Saturday, December 28, 2013

# 20: Satan Wants Your Soul

I've had at least two encounters with Satan.  Well, I've never seen Satan.  I guess I can't be sure that he, or one of his henchmen, was really there.  But a few times in my life, I've felt a real, dark presence.  I've felt an evil power, a real force from the supernatural realm.  Let me tell you about the two experiences I've had.


A decade ago, I was a missionary having dinner at a recent convert's apartment.  Towards the end of the night, she talked about how she felt like her apartment was haunted.  She said she felt like someone was watching her, and making her angry.  I can't remember exactly what she said.  This happened ten years ago.

But I remember that as she talked about her feelings in her apartment, I got scared.  I got a really creepy feeling.  My companion did too.  I know it sounds crazy, but it felt like there was a invisible demon in the room, and it wanted to harm us.  The demon exuded hatred.  I remember thinking, as this convert was talking, "I want to pray, I want to pray, I want to pray..." And then when we did finally pray, as soon as we said, "Dear Heavenly Father," it was like a burden was lifted off our shoulders.  It was as if a light entered the room.  I no longer felt constricted and scared.  I felt like I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, because I knew that God was with me.

(I got goosebumps while typing this, recalling that eerie night.) 


About three years ago, my wife and I ended up babysitting a lot for a couple who lived in the neighborhood.  The household was very dysfunctional, and the husband was physically abusive. He would punch and kick his wife.  He was so abusive, in fact, that one time the wife had to be hospitalized.  Every time my wife and I went into that house, we felt bad, spiritually bad.  They were toxic people.  Eventually my wife said she couldn't go inside that house anymore.  And eventually the family got evicted for not paying the rent.  

At one time, a church video was playing in their house. (The dysfunctional couple actually joined the LDS Church.  It's a long story.) And yet I felt that the church video couldn't pierce through the evil cloud that was hanging in the house.  There was a picture of Jesus on the TV but the dark forces that reigned in that house were mocking Him.

Another time in that dark house I was reading a children's book, a book about Elmo, to one of the children.  The child loved it.  She hung on my every word.  Out of nowhere I started crying, because I felt that this kid never got read to.  This child was being neglected.  This child was being abused.  It was awful.  It was evil.

This is so hard to describe.  This is so hard to communicate.  Again, I don't have proof of Satan's existence, and I fully expect many people reading this to dismiss my experiences as my own psychosis or delusions or imagination. All I can say is, these experiences and feelings were real to me.

I don't like to bring this up too often, but sometimes it's all I have left.  I'm going to quote some scripture that basically says, "If you're unenlightened, you don't understand."

Matthew 11:25  "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes."

1 Corintians 2:14 "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

And here's one last scripture:

Luke 22: 31 + 32: "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not:"

Satan is real.  Just as Joseph Smith taught, Satan is an "actual being from the unseen world," and he wants your soul.  He wants to make you miserable.  He wants you to sin.  He wants you to hurt others, and he wants you to hurt yourself.

In my personal experience, I've found that praying, receiving priesthood blessings, attending church, and doing other things I was taught to do by the Church, lessens the power of the Evil One in my life.

Let's fight the Devil.  Let's stay LDS. 

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# 19: Babies!

Don't you like babies?  Of course you do!  Sure, they're a hassle.  Sure, they cry a lot, poop a lot, wake you up from naps, and otherwise interrupt your life.

But they're soooooooo cute!

You know who else likes babies?  Mormons!  They like them so much that they have tons of them!

If you haven't noticed, the birth rate in the industrialized world is decreasing.  It seems that the only people having lots of kids are Mormons, Catholics, and evangelical Christians.  Why do Mormons have so many kids?  Well, maybe because they think using birth control is sinful.  Bruce R. McConkie and others like him surely thought that way.  (Now the standard teaching of the LDS Church is that the decisions regarding the number and timing of children are left up to the couple and the Lord.  In other words, birth control is okay for married couples to use sometimes, just not too much.)

Or maybe Mormons have so many kids because of the principles taught in "Saturday's Warrior."  It used to be a more commonly taught that there were spirits waiting in the Pre-Mortal life for their tabernacles of clay.  It used to be taught, or at least implied, that if good Mormon families didn't have enough kids, some of these choice spirits would be sent off to be born in some third-world country, or some godless Communist country.

Or maybe Mormons have so many kids because all the other Mormons are having so many kids.  People tend to live like their friends and neighbors live.

Whatever the reason, Mormons really do have more kids than other people in the industrialized world.  And this is a good thing.  High birth rates are good for the economy, and good for the soul.  High birth rates also reflect a larger cultural confidence.  When people feel confident about their own culture, they would like to see it perpetuated, and so they have more children.  For more on the subject of birth rates, read "America Alone" by Mark Steyn.  Another book on this topic is "What to Expect When No One's Expecting" by Jonathan V. Last. 

Maybe you've given up your traditional testimony, but you don't have to give up the Mormon lifestyle.  You don't have to give up your dream of having a house full of kids. 

Babies are a blessing.  Each new life that comes into the world is a treasure.

The teaching found in Psalm 127: 3 - 5 is not outdated: "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward.  As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."

If you stay LDS, you'll remain part of a community that celebrates the birth of every new child.  We name them and bless them in church.  We bring casseroles to mothers who have recently given birth.  We buy minivans and station wagons to safely transport all those children from seminary to school and to Scouts.  It's wonderful.  It's beautiful.

So the next time you're frustrated by the white-washed church history taught in Sunday School, look around for the babies.  Are they giggling?  Are they crawling around the floor, tugging on the pant legs of strangers?  Are they sleeping over their mother's shoulders?  Aren't they just precious?

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# 18: The Shroud of Turin

A while back I asserted that Jesus Christ is the one true God.  I realize this can be a troubling claim for Mormons going through a faith crisis.  When Mormons lose their traditional testimonies of Joseph Smith and the Restoration after encountering troubling information on the Internet, they often lose faith in Jesus altogether.

Are you one of these Mormons who have lost their testimonies?  If so, this blog is for you.

Before you dive off the cliffs of Christianity into Atheism or wade into the murky waters of universalism, Eastern Philosophy or New Age thought, please take a closer look at Jesus Christ.  There are plenty of evidences that He was divine, and these evidences have nothing to do with a burning in the bosom or the teachings of any LDS leader.  They have to do with logic and facts.

There's this ancient piece of cloth called the Shroud of Turin.  Have you heard of it?  It's been safeguarded by the Catholic Church for centuries and centuries.  Purportedly, the cloth dates all the way back to the time of Jesus Christ.  Purportedly, it's the very same piece of cloth that covered the body of Jesus Christ after he was crucified.  An image of a crucified man is mysteriously imprinted on the cloth, which many say is evidence of Christ's literal, bodily Resurrection.

Modern skeptics dismiss it.  They call it a clever medieval forgery.

But please don't ignore the Shroud.  It is the most studied artifact of the ancient world, period.  More scientists, historians, and academics of all types have spent more time studying the The Shroud of Turin than any other object- more than the Sphinx, more than Stonehenge, more than the Blarney Stone.

And what are the results of all their research?  Well, the results are mixed, but the research seems to show that more research needs to be done.  Nobody knows for certain if it's authentic or fake.  The Shroud of Turin is one of those mysterious things like the statues on Easter Island of the Pyramids that nobody can figure out.  Everybody has to come to their own conclusions.

The easiest conclusion, in my mind, is that it's the real thing.  Jesus is divine, and he was wrapped in the Shroud of Turin, and when He was Resurrected, his image got imprinted on the cloth. 

But don't take my word for it.  How about you look into it yourself?

Oh, you might be wondering why the Shroud of Turin is a reason to stay LDS.  At first glance it seems like a better reason to convert to Catholocism.

Well, the Shroud of  Turin helps me stay LDS because it reminds me that Jesus Christ really is God.  And Mormons really do worship the true God, Jesus Christ.  Now, they may have a few funny ideas about Him, but so what?  When I read Mormon Scripture or listen to Mormon teaching, most of what I hear is about Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus.  

I'll leave you with a scripture, 2 Nephi 25:26:

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

# 17: Other Churches Are Too Easy

The Church asks you to do a million things.  It asks you to attend three hours of meetings every Sunday, plant a garden, do family history, write in a journal, read scriptures daily, pray daily, fast once a month, read lessons in preparation for Sunday meetings, home teach or visit teach, give 10 % of your income to the Church, attend the temple, clean the church building, magnify callings, keep the commandments, hold Family Home Evenings, do missionary work, and serve a full-time mission.  It's not unusual to have those in leadership positions put in 10 - 20 hours of unpaid, church-related labor per week.

That's a lot of work.

Is all that work worth it?  Do all those hours translate into real spiritual nourishment?  Do they further Christ's kingdom? 

Some members of the Church go overboard trying to fulfill all their Church duties. Some work themselves into a frenzy trying to be the perfect Mormon.  It's as if they are running on a treadmill, expecting some day to really get somewhere.  They concentrate on qualities that are measurable and outwardly visible, like the Pharisees did. They love the letter of the law, but they miss the spirit of the law.  Sadly, many of these busy Mormons are depressed. Despite all their obedience and all their works, they never feel like they measure up to the standard the Church has set for them.  They miss the whole point of the gospel.

And what is the whole point of the gospel?  It's this: Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, because he loves us. If we accept his grace and follow him, we'll find peace and rest, in this life and in the life hereafter.  Everything we do in the Church -teaching, bearing testimony, Eagle Scout Projects, earning Young Women Medallions, making treats for Relief Society Enrichment Nights, sitting through meeting after meeting after meeting- ought to lead us closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Most of the time these church activities do lead people closer to Christ.  Most of the time these activities act as mediums through which God works.  Most of the time, through these activities, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick and the lonely are visited.  Sometimes, though, all this busywork is actually a stumbling-block to receiving and applying the grace of Christ.

For more on the grace of Christ, which is the most important topic in the world, read, "Believing Christ" by Stephen E. Robinson.  It's one of the best Mormon books ever written.  I also recommend reading or watching "His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox.  Robinson and Wilcox really get grace.  And they are both faithful, active members of the Church.  The grace of Christ motivates them to do all the Mormon works, but in a balanced, spiritual way.  It is my hope that members of the Church will embrace the message that Robinson and Wilcox are publishing.  

But let me get back to reason to stay LDS # 17, "Other Churches Are Too Easy." 

Here is how things go in most Christian churches:  You go to church for one hour a week.  The pastor is entertaining, and the music is nice.  There might be a Sunday School one night a week, but it's completely optional, and not many people attend it.  You never speak in church, you never administer ordinances, you are never are asked to do service projects.  All you do is show up and sit in the pew for one hour a week.  In many denominations, you don't even have to dress up.  You can wear sweat pants.

It's good; don't get me wrong.  Non-Mormon Christian churches are good.  I would rather disenchanted Mormons convert to Lutheranism than atheism.  The other Christian churches I've visited are really nice.  But in my visits, I got the impression that they're too easy.

See, if you don't like the pastor, you can find another pastor that you like.  Switching churches isn't that big of a big deal to non-Mormon Christians.  If you don't like the people in the congregation, just find a new congregation.  If you want better musical performances at worship services, you can shop around.  As long as you love Jesus, you're good.  And you can shop on Sundays, you can drink beer, you can cuss, you can watch rated R movies, you can lie a little, cheat a little, take advantage of your neighbor a little... it's easy... too easy.

I'm reminded of the Zoramites who only talked about God once a week on their Sabbath day, and then did whatever they wanted to the rest of the week.

I confess I'm making unfair generalizations here.  There are plenty of wonderful and committed Christians in every denomination.  And there are plenty of horrible hypocritical people in the Mormon Church.  I realize that.  I'm just trying to make the case that it's more likely that you will be a committed follower of Christ in the Mormon Church rather than another church. 

The path to holiness is not an easy path.

The Savior taught, in Luke chapter 9, verses 23 and 24, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."

Here's my modern paraphrase: "If any of you want to be my disciple, don't think about yourself very much.  Lift a heavy burden, every day.  Sacrifice everything you have.  Sacrifice your whole life."

Likewise, Joseph Smith taught, in the Lectures on Faith 6:5 "Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things."

Jesus is asking for complete devotion from his followers. 

It's my opinion that the work the Church asks you to do is worth it.  All the work we do as active and faithful Mormons generally leads us, and those we serve, closer to Christ. 

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

# 16: None of the Other Churches are True Either

You might as well stay LDS because none of the other churches are true either.  I've looked in to some of them, I've visited some of them, and while many of them are good, great, grand and wonderful, I'm convinced that not a single one of them bears the distinction of being exclusively TRUE.

However, there is one true God, and that's Jesus Christ.

And there is a Church where God wants you.  And what church is that? Um... if you grew up Mormon and your whole family is Mormon and you live in an area with a large Mormon population, then it's probably the Mormon Church.  God is doing great things through Mormonism. 

Pray to God to know what church you should be a part of.  Visit other denominations and see what you think.  If you find "the one true church" let me know.  I'd like to join it. So far I haven't found it.  So far I think God wants me to stay LDS.

It's also helpful to change our way of thinking about Truth with a capitol "T."  Orthodox, literalistic members of many religions believe that they have found the one true Truth, and that their way is the only way.  I used to be like this.

But Pope Francis teaches us about what Truth with a capitol "T" really is.  At a General Audience in St. Peter's Square, on May 15th, 2013, the Pope gives a sermon called, "Truth is a Person."  In it he says,

The question arises: does “the” truth really exist? What is “the” truth? Can we know it? Can we find it? Here springs to my mind the question of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator, when Jesus reveals to him the deep meaning of his mission: “What is truth?” (Jn 18:37, 38). Pilate cannot understand that “the” Truth is standing in front of him, he cannot see in Jesus the face of the truth that is the face of God. And yet Jesus is exactly this: the Truth that, in the fullness of time, “became flesh” (cf. Jn 1:1, 14), and came to dwell among us so that we might know it. The truth is not grasped as a thing, the truth is encountered. It is not a possession, it is an encounter with a Person.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

# 15: My Walk Around the Temple

A year ago, I was going through a very difficult time in my life.  I was going through a faith crisis.  I no longer believed in many of the foundational events of the Restoration, and I no longer believed in many of the claims of the Church.  I still believed in God, but staying Mormon didn't make much sense to me.  I went to Church mostly just because my wife wanted me to.  I wrestled back and forth in my mind constantly, trying to answer the question, "Should I stay or should I go?"

During this difficult time, I didn't have a temple reccomend.  I felt I couldn't honestly answer yes to the two questions, "Do you have a testimony of the Restoration?" and "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?"

So, I wasn't allowed inside the temple, but I was allowed on to the temple grounds.  So one night my wife, my two little daughters and I went on a walk around the temple.  It was Christmas time, the lights were up, and there were hundreds of people there.  The lights were beautiful and the people were friendly.  We saw various Nativity scenes, a huge statue of Christ in the Visitor's Center, and several outdoor displays of baby Jesus in the manger, with Joseph and Mary and the new star and the three wise men.  And I remember there was a mannequin of the prophet Isaiah, with a voice coming from a nearby speaker reading verses from the Book of Isaiah that prophesied of Jesus' birth.

We ran into some people that my wife had visit taught but who had moved out of the ward.  It was a pleasant conversation.  My wife has a way of making genuine connections with people.  She's good at making and keeping friends, real friends, not just superficial acquaintances. 

Lots of people were busy setting up a stage for a concert they were going to do that night.  It was a free concert.  I don't know what group or individual was going to sing, but they were going to sing Christmas hymns. I saw on a poster that there was going to be a free concert, almost every night, during December.

Everything was just really good and really nice. 

And then the thought struck me, like a revelation, "would you really want all of this to come to an end?"

I felt at peace.  I felt the Spirit.  And I answered, "No."    

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# 14: The Church is Right About Porn

Whether or not the LDS Church is all it claims to be, the Church is right about porn.  The leaders of the church have always decried pornography as sinful, and so it is.

If you stay in the Church, you will be a part of a community that puts porn in its proper place: in the trash can.  You will remain part of a community that is doing its best to combat pornography.  The Church preaches against it during just about every General Conference.  As far as I understand it, the Church doesn't knowingly let those with porn habits into leadership positions.  And this is the way it should be.  Pornography messes up your sense of right and wrong, and your sense of beauty.  It deadens your spiritual sensitivity.

And the Church doesn't merely preach that porn is wrong; it actively tries to help those who are struggling with it.  The Church sponsors addiction recovery groups for those with porn addictions.  Maybe some of the tactics the Church uses aren't the best.  There are too many members who feel too much guilt and shame for looking at porn.  Now, they should feel some guilt.  But they should feel the type of guilt that motivates them to accept the love and grace of Jesus Christ, not the type of guilt that motivates them to wallow in self-hatred.

In addition to the harm that porn does to those trapped by it, porn does harm to the people who create the porn.  For those who think that porn doesn't hurt anybody, go to Shelley Lubben's website.  Warning!  The subject matter, language and imagrey on the website is for mature folks.  But if you are a regular customer of porn, I suggest you go the website.  It will make you think twice before consuming porn.

Mrs. Lubben, a porn star turned born-again Christian, documents the degeneracy that prevails in the porn industry.  She says that many porn actors are on drugs, have psychological problems, and are routinely disrespected by directors and producers.

We often hear that we should make purchasing descions that are informed by our sense of morality.  For instance, if you knew a nail salon employed slaves or indentured servants who were mistreated, would it be ethical to get a manicure there?  No.  When you have a choice between dolphin-safe tuna and dolphin-damaging tuna, which one do you pick?  The dolphin safe one, of course!  You don't want to hurt dolphins.  My point is, we want to support companies that do business ethically. 

Companies that create porn cannot, by their very nature, do business ethically.  Now, surely some porn companies treat their performers better than other companies.  I'm sure some of them deal with people respectfully, relatively speaking.  But slavery can be done relatively respectfully, too.  Slave-masters can be kind to their slaves.  But even kindly administered slavery is wrong.  Slavery as an institution is flawed.  The whole thing needs to be abolished, not regulated or reformed.  The same goes for the porn industry.  It needs to be demolished.

How do we fight the porn industry?  Well, we can write letters to porn companies and kindly ask them to stop.  (That won't work.)  We can try to get laws passed that ban pornography. (That won't work, either.)

I think the best way to fight the porn industry is to ignore it.  Don't consume it.  The companies wouldn't make the porn if nobody was buying it.  And don't let those you love consume it.  If you or someone you love has a problem with porn, pray to Heavenly Father, and go to the Church for help.  Schedule an appointment with your bishop, and confess to him.  Confessing will be therapeutic.  As you pray, Heavenly Father will send you healing spiritual powers.  Ask for his power and He will give it to you.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

# 13: It Gives You a Reason to Dress Up

I work at a blue collar job, so most days I'm scruffy looking.  I wear blue jeans, tennis shoes, a T-shirt, and I usually don't put on deodorant or brush my teeth in the mornings, so I stink.  Sometimes I come home with paint on my hands and sawdust on my sleeves.  On Sundays, though, the Sabbath day, I dress up really fancy.  I like it.

If you keep going to Church, even if you don't believe everything the Church teaches, you'll have a reason to dress up once a week.  You'll have a reason to wear all those nice clothes you have hanging up in your closet. And dressing up makes you feel good about yourself.

Christ taught, and Captain Moroni also taught, that the inner vessel should be cleaned first, and then the outer vessel should be cleaned second.  That's good advice.  When it comes to repentance, this is true.  Your heart has to change before your behavior will.

But sometimes changing your external environment is a prerequisite to changing your inner self.  This is abstract, but what I'm trying to say is that sometimes simply putting on a tie makes you respect yourself. Just changing your clothes may be the beginning of making more serious changes, for the better. After all, isn't this the lesson we learn from cable fashion shows like, "What Not to Wear?"

In addition to thinking about the way you dress on Sundays, you can pay attention to the way other people are dressing.  It's fun.  If you look around, depending on where you go to church, you'll see some interesting stuff.  Maybe you'll see a bolo tie with a dead scorpion in it, maybe some boots made out of alligator skin, maybe some shoulder pads, maybe some cuff links, maybe a fuzzy brown cardigan, maybe you'll see a hot guy or a hot gal (be careful not to lust!), or maybe you'll even see a General Authority look-a-like.

Looking around at what people are wearing at church is fun!

So the next time Brother Orthodox is bearing fervent testimony of Elijah's visit to the Kirtland temple or some other event in church history that never really happened, just look around at what people are wearing.

Are the clothes cool?  Are they fashionable?  And how about the jewelry?  Don't you just love the jewelry? 

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Friday, December 13, 2013

# 12: The Church is Incredibly Financially Stable

Osama Bin Laden said that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally gravitate towards the strong horse.  I’m not sure we should be taking advice from Osama Bin Laden, but in this case, he speaks the truth about human nature.  People want to belong to strong organizations, organizations with power.  People unite themselves to “strong horses” because they want protection and safety, and also because they want to belong to a powerful cause or follow an inspired, powerful leader.  The Church is a strong horse.  It’s huge, it has tons of money and property, and it has an enormous influence on the lives of millions.

But- and this is very important- the Church is also a good horse. 

What does the Church do with its money?  Well, I admit it’s a bit of a mystery.  The leaders of the Church don’t really reveal that information.  Every once in a while, the secrecy bugs me, but usually I’m fine with it.  The Catholic Church keeps their finances a secret, too.  There are good reasons for this.  I just pray the leaders of the Church are doing good things with the money I give them.  And I believe that for the most part, they are.

Here’s a list, off the top of my head, of what the Church does with its money:

Builds churches
Builds temples
Builds colleges
Gives money to church members in need
Gives money to non-members in need
Runs Deseret Industries
Runs the City Creek Center
Buys land
Buys cattle
Buys farms
Pays full-time church employees
Pays for missions for those who can’t pay for it themselves
Helps people find jobs
Helps prevent the spread of disease in Africa
Proliferates clean water sources in Africa
Feeds the hungry
Clothes the naked
Provides disaster relief
Lifts people from poverty through the Perpetual Education Fund
Pays utilities and maintenance on church buildings
Stores food at massive food storage facilities

These are all good things.  The only item on this list that’s questionable is the City Creek Center.  I think the money was spent unwisely on that project.  But still, maybe in the long run, the City Creek Center will turn out to be a good investment.  Maybe it will eventually make money, and then the Church can use that money to do the type of charity work that Christ instructs his disciples to do.

None of the items on this list would be possible without funds.  And right now, the Church has the funds.  Boy, does it ever have the funds!  And with your help, the Church will continue to have tons of money for decades to come.  Doesn’t it feel good to belong to such a financially secure institution?

Let’s ride the strong, good horse.  Let’s stay LDS.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

# 11: The Buildings

If everybody left the Church, what would happen to all our meetinghouses and temples?  They’re such beautiful buildings.  It would be a shame to see them sit empty.  It would be a shame to see them converted into stores or get demolished.  

I can’t help but feel sad when I see an abandoned church house.  It feels wrong somehow when people enter old churches not as worshippers, but as tourists.  Mitt Romney described the cathedrals of Europe perfectly.  He said they’re, “so inspired, so grand, so empty.” The sad fact is, church attendance in Europe is decreasing.  Mosque attendance, on the other hand, is increasing.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. 

I’m reminded of a couple of Poetry Slams I went to a few years ago.  (Poetry Slams, for those who don’t know, are meetings or shows where a bunch of emotional teenagers read poetry to each other in a dramatic way.  They’re fun.)  They were held in a building that used to be a church.  It still had a steeple, it still had pews, and it still had a slightly raised stage area where the pastor used to stand and preach.  But someone had removed all the crosses and Bibles and paintings of Jesus. 

Although the building’s exterior looked like a church, what happened inside was very un-church-y.   

Don’t get me wrong.  A lot of what happened at the Poetry Slams was uplifting and beautiful. The Poetry Slams were a time and a place for hip college students to meet up and hang out, and bask in the beauty of poetry.  That’s cool.  But there was also a lot of drug use, underage consumption of alcohol, profanity, taking the Lord’s name in vain, vulgarity, immodesty, and a celebration of sinful acts.  What made the whole thing even worse was that it took place inside of an old church. 

It was sad.

I guess I could imagine our meetinghouses being converted into churches for another religion, or stores or gyms or something.  But what could our temples be turned into?  Museums?  Um… upscale apartment complexes?  A school?  Seriously, we Mormons pour millions and millions of dollars into building these beautiful temples.  They are specifically designed for administering our particular ordinances.  They are built unlike any other type of building I can think of.  And they’re made out of such expensive material!  And they’re made to last into the Millennium!  I just can’t picture any developer wanting to buy them. 

We already have the buildings, fully paid for and everything.  We might as well use them.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

# 10: Your Family

If you're like me, you're whole family and extended family are Mormon.  Your mother, your father, your brothers, your sisters, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins... they're Mormon Mormon Mormon Mormon Mormon Mormon and Mormon.  So you should be Mormon, too.  Just go along with it.

Staying LDS will be good for your family.  And you love your family, don't you?  And you want to make them happy?  Of course you shouldn't do anything your family wants you to do, especially if your family is dysfunctional.  My brother knew a guy who was pressured by his family to be a lawyer. He didn't want to be a lawyer, but his overbearing father was a lawyer, and his overbearing father paid for the guy's college tuition.  So the guy suffered through law school for a few years until he eventually committed suicide.  In this tragic case, the guy should have been able to tell his parents that he didn't want to become a lawyer.  He should have had the courage to do something else with his life, something that made him happy.  And his father should have been more accepting and loving.

So, you can't live your life for other people. To a certain extent, you need to find what makes you happy, and then do that.
But I think in our day and age there is too much emphasis on individuality, on "living your own life" and "finding out who you are" and self-exploration these days.  Ex-Mormons often say that when they leave the Church they are "living authentically."  I don't know what this means.  True-believing Mormons, non-Mormons, ex-Mormons, and Mormons with non-traditional testimonies (sometimes called New Order Mormons) are all "living authentically."

The Savior was correct when he said, "Whosoever shall find his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life shall find it."  If you lose yourself in the service of others, you will find your life. Your life will have more meaning and fulfillment if you serve others.  And is it really that much of an effort to go along with the Mormon religion?  You're already doing it.  Why not just keep up your religious habits?

Is it really that much of an effort to attend baptisms and weddings of relatives, to read scriptures with family members, to participate in Family Home Evening?  Think about what your involement in the Church means to other people.  Does it make them happy?  Does it serve them and help them?  When you go home teaching or visiting teaching, do you bring with you good company, warm feelings, polite conversation, and a friendly smile?  Sometimes that's all people need. 

I've found it is much easier staying LDS when I put aside my own needs and look to serve others.  And isn't that the essence of our religion anyway? 

What happens if you stop being Mormon?  In many cases, you lose your family.  It's not right, but that's what happens.  In some cases, your parents don't talk to you anymore, you're uninvited to family get-togethers, and you're shunned.  Sometimes you get divorced.  This is a shame.  This is a tragedy.

And you never get another family.  You never get another father or mother.  It's best to make the best of the relationship you already have with your parents.  You can't have new parents.  And you need parents.

Your family wants you to stay LDS.  If you keep participating in the Church, your relationship with your family will be better.  If you leave the Church altogether and  publicly renounce the religion, well, I hope you're prepared to leave your family behind.  I hope you can find a group of friends that can act as a substitute family.  That would be a difficult and lonely road to walk, a road that I do not wish to take.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

# 9: Jesus Christ is the One True God

When Mormons study information that challenges their testimony, they eventually, usually, lose faith in Joseph Smith's prophetic calling.  They also lose faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the doctrine of "one true church" and other teachings that are founded on the traditional Restoration narrative.  After this traditional Mormon testimony crumbles, far too many Mormons lose faith in God altogether.  Too many Mormons quit believing in Christ.  "After all," these disenchanted Mormons think, "if I once had such passionate feelings about Joseph Smith, and I was wrong, I was probably wrong about Jesus Christ, too."

Well I'm here to tell you that you weren't wrong about Jesus Christ.  Jesus has always been reaching out to you.  He has often communicated to you through the church of your youth, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  The LDS Church was one of many imperfect mediums through which the perfect God, Jesus, was calling you home.  I testify that He is real, He loves you, and that He is the one true God.

And even if He isn't the one true God, it's best to live your life as if He is.  A belief in Christ has worked for a lot of other people.

Even if you don't believe in Christ's divinity, at least read his teachings, apply them into your life, and see how things go.  I think things will go well.  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all lived like Jesus Christ?

Ultimately, though, we're missing parts about Christ's ministry if we only accept him as a simple moral teacher.  He claimed to be divine.  He claimed to have power to forgive sins.  He said, "Before Abraham, I AM," identifying Himself as the One who gave the Law of Moses.  He claimed to have a kingdom "not of this world."  He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one cometh unto the Father but by me."  What are we to make of these claims?  We ignore them at our peril.

I choose to believe them.  I choose to believe in the story of Jesus.

God is a jealous God.  He allows room for a multitude of traditions and churches; I believe he inspires a multitude of traditions and churches.  But the Ultimate Truth does not allow room for a multitude of gods.  There is only one God, and that is Jesus Christ.

Look, you can't practice all the religions at the same time.  You can respect all religions, you can appreciate them in theory, but when the rubber hits the road, you have have to pick one religion and stick with it.  What church are you going to this Sunday?  What church are you going to take your kids to?  These are real choices you have to make.  It's fine to study the religions of the world in a college class, but you cannot practice all the religions of the world.

For a religion to really work in your life, you have to pick one and stick with it.  Please stick with Christianity. Find a Christian Church that encourages you to live a moral lifestyle, has a good youth program, has a faithful community of believers who will pray for you and look out for you.  Find a Christian Church that sings about Christ, prays in the name of Christ, reads scriptures about Christ, tells stories about Christ, and leads you closer to Christ.

Hmmm... do these qualifications remind you of any church you know?  Maybe the one you grew up with?

The Mormon Church is a good Christian church.  I can't picture Christ being upset with us for staying LDS (even though we don't believe in the Church anymore.)  I think he'll be happy about it.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

# 8: They'll Fix Your Sink

And they'll fix your car, and they'll help you move, and they'll lend you tools, and they'll bring you casserole when you have a baby, and they'll give you a ride somewhere, and they'll let you borrow a truck, and they'll babysit your kids... all for free!  And by "they" I mean the friendly members of your local ward.

If you form friendships with the people you go to church with, and you politely ask them to help you with things around the house, they will most likely say yes and do all sorts of nice things for you.  Who doesn't like having nice things done for them?

In every ward, there are usually people with knowledge of electricity, plumbing, auto mechanics, and etc.  If you make friends with them, you can have them help you out.  Generally speaking, Mormons are helpful, friendly, honest people who are eager to offer service.  Take advantage of this community you're a part of by letting people help you.

Think of your ward list as a list of nice people who will do stuff for you.  Contact your home teachers first.  Remember, they usually end their visits with, "Is there anything we can do for you?" Why not let them serve you?  Try not to bug the Bishop about little things you want help with, though.  Bishops are really busy.

Now, I am not advocating that you exploit Church relationships for free labor.  You'll quickly run out of friends if all you do is ask them to do stuff for you.  As a rule of thumb, pay for any labor that takes more than an hour. But even if you pay ward members for service, at least you know you're dealing with honest people.  If you pick up the phone book or do an Internet search for "plumber" or "handyman," and hire a random person, who knows what kind of riffraff you'll be letting into your home and into your wallet?

Doesn't it feel good to get free stuff from caring fellow church-goers?  Allow them to serve you.  Be grateful for their help.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

# 7: The Church is Right About Abortion

One of the major issues of our day is abortion.  And where does the Church stand on this issue?  The LDS Church is staunchly pro-life.  The Church has always preached that abortion is sinful.  Thank goodness!  For surely abortion is sinful.

Yes, the Church has done some bad things.  Yes, the Church is currently doing some bad things.

(The Church, after all, is led by humans doing the best they can to lead the way Christ would.  I wish Christ was here Himself to personally administer the Church, but that's just not the way things are.)

But one of the things that the Church is doing right is lovingly preaching the truth about abortion. 

In 2008, in the U.S., there were 1.21 million abortions40 million abortions are performed worldwide, every year.  The numbers are staggering, but each number represents a little baby who has been killed.  Each death is a tragedy.

When confronted with these awful realities of abortion, my issues with the Church fades into insignificance.  When I think about how the Church is doing its best to stem the tide of abortions, I get less worked up about problems with Church history or doctrine.  So maybe the Church isn't 100 % true.  I assert that it's 95 % good.  And that's good enough for me.

I assert that, by and large, God smiles upon the doings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.   

We belong to a wonderful Christian church that protects the sanctity of life and celebrates babies.  Isn't it heartwarming to belong to such a community?  We Mormons welcome babies into our lives.  We don't kill them.  The Church is doing its best to reach out to those women, Mormon and non-Mormon alike, who find themselves in unplanned pregnancies.  Truly the people who operate LDS Family Services are angelic.

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# 6: The Church is Right About Marriage

We live in a world of shifting values and attitudes.  As recently as a generation ago, marriage was commonly understood to be a union between one man and one woman.  Now, more and more states in the United States are legalizing gay marriage.  I feel blessed to belong to a Church that still preaches the truth that marriage between a man and woman is sacred and ordained of God. 

Of course, the world inside the LDS Church is one of shifting attitudes and values, as well.  Once the Church preached that polygamy was superior to monogamy, and now the Church excommunicates polygamists.  Once the Church preached against interracial marriage.  Now it’s fine. 

But just because the Church has been wrong on a few things doesn’t mean it was wrong about everything.  And just because the Church has been wrong on some things doesn’t mean it’s not right on some things right now.  And one thing the Church is right about is marriage.  The official position of the Church is spelled out in the inspired document called The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

There are such things as moral absolutes.  There is a God who determines what is right and what is wrong, and God has revealed that homosexual acts are sinful. 

How has God revealed this teaching on homosexuality?  God has revealed this truth through scripture, tradition, ecclesiastical authority, and the Holy Spirit.  I would elaborate further, but that’s outside the scope of this blog.  

Not only are the members of the Church doing a great job preaching the truth about traditional marriage, but they're doing a great job practicing this truth.  If you stay in the Church, you will find yourself in a community that preserves and celebrates traditional marriage.  

It is possible that the Church will change its doctrines and practices in relation to marriage in the next few decades?  I think so.  Is it possible that Latter-Day Saints will one day embrace gay marriage?  Yes.   

If that day arrives, what should we do?  I don't know.  Let's cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, let's continue saying our prayers, baking whole wheat bread, and doing our home teaching.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

# 5: The Conversion of Parley P. Pratt

The following is taken from the Autobiography of Parley P Pratt, revised and enhanced edition, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, page 31 and 32.  Parley P. Pratt writes about how he found the Book of Mormon and how he felt when he read it.

We visited an old Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin.  After hearing of our appointment for evening, he began to tell of a book, a strange book, a very strange book! in his possession, which had been just published.  This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the state of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels… I felt a strange interest in the book.  [The] next morning… for the first time, my eyes beheld the “Book of Mormon”- that book of books – that record which reveals the antiquities of the “New World” back to the remotest ages, and which unfolds the destiny of its people and the world for all time to come; - that Book which contains the fullness of the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer; - that Book which reveals a lost remnant of Joseph, and which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.

I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page.  I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated.  After this I commenced its contents by course.  I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

As I read, the Spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.  My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices, and toils of my life.

Can anyone read the preceding passage and doubt the sincerity of Parley P. Pratt’s conversion?  I suppose some could.  But when you consider his life, and read his sermons, and read all the poems he wrote about God and the Restoration, the only rational conclusion is this: Parley P. Pratt really believed in Mormonism.

Why is this a reason you should stay LDS?  Because you need to remember that the founders of the Church were not con-men.  There are so many reasons to be proud of our heritage.  There are so many reasons to be proud of the men and women who brought this Church to what it is today.  Were some lies told?  Yes.  Did some leaders practice unrighteous dominion?  Yes.  But overall, the founders of the LDS church were sincere people seeking after the will of God.

Like Parley P. Pratt, I have also felt joy when reading the Book of Mormon.  Though I no longer view it as a literal historical record, I still appreciate its warmth and goodness.  The Book is beautiful.  It has a proven track record of facilitating communication between humans and God. 

God works in mysterious ways.  I think God had an interest in getting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints started, so that people like me nearly two hundred years later could get close to God through living the Mormon lifestyle, and so that people in the Philippines could be given some relief after the devastating typhoon Haiyan.  And to get the Church started, God led men like Parley P. Pratt to Joseph Smith.

What Pratt felt and thought when he first encountered Mormonism was neither neurosis nor wishful thinking.  He wasn’t being duped or brainwashed.  He was converting to a legitimate, albeit colorful, Christian denomination.  The Spirit of God was moving in his life.

The Spirit of God leads people today to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I’ve witnessed a few people convert to our religion.  When they do, often they give up bad habits, become happier, pray more frequently and earnestly, and find more meaning and purpose in their lives.  Surely the hand of God is in this Church. 

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

# 4: Al Fox

If you haven't heard, there's a new convert to Mormonism named Al Fox.  She's young, she's hip, she's pretty, and she's from the most fashionable state in America, New York.  Actually her name is Al Carraway now, because she got married a few months ago.  But she got famous as Al Fox, so I'll call her Al Fox. 

And she's on Facebook!

And she's on Twitter!

And she's on You-Tube!

And she may be coming to a youth fireside near you!

She's definitely an extroverted, charismatic young lady.  One thing that is not typically Mormon about her, though, is that she has lots and lots of tattoos.  She got them before she joined the Church.  She's talked about how sometimes members of the Church have unrighteously judged her because of her tattoos, but she chooses to not get offended and she just smiles a lot and bears her testimony a lot.  I mean, she just keeps bearing her testimony over and over and she just keeps saying all these wonderful positive things over and over, like, "God is real.  God loves you.  He wants you to move forward.  You're wonderful." 

Seriously, who's going to tell this young lady that Joseph Smith used a seer-stone in a hat to "translate" the Book of Mormon?  Not me.  Who's going to tell her that the Book of Abraham wasn't really written by Abraham?  Not me.  Who's going to use his or her precious time tearing down the Church, the organization that brings Al Fox so much joy and happiness?  Not me. 

Here's what I think:  I think there really is a God, and He is mysterious, and He is loving, and He is merciful.  And God really is working through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and God really is working through Al Fox to make the Church become a little more in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Each time someone converts to the LDS religion, the religion changes, just a little bit.  A new life is breathed into the Church.  Al Fox is a breath of fresh air. 

The Church is getting better.  Stick around.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

# 3: My Sister's Dream

I grew up in a conservative LDS household. My parents did their best to instill in their children Mormon teachings and Mormon values.  Nevertheless, one of my sisters, when she was a teenager, went astray.  She experimented with drugs and sex, and she became a vegetarian and dressed like a hippie.  She told everyone she didn't really believe in the Church anymore, becuase there were so many religions out there, and what are the chances that the Mormon Church was the right one? 

All the while she was away from the church, which was about 7 years, she was still a good person with a loving heart and an accepting attitude.  She married outside the faith and had a son.  Then she started having a dream.

In the dream, she was lost inside of a big building, crowded with people.  The lighting was bad, and she couldn't find a way out.  She felt distressed, and she wanted to leave, and everyone was wandering around aimlessely, and all these strangers weren't communicating with each other.  It was a bad, dark feeling, and she wanted desperately to get out.  But she couldn't.  And that's where the dream ended.

A few months went by, and she had the dream again.

A few more months went by, and she had the dream again.

My sister said she had this recurring dream every few weeks or months for a year or more.  Each time, she woke up with a bad, bewildered feeling.

Gradually, things began to change in her life.  Maybe it was having a son that got her thinking about eternal, weighty matters.  Maybe it was the people or situations that came into her life. Maybe it was the Holy Ghost.  Whatever it was, my sister decided to go back to church.

On the night of the first day she went back to church, she had the same dream again.  Only this time, it ended differently.

This time, she found a door, and the door opened.  Warm light emanated from the doorway.  The light felt welcoming, soothing, and wonderful.  My sister went inside the light, left the dark crowded building, and that was the last time she ever had that dream. 

I believe that God communicates to us in mysterious ways.  I believe that God communicated to my sister through a dream.  I believe that God guided my sister back to the church that she was raised in, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

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