Saturday, April 15, 2006

Since I have a lot of history to cover, I should probably start at the beginning.

I joined the LDS church in 1984 when I was tracted out by the missionaries. In the next 21 years I was active and faithful, sealed in the temple, raising two good kids in the church. But there was always something missing. At times I was really happy in the church, but much of the time I felt inadequate, because I never fit in. I didn't go to BYU, wasn't a great scriptorian or speaker, and wasn't exceptionally talented at any of the standard criteria for success as a mormon male. I felt like I just didn't get it, because I saw the things that Jesus stood for in the New Testament and was obviously not with the program because I didn't see how the church exemplified many of those things. Jesus stood for helping the poor, and we stand for perfecting ourselves. Jesus reached out to others, and we are so concerned about standards that we stay largely within our own community. Jesus advocated selling our possessions to help the poor, and the leadership of the church is often quite well off and blessed with material possessions.

I felt like I prayed and wasn't righteous enough to deserve an answer. I was never perfect enough, never smooth enough, never quick enough with the right scripture quote. I would never make it to the Celestial Kingdom, because I just wasn't good enough.

Then I had an experience in another Christian church that changed everything. I felt the spirit, which was wrong, because we know the spirit is only present in the LDS church.

Rather than trying to massage this I'll close with this quote from my journal:

On 29 April 2005 I accepted Christ. Although I have been a member of a Christian church for over twenty years now, through a process of prayer and study I came to understand that I had never really fully accepted Christ. I had learned facts about him. I had read scriptures about him, which I have been faithfully studying daily for over ten years. Ever since my baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have faithfully attended church, paid tithing, and served in the church. I have always believed in Jesus Christ as the literal son of God and that he died for our sins on the cross. I have taught this in lessons and testified of this both publicly and privately. Yet I never fully accepted Christ. I believed in Christ and knew and understood facts about Christ, but deep down I was holding something back. I guess I believed somehow that he had died completely for other people's sins, but not for mine. That other people were washed completely clean in his atoning blood, but somehow my account was only partially paid for, and that I was accountable for the rest. Other, somehow lesser, people were free, but since I was more capable more was expected from me than from others.

In a sense I also was full of fear that turning my life over to Christ would be somehow confining, that I would be missing something somehow. I feared that his plan for me would be beyond my ability to carry out, somehow beyond my strength. I thought that accepting Christ would involve adding more things to my "to do" list than I could accomplish, that it would involve basically a level of perfection that would always be just out of reach.

I was unwilling to accept that his plan for me was a plan for my personal happiness, rather than just a way of using me as a cog in a large celestial machine.

I was unwilling to accept that he cared about me as a person, in spite of my weaknesses.

The process of accepting him was really quite simple and unexpected. Through a process of study and prayer I came to realize that I had never fully surrendered my heart and will to Christ. I was filled with a desire to do so and to finally give away my pride after all these years and to become one with Him. Sometime later that day, while walking in a drug store and pondering the things I had been thinking about and feeling over the past few weeks, the clear impression came into my mind that I had accepted Him, and more importantly that he had accepted me. The offering of my will, as humble and imperfect as it might be, was accepted. I was fully His. I was saved.

What does accepting Christ mean in my life? It means trying to feel what he feels. It means not just treating people as we would have them treat us. It goes way beyond the Golden Rule. It's a process of seeing people as He sees them, as children of God. It means to try to love them as He loves them, which is unconditionally. This is not the same as unconditionally accepting everything they do, any more than love for our own children means we accept everything they do. It means learning to see other people as special in their own way, with their own talents and limitations, with unlimited divine potential.

Sometimes accepting Christ is not just doing more. It's feeling more. It's doing the same things with an attitude of worship rather than out of obedience. Doing things out of strict obedience is Old Covenant Old Testament thinking. God gave the Israelites a law of obedience because they couldn't handle anything more complicated. Jesus gave us a law based on the spirit as a higher law.

Accepting Christ is an inward process that changes our hearts and our whole outlook on life. It's not necessarily linked to a visible change in behavior, although that's an inevitable consequence of truly accepting Christ.

Quite simply it's a process of dedicating our lives to Christ, not because we're told to or because we're supposed to. i.e. not as an act of obedience or guilt. Because we freely give it away in love and gratitude. And the funny thing about it is that there is absolutely no way for anyone else to measure it. It's something completely inside.

The process of accepting Christ transforms every relationship, both with God and with others. Possibly this is the area where it is most measurable.

Accepting Christ transforms the very nature of why we do things, from behaving out of a sense of obedience to behaving out of a sense of love and gratitude for everything he has done for us.

Accepting Christ means gaining a fuller understanding of his sacrifice. Not just understanding more facts about it, but realizing that his sacrifice paid the awful price for every sin, large and small. When we fully understand this, I think we begin to feel a deep sense of gratitude for this, not just on Sundays, not just once a day, but during every waking minute. Literally every breath was bought and paid for on the cross. Every breath, every success, every failure, every joy, every sorrow that we experience.

That sense of gratitude makes us want to give back in every way possible, in all that we do. In a sense we were created so that the glory of God might become manifest in us, in everything we do. Out of gratitude we try to do all that we do such that that glory might shine forth in us, from the way we treat others to the way we set up and take down chairs. From the way we perform mundane tasks at work to the way we drive. From the way we teach in church to the way we cut our grass. In everything we acknowledge the great gift we have been given by lifting others up and by making the world around us a more beautiful and inspiring place.

We accept Christ by setting aside our pride in human relationships. When Christ taught, it was never about him. It was about his father in heaven. When he rebuked, he rebuked the hypocritical rather than the weak. I.e. the people who knew better and sinned in full knowledge of what they were doing. He rebuked people who abused their stewardships over others, who use their positions and strengths for personal gain rather than for blessing others. The weak he gently corrected and taught. He never lost his temper. His righteous anger was calculated and expressed on purpose to make a point, never for personal gratification. It was never about his way. It was about his father's way.

In a sense it is also learning to be more at peace with our imperfections. Accepting Christ means accepting on a daily basis that we have things to work on in order to more closely model our lives on his and our feelings on his. This means confronting our imperfections on a daily basis, which could drive a true perfectionist to insanity if we don't learn to accept that we have weaknesses and will always have weaknesses. We can't allow this to be a barrier to this daily process, though. If we react with fear and anger to our weaknesses we will never be able to confront them and to share them with Christ so we can make a plan for making them better.

Accepting Christ is a process of appreciating that we have been blessed with gifts and strengths as well as weaknesses, and being willing to humble ourselves and allow our lives to be directed in such a way that those strengths can be used to bless others. Focusing exclusively on our weaknesses causes us to hold back the gift of our strengths from him, because we don't even see them. If we don't see them we can't use them.


Thomas Gail Haws said...

Hi, CF.

You said, "Jesus advocated selling our possessions to help the poor."

I was recently studying the gospels and pondered the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive ointment. I think it was Judas who said, "Why wasn't this ointment sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus said, "The poor you always have with you. This is the right thing for this lady to be doing."

In pondering that passage along with all the other passages in the Gospels about money, forsaking, and sufferering, the thought occurred that Jesus was teaching at that moment that it isn't all about money and the poor. The passage about the widow's mite came to mind, when Jesus said her donation was bigger than the donation of all the others. In that moment, Jesus seemed to be saying to me that it doesn't take money to build the kingdom.

Then what is left? What is the message of Jesus? He clearly says, "Sell all you have and give to the poor, and come follow me and you will have an eternal wallet." He also says, "If you don't forsake all you have, you can't be my disciple."

Here's my new thought: Jesus teaches over and over again to sell all, give all away, and leave all. Giving to the poor is slightly better than burning your possessions, so he says "Sell all and give to the poor." But the transferral of Caesar's money to the indigent is not the main goal. The main goal is that the person who believes the words of Jesus will renounce claim on the world and despise the desires of the flesh. Giving money to the poor while still clutching our own is a wonderful step, but doesn't fulfill the command of the Teacher. Maybe someday I can be his disciple. Until then I remain simply His Beloved Friend.

Anyway, just a thought to chew on regarding "to help the poor".

Tom Haws

ChristFollower said...

I agree. It's not about the money at all. It's about the leap of faith that says that nothing comes before God. Not money, not church, not family, not personal ambition. We lay it all on the altar. I look forward to having the faith to really do that someday, but until then I can at least do my best.