“Dear God, I’m broken.”

I was looking at the Ensign today, and I was noticing how all the people in there looked happy, balanced, and everything, and I thought to myself, “Man, I want to see an article that just says, Dear God, I’m broken.” I txted my friend about that and she said someone should write it. So I guess I’ll give it a try.

I have a hard time with … life. I don’t think I can really get more specific than that, because that pretty much covers it. Just daily living is a real struggle. I could go into more detail about how depressing and sad it is, but I don’t really wanna focus on that.

I was over at a friend’s tonight, and she asked how I was doing. I responded, “Well … you know.” And she said, “Yah, I do know.” She understands what I’m going through, because we have a lot of the same issues. It’s just life.

In those times of struggle and difficulty, where I really don’t feel like I can keep going, I often turn to the Lord, so frustrated and confused and all I can say is, “Dear God.” I often don’t say more than that. Those small prayers, though, are filled with so much emotion and sincerity, that I know he hears them. And that he is concerned for me. At times I often say, “Lord, help me to know what to even pray for, because I’m just lost.” I don’t usually get an answer to that one, but what I do tend to do is just chat with him and let him know what’s going on. In some small way, that I don’t notice, it somehow helps. I don’t magically jump off the floor with a renewed spirit, but I do somehow keep going.

I absolutely love these verses in Isaiah 5 (verses 1 and 2):

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes …

I have learned that the Lord always puts lists of actions like this in a particular order for a reason — they are not arbitrarily thrown together. And in these scriptures, I see how to order my life when it feels like it is out of control.

The first thing the lord of the vineyard does, is fence it. For me, this means that my priority is to set boundaries — where I will go, what I will do, and what I will not do.

The second thing is, he removes the rocks, or the things that will impede the vineyard (see also, the parable of the sower). For me, this usually means the things that have caused me to go off course for whatever reason. Not just spiritually. There are so many scriptures that apply both spiritually and practically, and there are so many principles that apply to both areas of life. Sometimes I set my boundaries too large, which is usually the case if I’m overwhelmed. There’s too many stones to move. I must have done something wrong.

I like to think there are three kinds of stones. Those that are small, simple things that we can take care of ourselves, really without much effort or difficulty (reading the scriptures, saying prayers, etc.). Then there are the medium-sized stones that require all our strength, either to maintain where we are, or to push us slightly forward. Finally, there are the boulders, the big rocks that I can’t move by myself, and I have to have the Lord help me to move them out of the way.

Once all that is taken care of, then the vineyard can be started, started with a transplant of the choicest vine (even at the beginning, we need an infusion of power from somewhere beyond ourselves).

Finally, a tower is put up, to watch over the vineyard and see that it is maintained properly (spiritual and practical habits become routine, and not just initiated). Last of all, we can begin to have expectations of reaping the rewards of all the work.

I like this parable because the Lord doesn’t start with the tower, or looking for the grapes, first. The Lord is very practical. He starts simply, and builds from there. There are two steps before the planting of the vineyard, and two steps afterwards. Equally so, when I fall, and fail, and sin, and err, I can’t expect to just climb back on the tower and hope everything’s going to be great again, and just wait for the nice grape juice to just flow my way. I have to start all over. It’s usually because I’ve crossed some boundaries that I need to start all over, so I have to spiritually reset myself and go back to the beginning.

There’s another scripture I like in the Book of Mormon that mirrors this same principle, in Alma 28:1:

And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla …”

The background for this verse is that the people of Ammon were refugees, and had fled to the Nephite country for security.

I think the order of priorities again, is interesting. They don’t start with setting up the church first (filling your life with good, regular things), but instead, get the people established. There’s little chance for spiritual growth if my practical one is completely out of whack. There’s a great church video I saw once, that said, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.” That’s always stuck with me.

At church today, I was looking at the presidents of the Church manual, and I saw this quote from Joseph Smith, that I really liked. “Let us this very day begin anew, and now say, with all our hearts, we will forsake our sins and be righteous.” Now, normally when I would read that, I would be like, “heck yeah! I’m gonna do *all* the good things, *all* the time! Woo hoo!” But reading it as I did today, as I’m going through a rough patch, I read it in a much more sincere, and practical, and simple way. One where the Lord is quietly saying that we are going to start from where I am now. There’s no need to build any towers just yet.

Going along with that, it’s easy I’ve noticed to get excited about wanting to do the right thing. Excitement can have energy at the offset, but the strong emotions fade with time. Maintaining a gospel-driven life is not powered by a momentary elation of dedication, but rather through daily decisions of continually desiring to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.

So, starting over again, I sat down and flipped open an issue of the Ensign magazine that covers the General Conference talk. I read a bit of it, and went about my way just doing little stuff around my apartment like cleaning it up to just get going back in the right direction.

What happened next is hard for me to explain. I had decided to do the right things again, but I didn’t think about it. That is, I didn’t say to myself, “well, if you do this, the Lord will bless you, and you’ll be happy.” That thought never occurred to me … I just *started* doing it knowing that living the gospel would set things right by themselves. When I thought about that later, I realized that I had a testimony of it, because I had instinctively acted on that knowledge.

Cool stuff. 🙂

Camels and gnats

My commentary this time covers Matthew 23 a little bit. I love the whole chapter. When I was looking at verses 23 and 24, they got me thinking.

23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

The Lord is coming down hard on the scribes and Pharisees for not keeping the weighter matters of the law, or the gospel. The same thing happened in Isaiah’s time as well, and he covers it beautifully in chapter one:

13. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16. ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

One problem I’ve noticed in my own life is that as I start getting into a good rhythm — as I am observing the camels — there creeps into my life a tendency to start to focus on the small things a little bit. It is borne out of either temptation or anxiety, I’m not really sure which, but my focus on the smaller matters of the gospel tends to cause problems for me, almost to the point of superstition or karma (if I don’t do this small thing, I will lose God’s favor, for example). This has the effect of putting a huge burden on me, for every little action is filtered through the judgement of morality, or, I suppose, a strict interpretation of the law. This intense focus on small things, the gnats, becomes such a burden that I usually give up trying to be religious at all for a time, because of all the expectations I put on myself.

This week, in fact, I was wrestling with this problem. On Sunday I was considering the principles of observing the Sabbath, trying to think of what’s okay to do and what isn’t, and I was in my mind going over the minutae of things. Later on, though, I realized that I hadn’t been seeing to the more important things that week — I hadn’t done any scripture study, I missed my Bible study class because I couldn’t make it, I hadn’t been to the temple recently, and I missed my church meetings for some reason. I was skipping the big stuff and focusing on the small, and it was causing my mind to torment itself. That’s one thing I love about living the gospel, is that when you take care of the big things, everything else just falls into place and naturally makes sense. There are small course corrections, to be sure, but they do not come when you are neglecting the basics.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I find myself in any state of spiritual apathy, I tend to think that there is some special action that I should do that is tailored to my condition. But when I seek for special instruction, the answer is always the same: to do the basics. Read my scriptures, pray regularly, attend services, fast, go to the temple, and do whatever practical things I can with my immediate environment to invite the Holy Ghost. It’s not gnats at all that the Lord is concerned about, it’s the weightier matters.

After finding this revelation, it has been hugely rewarding for me to let go of my focus on the small, imperceptable matters. I know that we are commanded to watch ourselves (Alma 13:28), but again, this is to be done in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27).

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that if a camel dies, that small flies would devour it’s carcass. I think that’s what had happened in Jesus’ time, and it’s certainly what happens to me when I push myself too hard.

The grace of God will cover all the imperceptible imperfections. I’m grateful for that. 🙂

Archives: a division among the people

I am really saddened by the politics lately, considering the community center building in New York.  Though I don’t follow the debates closely, from the outset, I’m saddened by the whole thing, mostly for the intolerance of our own neighbors.

Particularly, I read a comment that said, “therefore another location could be chosen for the mega-mosque. The aim should be to unite people and not to divide them.”  Another one providing the idea  that those of differing opinions should “build it some miles away.”  Reading that, I thought of the words of the Lord, who taught us to love our neighbors.

I think it’s worth sharing a small parable from the Master, found in Luke 10.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

And Jesus answering said, a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

There are some great things to learn from this scripture, but one that I wanted to point out was the racial division among the people.  If the traveler originated from Jerusalem, then it may be safe to assume that he was a Jew — a native to the country.  Those that passed him by would have been kinsmen — a priest, and a Levite.

It was a Samaritan that helped him, though.  That the Lord mentioned him by origin is telling.  The Samaritans were a mixed breed of race.  In recent history, the kingdom of Israel had been conquered, and a few Israelites left.  The land was later colonized by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and the people were mixed in religion as well — both heathen and believer.

They were most hated by the Jews, for their perceived impure backgrounds and practices, yet, geographically speaking, they were neighbors.  And it was those, among whom the world expects the least, that comes salvation.

In the parable, Christ was speaking of Himself.  He was also of mixed breed, born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father, and He was despised of all men, for not conforming to their beliefs and culture.  And yet, He is the one who will bring salvation and life to the wounded.

Who, then, today are our neighbors?  Can we pick them any more than we can pick our own family?  If we disagree culturally or politically, should we demand that they go elsewhere?

I believe that the Lord intended the principle of loving our neighbors to be both figurative and literal.  There are differences between races and cultures, for sure, but as a species we are far more alike than different.

Who are our neighbors?  Those who take residence next to us.  In the sense of loving them, the parable illustrated the commandment by showing service, to lift them up and carry them upon our own beasts and to give of our own resources when none other — even those who were called to that work — would be so willing.  May we do the same.

Archives: science and faith

I generally don’t post thoughts on controversial topics, since I’m not one for jumping into debates that can quickly deteriorate, but I do think it’s okay now and then to post my own thoughts and perspectives on the matter, in case anyone might find it of interest.

I was watching an IMAX documentary tonight, I have a few of them on DVD, and I’ve always loved watching them.  Tonight, it was Cosmic Voyage, a really great one that explores how massive our universe is, and how much life there is in it.  It’s a really cool movie to watch.

As a Christian, I have a unique perspective on the origin of the universe that doesn’t agree with the secular conclusions.  However, unlike mainstream religions, I do not believe that science and faith are mutually exclusive.  I believe in evolution as much as anyone else, since, for one, it’s not only scientifically plausible, but proven.  I draw the line that evolution was the cause of the origin of life though, instead taking the doctrine on faith that man was placed here by God, with a purpose to life that He has since revealed to His children through prophets, which have been recorded as scripture.

I never know quite how to explain my perspective, since it’s so different from everything else, and probably pretty unexpected to start with.  It’d be easy to gloss over my take on things and just sum me up as another crazy creationist that thinks some invisible force created everything then dumped us here to let us figure things out.

And so, in an effort to meet critics on their own grounds, I’ll ask the hard questions myself, but provide the answers the best I can.  I’m not trying to convince anyone of the truth — and it’s not my belief that it should be forced on others involuntarily, in school or any other setting.  But I would like the fair chance to present my side. 🙂

How was the earth created?

First of all, going to the creation of the earth.  There is a misconception that God created the universe ex nihilo, or, out of nothing.  This belief springs from a poor translation of the original text.  In Hebrew, the book of Genesis says that the earth was organized, not created — meaning from existing matter.  In modern revelation, the Lord has said that “the elements are eternal.”  Science would agree that matter can be neither destroyed nor created.  My religion concurs. 🙂

How long did it take to create the earth?

The truth is, we don’t really know.  There are a few accounts given of the creation (Genesis, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Abraham), and they all offer a few more details.  In Abraham’s account, each of the creationary periods are called a “time”.  For example, “And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time.” (emphasis mine).

You can read the whole account of Abraham’s record of the creation, starting with chapter 4, although the entire book covers some amazing doctrine.

The next question is more interesting, though, I think.

Why doesn’t the Lord reveal to us the details of the creation?

The answer to that is pretty simple, and I imagine probably going to be a little frustrating to some, and maybe some reason to scoff to others.

The answer is it’s not necessary to our salvation.

The reason we are here on earth, living our mortal lives, is to see if, once we have left the presence of our Father in Heaven, we will choose to obey him.  A knowledge of the creation of the earth is not a prerequisite to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, the Lord does at times reveal knowledge of the mysteries of creation and of life as a testimony of His work, and to strengthen our faith.

In a more simple analogy, say you were taking a test on mathematics … it wouldn’t do you much good to study lots of history before going into the exam, because it is superfluous and not necessary for our passing grade in that area of study.  Likewise, we don’t need to understand all things to be able to successfully pass the mortal test, to follow God, choose the right, and achieve happiness.  He requires of us a willing mind and an obedient spirit, something that everyone can give individually.

That is not to say that God does *not* want us to know these things, though.  It would be an incorrect conclusion to assume that since God does not reveal His word to us, that He has no interest in us finding these things out.  The Lord gave us many tools, both personally and collectively, to study these things out for ourselves.

He has said, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;  Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (emphasis mine)

Also, just because the knowledge is withheld, does not mean it will always be that way.  Just as parents teach their children principles line upon line, precept upon precept, our Heavenly Father does not burden us with things that would be too hard to grasp at this point in our existence — partly, because they would prove unto us a stumbling block (even the limited knowledge we have now is a struggle of faith for many, and keeps them from believing).

He has promised to eventually reveal to us “things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof–Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.” (emphasis mine)

So, while it may be frustrating, now, to not know the reason and purpose behind all things, they will eventually be revealed to us — either in this life or the next.  In the meantime, we can rest safely in the knowledge that it is not required of us to understand.  That in no way excuses us from either trying or should prevent us from wanting to understand though.

How can we take things on faith?

I think a simpler way to ask the question might be, “how can you really believe all that stuff?”

Well, to be honest, for me it comes pretty easily, so I have a really hard time understanding how it would be hard sometimes *not* to believe it.  So I apologize in advance if my explanation of things seems a bit simple … a bit of a loop, saying “I believe it’s true because I believe it’s true.”  There’s actually a base to that — and that is a witness from God, that comes by asking sincerely if these things are true.

One last quote, this time from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.  Alma (an ancient prophet of God) says, “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

It’s a curious pasttime of mine to try and find parts of those “all things” that denote the existence of God.  The complexity of life goes deeper than just a testimony of the existence of God, they are actually living parables — analogies that to the simple and humble are opened up, and show similarities to the Gospel itself.

For example, the seasons of the earth are just as the stages of mortality are.  Spring represents the birth and renewal of life, summer the prime of our lives, fall is the stages of death, decay and our twilight years, and then winter, in all its glorious white, represents the resurrection of life.

There’s lots more examples, and I was trying to think of one that I had come up with when writing this, but nothing is coming to me right now.  I went looking for one in my notes on scripture study, and I couldn’t find one quickly either.

That’s generally how my presentation feels though — a little lacking on the solid examples, and I feel like I’m not really getting my point across too well, but I can rely on the fact that I believe and even know that these things are true, and I can’t deny that … even if I can’t explain it eloquently. 🙂

There was also this great quote from Brigham Young about how all truth was circumscribed into one whole (or maybe it was Joseph Smith).  Anyway.  I remember President Young would talk about it a lot at length.  I’ll have to go find my book of his quotes somewhere.

But yah, the simple point I wanted to make is that science and religion actually are the same pursuit of truth, and application of that knowledge.  There is no conflict between the two for true religion, for God operates by eternal laws, many of which we don’t understand yet.

Alright, I’ll stop preaching now. 🙂  I just wanted to point out that for some Christians, there is no conflict .. no crisis of faith when presented with science.  It’s a common tactic that those who actively try to undermine the faith of others will use the fact that “you can’t explain it” as a reason to disbelieve.  Instead of letting this despair me, I actually consider it a requisite of my faith.  The Lord wants me to grow spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally, and each of those require risks … stepping out into the dark, having faith that if I follow the best path, that I will grow and be redeemed and rewarded after my labor is done.  I don’t know everything, that is true, but I do know the basics and have a testimony of their truth.  I know enough. 🙂