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Tuesday, 24 November 2015 19:04

Essay 3: Divinity, Discipleship & Decisions That Define Us

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*Note: This essay is the third of seven authored by Jeremy for the LDS Midsingle (31-45+) community. The opinions and thoughts shared therein are his own and unless otherwise noted all names and circumstances of stories have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. 

Unless you've been living under a rock these past few weeks, you've probably noticed that the world is going crazy right now. As a former journalist I try to stay current on the happenings in the news and the more I watch or read, the more I think of the Lord's warning that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matthew 24:7-8).

As Paul so succinctly said, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." (2 Timothy 3:1). Indeed, as I study what is happening in current events, I would have to say: perilous times (have) come.

Jesus teaching the peopleMembers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been warned for generations now that the world is going to go one way while the Lord leads his people in another. I shake my head when church members are surprised that the prophet and apostles who guide the church today under Christ's direction (D&C 1:38) give counsel and policies that contradict the world's opinion. Jesus really did not say or do what was popular in his day (and if you think he accepted everyone's behavior/lifestyles, you might want to reread the Gospels). The Lord's doctrine was very unpopular with the leadership in his day (in case you missed it, they killed him for it) and upset what was culturally accepted. He even said quite clearly that he came to "to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household." (Matthew 10:35-36). This is not a division brought about by hate or bigotry or judgement (which seems to be what Satan is inspiring in worldly movements today), but rather the "variance" the Lord spoke of will come down to a simple choice: will we "do all things whatsoever the Lord (our) God shall command (us)..." (Abraham 3:25) or will we be "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive..." (Ephesians 4:14)?

As the world's opinion of what is acceptable behavior continues to grow more and more liberal (that's a description, not a political statement), the greater will grow the distance between God's law and mortal approval. And that is where the "variance" the Lord spoke of will become starkly apparent. One side will say that everything is permitted legally (man's laws) and the other will say, "God has declared some things are not permitted according to His laws."

And that's the dilemma facing Christians today. Unpopular doctrine from God is still true doctrine and while perfect love for the sinner is always inherent, eternal truth cannot be changed. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian writer, warns, "Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance. Real tolerance is deference to all ideas, not indifference to the truth."

God loved the 1/3 of the hosts of Heaven that had to be cast out (see Revelations 12:4), and yet, because they chose to go against His true doctrine, they had to be sent away with the Devil (Revelations 12:9). Detractors of Gospel guidelines and the commandments declare that if a Christian calls a sin a sin they aren't being very Christian. Indeed, they seem to have this opinion that Christianity in general should accept all beliefs, doctrines and lifestyles as acceptable to Christ. They are not.

Jesus and the PhariseesJesus loves every precious child of God (as should every Christian), but that does not mean he tolerated all their conduct and beliefs. He denounced the teachings/lifestyles of the Pharisees and Sadducees time and time again during his life (teachings and lifestyles there were culturally and "legally" accepted, by the way). He preached against immoral behavior and loathed hypocrisy and greed. He angrily chased the money-changers out of his father's house, the temple, with a whip (John 2:13-17). He forgave sins, but never "tolerated" them. Wherever he went, he invited men and women to leave their old ways behind and "Come unto (him)..." that he might "give (them) rest." (Matthew 11:28). This invitation to "come" forward signifies that they would have to leave behind any behavior, belief or cultural pattern that was contradictory to his teachings. If you don't believe me, just ask the young rich man who Christ invited to "go and sell that (he had), and give to the poor, and (he would) have treasure in heaven" (Matthew 19:21). When he heard Jesus' say this, the young man went away "sorrowful" (vs. 22). 

There are a few (and I emphasis few) members leaving the Church at this time due to new policies set in place by those whom the Lord has called in our day. Like this young man, they cannot give up their "possessions", their beliefs that what God has called a sin is instead acceptable. They mistake love for sinner as tolerance for sin. Love everyone, yes, but if you really want to be like Christ then you won't call a wrong a right.

Isaiah warned about modern liberal mentalities over 2,700 years ago when he spoke about our day and said, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;..." (Isaiah 5:20). What happens when you reject the light? You are left in the dark. What happens when you try to move forward in the dark? You stumble.  

That the Lord would reveal tough-to-swallow doctrines in our day should surprise absolutely no member of the Church. After all, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (Article of Faith 1:9).  In fact, it is not the first time it has happened in the Church, in our day or the Lord's.

For example, Jesus's disciples found him teaching about the Sacrament and explaining its meaning in a synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:24-69). Here he proclaimed that he was the "bread which came down from heaven" (vs. 41) and that "if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever" (vs. 51). Jesus continued to expound the doctrine by saying that "whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (vs. 54).

This was a new doctrine, a new policy to their beliefs. And even among those who were formerly his disciples, members of his soon-to-be-organized church if you will, it did not go over well.

"Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying (or standard); who can hear (or follow) it?" (vs. 60). 

Now, there is a critical moment that most miss when they read this account. Jesus knew that this truth, this doctrine, this new policy of the ordinance of the Sacrament was not going to be accepted by all his followers, yet he taught it anyway because it was essential for their salvation. John tell us that "Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not..." (vs. 64). With that knowledge, he turned to his disciples and simply asked, "Doth this offend you?" (vs. 61). "From that time many of his disciples went back (to their old lives), and walked no more with him." (vs. 66). If that isn't prophetic of what is going on in the Church lately, I don't know what is. 

I will follow the LordDoth this offend you? If the Gospel's true purpose is to bring our mortal appetites, notions, opinions and patterns more in line with the character of God the Father's, then yes, we are going to find parts of our personality and belief-system that clash. In those moments we have a choice: obey or justify disobedience. As Joshua of old said, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord (or accept his policies and doctrines), choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood (i.e. anything that runs contrary to God's laws),... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15).

It is not God's job to explain why he gives us certain commandments, guidelines, or policies to direct his Church upon the earth. Rather, it is our job to humble ourselves and accept them with the faith of Adam who when asked why he offered sacrifices said, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me." (Moses 5:30).

Recently I have had one-on-one discussions with dear friends who have found their testimonies shaken a bit. Some a little, some a lot. But almost all have used that great catch-all phrase of, "Well, if I love Christ and try to be a good person, that's good enough for God." No it isn't. It's a start, but it is not the end.

Those who decry that Christ tolerated all should remember that Jesus' role as our master teacher is not to teach what we want to hear from our mortal perspective, but rather what we need to hear for our eternal salvation. The reason God reveals truth is to correct error, and when popular errors are pointed out, those who follow Christ are labelled "intolerant" when in fact it is God who clarifies what is acceptable in His eyes. There are requirements for salvation that extend far beyond "just being a good person", a list of which I will not give here beyond a few short examples: must be baptized (John 3:5), no murder (Matthew 19:18), no adultery (ibid), no stealing (ibid), no lying/bearing false witness (ibid), we must honor our parents (vs. 19), and so on. The himself Lord said that if we want eternal life with God, then we must "keep the commandments" (vs. 16) which requires more than just "being a good person."

Whenever we seek to change doctrine to suit our personal beliefs or habits, that is apostasy. Webster's dictionary defines apostasy as the "abandonment of a previous loyalty: defection." Twisting eternal truth to fit mortal circumstances, lusts or beliefs is an abandonment of loyalty to what God has decreed and instead a pledge of loyalty to whatever worldly doctrine, behavior or belief we choose to adhere to. And when we go against what the prophet and apostles unitedly teach, we have defected from the true and living God to one who "walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" (1 Peter 5:8). It is in those moments that the Lord would ask, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).

To whom shall we go thou hast the words of eternal lifeTo any midsingles who may be experiencing a crisis of faith right now, I saw hold on, even if just by your fingertips! Don't cast out what you know to be true because you are wrestling with things you are unsure of. Eternal progress is a journey and we should be asking questions and seeking answers (Moroni's promise is not just about the Book of Mormon). Your short-term spiritual crisis is a good thing if you ultimately seek God's guidance and direction in your choices after you've exhausted all other sources of information and opinion. I know He loves you and is concerned with your concerns. I promise.

And if you will listen with your heart, you will come to say as Peter said after the other disciples went away, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words (including the guidelines, ordinances, commandments and policies) of eternal life." (John 6:68).

Lastly, to all who may be reading this who may be wavering in their convictions to Christ, I will simply ask you what Elijah asked ancient Israel when he gathered them together before the 450 "prophets" of the idol-god (or is that idle-god?) Baal:

"How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God (and the Church is true and President Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet), follow him: but if Baal (and the world's opinion is true), then follow (them)..." (1 Kings 18:21).

If, in your personal soul-searching moments you have decided to leave the Church, know that you are always welcome to come home. If that is not a possibility you can entertain, then I truly wish you a happy and full life.

May we all with renewed faith, whether firm or still shaky, hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can we stand before God and declare as Paul, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith..." (2 Timothy 4:7).

Jeremy C. Holm

Author & American athlete Jeremy C. Holm has spent over half his life in the fast-paced winter sport of bobsled, including as the Head Coach for the US Adaptive Bobsled Team. He has a degree in Journalism and is pursuing a degree in Military History at the American Military University. In addition to motivational speaking and corporate appearances around the world, Jeremy is the author of three books and spends his time camping, hiking, writing and trying to make history, one day at a time.

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