Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faith To Be Healed: Part I

The Lord’s healing of both our physical and our spiritual afflictions is conditioned upon our faith in Him and made possible through His Atonement, in which He took upon Himself the pains and sins of all mankind. Having overcome all, the Lord gained the power to allow us to do the same, if we would but rely on the witness of the Holy Ghost, who testifies of Him.

Faith: A Definition

Faith is a conviction of and firm reliance on the existence, efficacy, and applicability of the saving power of God. It is a gift given by God through the Spirit to His children in order to help them to center their lives in Him (D&C 46:19; 1 Corinthians 12:31). Faith is a gift of the Spirit that bestows the assurance of that which is unseen (Hebrews 11:1). This assurance is intangible but nonetheless real (Alma 32:35). It gives us power borne of certainty and inspires us to action, to experimenting upon the word of God, by which we gain a perfect knowledge of its truthfulness (Alma 32:34).

Faith is a principle of belief, of action, and of power (See Lectures on Faith, 7:2). President Boyd K. Packer described faith, saying:

"There are two kinds of faith. One of them functions ordinarily in the life of every soul. It is the kind of faith born by experience; it gives us certainty that a new day will dawn…It is the kind of faith that relates us with confidence to that which is scheduled to happen… There is another kind of faith, rare indeed. This is the kind of faith that causes things to happen. It is the kind of faith that is worthy and prepared and unyielding, and it calls forth things that otherwise would not be. It is the kind of faith that moves people. It is the kind of faith that sometimes moves things… It is a marvelous, even a transcendent, power, a power as real and as invisible as electricity. Directed and channeled, it has great effect." (Boyd K. Packer, "What is Faith?" "Faith" [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1983], p. 42, emphasis added)

Faith to be healed is included in this second type of faith. Such faith draws upon and channels the powers of heaven to restore lost physical and spiritual strength. Faith gives us both the assurance of healing and the means whereby that healing is accomplished.

Faith to be Healed

Throughout Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He, through faith, made the afflicted whole, forgave sins and alleviated suffering. He commended the centurion for his great faith that his servant might be healed, proclaiming, “I have not seen so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). To the woman with an issue of blood whose faith that “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” drove her to experimenting upon that witness of the Spirit, Jesus proclaimed, “Go in peace…thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 5:23, 34). Zeezrom, close to death, was healed by the same power, “according to his faith…in Christ” (Alma 15:10).

The healing power of Christ is available on the earth today through the authority of the priesthood. Although the miracles of modern medicine can do much to prolong and improve life, they cannot consistently guarantee healing. The power of man is limited, but the power of God transcends and overcomes all things. President Gordon B. Hinckley testified that, although doctors can do much, “The mighty Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that in them are has given to His servants a divine power that sometimes transcends all the powers and knowledge of men" (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 52).

The Lord is able to provide relief from physical suffering, even when mortal capabilities are insufficient. During His time in mortality, He “went about doing good,” causing the “dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see” (Acts 10:38, Matthew 15:31). This same power to do good, to heal the sick in the name of Jesus Christ, is available today through the administration of those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. The faith to be healed and its companion, the faith to heal, are gifts of the Spirit given to those who need and earnestly desire them, according to the power and mercy of God (D&C 46:19-20).

But the Lord’s healing was, and is, extended to more than physical ailments, for Christ has the power to heal souls, to “make whole,” to reconcile the sinner with God, to make life complete. The Lord speaks to Isaiah of the sinfulness of His people, comparing it to physical illness: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isaiah 1:5-6). In our day, President Hinckley also spoke of this less recognized but more debilitating ailment, saying, “there is much of sickness among us other than that of the body. There is the sickness of sin.…Legion are those who have testified of the healing power of Christ to lift them from the desolation of sin to higher and nobler living" (ibid.). As ancient and modern prophets testify, Christ can heal sicknesses of the body and those of the soul. The Savior taught the Nephites of the consequences of sin, warning them that, “whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul,” but cautioned his people against passing judgment, “for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them” (3 Nephi 18:29, 32). If the Lord can heal the repentant who have knowingly partaken of damnation, He will surely extend that healing to those whose transgressions carry less serious consequences.

To the man sick of the palsy, Christ first proclaimed, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee”—and only afterwards did He command him to “rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (Mark 2:5-9). Both healings were performed, however, only after “Jesus saw their faith” (Mark 2:5). The Lord’s coupling of the two healings teaches an important lesson—that healing one’s body from sickness and healing one’s soul from sin are both done by the same power, through faith in the infinite and eternal power of His Atonement. Christ asked the observing scribes to consider “is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (Mark 2:9). The unspoken answer is a definitive no, for both proclamations are made possible by the same power, and both are equally easy—or, more precisely, both are equally hard. The forgiveness of sins and the alleviation of sickness were made possible by the Atonement, the most difficult act ever performed, the act that endowed the Son of God with the greatest power in creation. Through that power, “all things are possible,” but only “to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fire In My Bones

The prophet Jeremiah spent much of his ministry being persecuted by the people he was called to teach. He was imprisoned by his people, and when they were destroyed as he had predicted, he was forced to flee with them into Egypt, where he was stoned to death.

Jeremiah had reason to be discouraged about his ministry, especially since he didn't seem to have a single convert. He had reason to quit, to tell God, "Look. I'm not getting anywhere. Do you mind if I stop this pointless exercise and go live out the rest of my life in peace somewhere? Why do I always have to be in the middle of this mess?" But he couldn't seem to shake the compulsion he had to speak the words that God had given him. He wrote,

But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV)

Jeremiah continued his mission despite the hardships he faced, because he knew the truthfulness of the words God had given him. He knew it with such fervor that it was like a fire in his bones. I've felt like Jeremiah lately. No, I haven't been imprisoned by a hostile people or spent decades preaching against idolatry, but I've felt a powerful witness of the living reality of the Son of God, and the truthfulness of His gospel. It is, in a very real way, like a fire in my bones. It is uncontrollable and inescapable. It is warm and bright, but not tame--it burns with a wild might, a consuming passion, an everlasting flame. I do not completely understand it, but I know it to be true.

C.S. Lewis explained his communion with God in this way: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me” (The Weight of Glory). That's how I feel about the gospel--it changes me, in a way that no self-help book or psychological program could. My knowledge of the truth flows out of me, waking and sleeping, crying and laughing, certain and doubting, sinner and saint. It's simply true. And because of that inconveniently wonderful fact, I choose to exercise my faith and trust in the things I do not understand. Yes, living the gospel is a choice, but not a capricious or random one--having examined the alternatives, I choose it because it's the only one that makes any sense. And so I choose to let the Lord teach me and guide me, shaping me into the person He wants me to be. I choose to trust His ways and His timing, though patience does not come naturally to me.

I choose to answer as Peter did, when the Lord asked His disciples whether they would forsake Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 6:67-69). I do it because Jesus Christ is my Redeemer, my Savior, my Master, and my King. Because He fills me to overflowing. Because He brings me peace in a world that makes so little sense. Because He moves with power to succor me, to reclaim a life out of balance, to enfold me in the arms of His love, to drive me to extend the same grace and mercy to the rest of His children, to reflect His light into their lives.

Because His gospel is like a fire in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot.

Picture from http://blog.ning.com/

Monday, January 4, 2010

This Is Zion--The Pure In Heart

Some time ago, a friend asked me a question that I couldn't answer (see, it does happen =). He set the stage by giving the scriptural definition of Zion--"The pure in heart" (Doc. & Cov. 97:21). Then he asked--if by "build Zion" the Lord just meant "be good people--be pure in heart," why couldn't He just have commanded us to be pure in heart? What is it about the command to build Zion that is new or different from the other commandments we've already been taught to obey? What is it about the concept of Zion that has inspired prophets throughout the ages? Simply put, Why Zion?

I didn't have a good answer at the time. But his question has occupied my mind a great deal this past year. I've thought a lot about Zion--what is Zion? How do we build it? And, most fundamentally, "Why Zion?"

Zion societies have been established a few times in scriptural history. Perhaps the earliest and most successful was the city of Enoch, which, because of great righteousness, was taken up into heaven. Of Enoch's city, Moses recorded, "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them" (Moses 7:18). Similarly, the people of Fourth Nephi had no social classes, and held their goods in common with their neighbors (1:24-25).

The Lord's commandments regarding the establishment of Zion in our day often include references to the ordinances of the temple: "Therefore...your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies...in your most holy places...and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion...are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house" (Doc. & Cov. 124:39, emphasis added). The ordinances of the temple, He says, are necessary for the foundation of Zion.

Why is this? Perhaps because the ordinances of the temple draw us together as a people. They involve selfless service for the living and the dead. They unite us in ritual and in communion with the divine. They invite us to live more fully the law of consecration, a law whose stated purpose is the establishment of Zion.

Zion, in whatever age or land it has been established, has always been characterized by unity and the elimination of poverty. Its foundations are always undermined by pride, competition, and the seeking of power, title, and prestige above one's neighbors. Early church members were admonished for polluting their inheritances in Zion by their "jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires" (Doc. & Cov. 101:6). The unity required of the inhabitants of Zion was absent, and so it could not be established.

I think "unity" is the fundamental answer to the question, "Why Zion?" Simply put, the strength of Zion is in community--that is, Zion can only be established in concert with other people. I've always been more of a solitary person myself--it's not that I don't like people, it's just that it's easier to do things myself, because I can be sure I'll do them right. I'm naturally more focused on my own spirituality, growth, and priorities than on others'. But this isn't what God had in mind when He asked us to build Zion, because Zion isn't a collection of individuals--it's a cohesive society, built up of people who are holy individuals but are also united with their neighbors, and so have achieved a level of celestial living not possible to achieve in the solitary state to which they are most accustomed.

The commandments are easy to endorse in the abstract, but harder to obey with the people among whom we live. The commandment to build Zion is a sanctifying principle, because Zion is a consecrated people--not just a group of good people. Those who establish Zion are God's people--they are a holy people. Their covenants tie them, not only to God, but also to each other. They "impart of their substance," not just to God through their tithes, but also, "as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them." They are "united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom" (Doc. & Cov. 105:3-4).

They are true to their covenants and faithful in all things. And though they love imperfect people imperfectly, they are always striving together for God's perfect love. Christ wants us to be holy individuals, but He is not coming back to receive a collection of individuals--He is coming to receive Zion, a holy people, united in common purpose, dedicated to the service of God and of each other.

God wants us to come back to Him, but He's not content to have us do it alone. He wants us to come back to Him with those we love, and with those we have learned to love as we have taught each other and carried each other, as we have seen in each other's eyes and felt in each other's hearts supernal glimpses of the Divine.

The building of Zion is a hands-on activity. It is intimate. It is personal.

It involves loving our neighbors. But the sort of love it requires isn't just a lack of antipathy, a warm-fuzzy respect for all humanity, or a somewhat-distant good wishes directed at people you don't know. Zionic love is specific, and it means getting your hands dirty and your shoulders wet with another person's tears. You cannot truly say that you love your neighbor if you do not know his name, his needs, his struggles, and his triumphs. Zion is not built by declarations of universal love delivered from the pulpit. It is built by mourning and rejoicing with our neighbors. It is built with casseroles delivered and toilets cleaned for a family with an ailing parent, with bucket brigades hastily assembled when an elderly man's basement floods, with odd jobs offered to neighbors who are out of work by those who know their situation, with asphalt shingles hammered onto a widow's leaking roof on a Saturday morning by men and women with their own house projects constantly demanding their time.

It involves caring for the poor. But the sort of care it requires isn't just a general well-wishing towards those who are less well-off. It isn't just giving a check to the bishop for fast offering or donating to the Salvation Army. Zionic care is personal and specific. It involves getting your hands dirty and your wallet a lot lighter. At Judgment, the Lord will say to His ransomed children, "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in, [I was] naked, and ye clothed me" (Matt. 25:35-36), not "I was hungry and naked, and you gave money to the bishop, and he fed me and gave me vouchers to get castoff clothes at DI. And when I had no job, I went to LDS Employment Services, and they helped me with my resume and interviewing skills. And when I was homeless, I slept at a homeless shelter built with your tax dollars." All the programs, organization, and charities with which we are involved are good. But the care and love required by the "law of the celestial kingdom" go so much further. In order to care for the poor we must know the poor. How many "poor" people do you know? How many have eaten at your table? Zion is not built solely by those who mail checks to charities. It is built by ordinary people who go out of their way to help those in need, by those who realize the absurdity of having a spare bedroom in their house while there are people sleeping on the cold streets, by people who aren't content to keep the poor at a distance and speak disparagingly about the blight of "welfare moms," but who rather see all people, no matter their social class, situation, or choices, as children of the same God, as their literal brothers and sisters, and who let their newfound sight motivate them to truly Christian action.

Zion is built by drawing circles around ourselves that take others in rather than shutting them out. It is built by radically transforming the way we look at the world, by adopting the self-sacrificing love demonstrated by Jesus in Gethsemane, who gave literally everything He had for those who didn't deserve it, who poured out His life for broken, imperfect people, and then commanded His followers to "Go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:37).

It is within out power to heed this command. It is within our power, with God's grace, to build Zion in our homes, in our wards, in our neighborhoods and our communities. It will take a transformation of our hearts, a change in our very natures, a radical commitment to something much bigger than ourselves, a resolve to live the law of consecration completely. But, as with all commandments, the Lord will prepare a way for His children to accomplish what would otherwise be impossible (1 Nephi 3:7). He has given us Zion as a goal to work for, an ideal to strive for, a concrete plan for buiding a prototype heaven on earth.

Brothers and sisters, let us build Zion. Let us live so as to be worthy inhabitants of that Holy City. Let us pray for God's Spirit to transform us , to make us new creatures. Let us see our neighbors as God sees them. Let us allow that newfound sight to motivate consecrated, holy action. Let us put aside our differences and become a united people. Let us become God's people.

Let us build Zion.

"And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth...and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem" (Moses 7:62).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Bedrock of My Faith

This has been quite the year. A strange year, really--filled with hope and heartache, dreams fulfilled and dreams deferred, distressing questions and life-changing answers, hearty laughter and silent despair.

It's been a roller-coaster, really. I've learned a lot and loved a lot, developed a little more patience and a lot more understanding. And through it all, there's one thing I've held onto. It has been my anchor during the hard times and my banner during the good times. It is the thing I cannot dismiss. I cannot crawl over, under, or around it (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 88–90).

It is the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is true. I have examined many arguments for its origin, and can find no credible explanation except the one Joseph Smith gave. It is of God.

The Book of Mormon testifies of truth in simplicity. It is a light in a dark world. It fulfills the most heartfelt wish of Christians--to know that Jesus Christ lives and ministers to His children. I know it is true. And that knowledge opens up a whole world of corollary knowledge. The Savior told us that "ye shall know them by their fruits," and this fruit is good. I know, therefore, that its translator was a true prophet of God, that the Church and Kingdom he set up is of God, and that the ordinances of the gospel are those of our loving creator.

There are many things of which I am unsure. There are many places where my faith is weaker than it should be. But this much I know: the Book of Mormon is true. It is the word of God and its translator is a prophet of God. There is a power in that book that is not in other books of scripture. Every time I read it, I am filled with the knowledge of its truthfulness. I know it in a way I can't explain. I can't reason my way out of it. Even when I'm upset, or confused, or shaking my fist at the heavens--even when I am struggling with a particular doctrine or a troubling issue, I cannot deny that the Book of Mormon is true. It is the word of God. There is a power in that book that flows into my life when I feast on its words, just as President Benson said. The power is real. It cuts into the chaos and gives me a glimpse of a wonderful peace. It has been my anchor in the blackest moments of my life. It has brought me to Christ, when He was all I had to hang onto. It is the bedrock of my faith, the keystone of my testimony of Christ. I thank God for that wonderful book, that beautiful testament of my Savior Jesus Christ.

To request your own copy of the Book of Mormon, you can visit mormon.org.
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