and strives to live it but feels inadequate, even if we see ourselves as something in between that we cannot fully define, perhaps progressed to a certain level and now stuck in a rut with habits or behaviors that we just cannot shake, regardless of where we are in our lives, the path to get to where we want to be is the same.  Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Nowhere is this more instructive than in 2 Nephi 4, Nephi’s lament.

16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

Too often the result of this passage is the the thought, if Nephi feels this way, what hope is there for me?  This expression completely misses the point.  Regardless of what how you view Nephi, he was human and subject to weakness, his willingness to express his humanness openly and honestly to the reader makes him my most cherished of scriptural heroes.  What is important in this passage is not only his recognition of inadequacies, but how he resolved this feeling.

In verse 19 he ends with “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”  Prior to this when Nephi laments he looks at only himself and examines only his weaknesses. When he does this he sees himself as sinful, inadequate, unworthy. He resolves burden this by immediately turning his attention to the Savior.

19 ...nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.

22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.

He then reminds himself where he is to look for his own life

 30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?

32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

Then finally he re-commits himself to the same path that got him thus far in his life:

34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

My question to those who feel unrequited burdens is this.  Where is our trust at this moment?  Is it in the Lord or in our own selves? Have we begun to be like the wild branches Zenos’s of the olive tree and feel as though we have grown beyond the roots of the good trees and are trying to take strength unto ourselves?

To those who read Nephi’s lament and think if he declares himself a sinner, I am without hope, I respond, if those devoted like Nephi are needing to put their trust in the savior for continued growth, then how much more am I needing to do this.

Perhaps we have come to this as result of pride, believing ourselves now to have sufficient strength. Perhaps we have allowed complacency to come into our lives. As a result our prayers have weakened or been forgotten. Perhaps we are among those who've reached a point in our life that we feel that we must do things to be worthy of God's love and grace.

Often times the Scripture found in 2 Nephi 25:23 is misinterpreted:

23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

Many times that last phrase after all we can do with these people to believe that they cannot receive the help of God nor his love and compassion until they have completed their part first. For example I have often heard an analogy that's similar to this I know that if I am swimming and there is a marker out there is about a half-mile away I must first reach that marker and then the Lord will help me with the second half of a mile. The problem with this analogy and the problem with this way of thinking is that if we do not experience the relief we want we can always look in our life and finding something we failed to do good enough. In other words we all know more about what we should do and what we actually do.

Therefore if we continue with the belief that we will only receive from God when we have contributed our own down payment sufficiently we will continually find ourselves frustrated and unable to rely on the Lord. I am most intrigued by this creature because it is spoken by the same prophet that gave us the salt that I have just read. Consider those words by Nephi, "Oh Lord I have trusted the and I will put my trust in the forever."  Consider what he said just before this. Does this sound like a man who feels like he must wait for the Lord's help? Does this sound like a man who feels as though he has not done enough to receive the love of God? Nephi sorrows when he looks only at himself but when he looks to the Lord he rejoices and seeks his mercy regardless of his inadequacies. When one considers this, then the phrase we are saved by grace after all we can do simply can not be in chronological separation. The idea that we have to do X amount before the Savior comes in and helps us is simply not God's plan.

To this extent our religious scholars including BYU professor and author Stephen E. Robinson have stated that it phrase does denote a timeline, but a separation of actions.  Restated: We are saved by grace apart from all that we can do.  

This does not mean that we are not to do our part, it does not mean that we can sit back and literally proclaim our belief in Christ and expect salvation to come to us. This is a gospel of action is clear that the Lord expects us to do and do all that we can. However it is also clear that since the beginning of time from the fall of Adam forward the Lord has also expected this to stumble. Indeed one might be able say he built this that way.  In Ether 12:27-28 we read:

27 ... I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.

Jesus wants us to return to him.  He wants us to come to him with our burdens whatever they may be, he has gone so far as to make us imperfect, weak, fallible, so that we in our own inadequacies will turn to him.  Come unto me and I will give you rest.

Our faith must not just be faith in Christ the person. We must accept his actions and words and apply them to us. We must be willing to accept that what he has done he has done for us and that what he has spoken he has spoken to us.  We must be willing to give him our burdens and then seek those who are also burden and bear them by the same means.

We have the right, the privilege and the Power to go to our heavenly father and as was spoken so eloquently last week at this pulpit, cry unto the lord and express our sorrows.  

The atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite.  It reaches into every corner and every edge this universe.  It is able to change the most vile of sinners.  It is able to bring about repentance and forgiveness of sin.  It is capable of removing those things which we are.  The Lord expects us to weary him with our weariness of our inadequacies.  

If you have reached a point where obedience to the commandments is commonplace, I am happy for you, perhaps even envious, but congratulations and glory belong to God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  Failing to recognize their hand in this not only offends God, it moves you  forward on your own in your own strength a strength which at its greatest is nothing.

I implore all of us to become or reliant, more dependent, or needing the strength of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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