Saturday, June 16, 2012

Compassion - an Individual Mandate

"Justice Tempered by Mercy" a statue  at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University
Here is something that I would like everyone to consider. There is a conflict in understanding between those who espouse universal compassion and those who call for equal application of the law.
Compassion vs. Law
Compassion is an individual mandate given in the New Testament. The New Testament is the covenant given to individuals to bring them back to God. The Old Testament is the covenant given to nations to guide them in the path of justice, law and duty.
Squishy Christianity
When we embrace the mercy of the New Testament and ignore the justice of the Old Testament, we get a squishy, mushy form of Christianity that has no spine to stand on its own. 
Mercy and tolerance become the watchwords that guide our daily interactions in a selfish world. We tolerate evil because we don't want to seem judgmental or intolerant. How quickly we forget that law was given to guide man in the path that he should go. If there is no law, there is no punishment. If there is no punishment, there is no fear of doing wickedly, and men go according to their own hungers. They do not moderate themselves, and they do not set expectations for those around them to behave moderately.
Without the law to govern our lives, our compassion can be easily swayed by the tides of public sentiment. We must, therefore, hold ourselves to obey the Law given, and require that our representative government do the same.
The Law was given to set up a system of government where justice could prevail. An individual rendering of the Law gave us the Scribes and Pharisees, who touted their own righteousness through obedience to the system.
New Testament is for individuals. Old Testament is for nations. The nation is not required to conform to the individual mandate of compassion, and loving our neighbors - that is my job, and yours. The governments we support - at every level - are required to administer the law in justice and equity, to preserve freedom. Government is required to do what government does best - administer the law through a filtered democracy; in other words, to be a republic.
Rendering Appropriate Action
"Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s."  (Matt. 22:21 KJV) Live by the Law. God holds this world in His hands. "He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again." (Job 12:23). To render our souls as an offering unto God, we must live according to the Law. That includes active citizenship and participation in the political and social process. It is not digging your heels into the sand and refusing to budge; when you do that, the waves wash out the sand from underneath you.
Rendering appropriate action includes holding representatives accountable for their actions - good and bad. Rendering is not a passive activity. When the tide threatens to undermine all you have built, build a floodwall. Do not allow the natural course of the world to destroy your contribution to history. 
Mercy and Justice
The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament. Mercy does not replace justice. We need to find in ourselves the balance of justice and mercy that will guide us in our interactions in our community and family. Obedience to the law, and the requirement that others also obey the law, ensures that we are protected and our rights are preserved. Compassion and mercy ensure that we will not let our neighbors go hungry, or cold, or without clothing in their time of need.
Have a spine. Stand up for what you believe. Expect others to behave according to the law. Express your disappointment when they don't. Do not allow a squishy form of tolerance to govern your life.
To be a disciple means you discipline your life to follow the higher law.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Trimmed and Balanced

It is important to stay balanced. If we look at a tree in an orchard, it is taken care of by the gardener. How does the gardener take care of the tree? If the tree is left on its own it will grow many branches and use up all of its strength in growing branches. 
My grandfather was a gardener for his whole life. He worked at a college in Utah running their experimental farm. When he visited my family once, many years ago, he told me about fruit trees. Their purpose is to bear fruit. If a tree is left alone, to its own devices, it will grow branches. Now, from the outside, not being a gardener, I thought that if there are more branches there will be more fruit. Right?
Wrong. The more branches that a tree grows, the more strength is drawn from the roots to support the branches. The strength is given in growing branches, not in growing fruit. So the key to getting fruit from a tree is to trim back the branches. You must reduce the strength output of the tree and re-focus its energy into growing fruit.
Trimming back the branches cannot be done all at once. If you cut off large sections of the tree it will shock the system and destroy the tree. You need to make the change a little bit at a time, consistently and surely. Picking and choosing which branches to trim off will result in a leaner tree with strength to grow fruit.
It is important to keep the branches and the roots balanced. A gardener will watch the tree to make sure that it stays balanced. If the strength of the roots overwhelms the tree, then lots of extra branches will grow. If the strength of the branches overwhelms the roots, the tree will begin to die. It becomes top-heavy and draws too much strength from the roots and it is not sustainable. To survive it must be trimmed back.
Now what is the application of the fruit tree to life? Each person has the potential to bring forth fruit - results. Sometimes we get lazy and let life just happen. We grow lots of branches, we start lots of different things, but nothing really happens. When we get so busy but we are not really productive, we need to look at our purpose. If we are to bring forth fruit, we need to trim back some of the branches. We need to limit the directions our strength goes in order to produce results. Trimming back sections of our life is painful. Cutting branches from a tree shocks that system. So does cutting out ineffective portions of our life. This must be done with wisdom so that you don’t shock the system and end up even less effective than you were before.
Start by examining what you want from life. What are you here for? What talents do you have? What people do you know that have similar or complementary talents? What would you do if you worked with them? What could you produce? With these answers in hand, look at your life. What are you doing to produce this fruit (or results)? Are there activities or thoughts that are taking your energy away from being productive? Rest and relaxation is important, but it should never be your primary focus. That leads to laziness and lots of branches growing. Then you don’t produce anything of value.
My grandfather said that a tree with lots of branches will only produce small fruit. By trimming back the branches you get larger fruit. Even when the fruit is beginning to grow, you don’t keep everything. You go and prune the smaller fruit in order that the tree may give more strength to growing the larger fruit. This results in juicier apples.
So even when you start seeing results, you have to determine which results are the best and drop the lower performers to grow stronger fruit.

Note: This post draws reference from Jacob 5 in The Book of Mormon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Standing For Truth

Standing for truth never submits to sitting for lies.
When your heart has been changed and turned toward truth, you cannot look on hypocrisy and evil with a neutral gaze. The truth stands for itself, as a blazing light in the darkness, driving all shadows away. What is left is that which can stand in the presence of truth.
Let us stand with truth, not with truth as our ally, but us an true ally of the one Truth.

An Education for Our Age

Education is important because an educated person will be more apt to treat a person as they are, rather than limiting interactions to stereotypes.
Note the use of the lower-case "e" on educated in the sentence above. That is intentional. An Education these days seems to the only thing makes a person worth listening to, or so they say. Who says this? The Educated.

Learning is in the hands of the individual. By empowering individuals and teaching them how to teach themselves through books, their experience becomes just one of their life teachers. No one can live long enough to make every mistake, so it is important to learn from the experiences of others.
By immersing yourself in a book, you dedicate time to hear the author's voice. This specific, one-on-one communication is one of the clearest ways to gain knowledge. And knowledge implemented is wisdom gained.
So pick up a book and come, listen to an author's voice.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Three Spiritual Gifts

 1aAnd there shall come forth a brod out of the cstem of dJesse, and a eBranch shall grow out of his roots: 2And the aspirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit ofbwisdom and cunderstanding, the spirit of dcounsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
- Isaiah 11:1-2
The three gifts are ones that we can earnestly seek after. Note that these gifts come in pairs. 
This prophesy by Isaiah specifically refers to the Lord, Jesus Christ, who would be born of the lineage of King David. The spiritual gifts given him from "the spirit of the LORD" were exemplified in his life and still continue as he judges the earth.
  • Wisdom and Understanding
  • Counsel and Might
  • Knowledge and the fear of the Lord
How do these pairings complement each other? Let's look at them individually, and apply them to the situations we face in our day.
Wisdom and Understanding
The Lord blessed Solomon "with wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore." (1 Kings 4:29)
To fully magnify the blessing of wisdom and understanding, one must have largeness of heart. They must have pity and empathy for their fellow man. They must not seek their own glory, but to reach out to help others. Understanding the context of a person's situation allows empathy to grow. Wisdom comes from placing in context information and understanding, and making choices that do not require the heartbreak of unfortunate experience.
There are times where we are called to pass through trials for our own understanding. These help us to gain context for learning. Then we can apply this learning to the next time we come across a similar context. Then it becomes wisdom.
Can we see wisdom in our day? Certainly not in the bloated tide of popular culture. It sweeps everything in its path that is not firmly rooted to that which is unchangeable. Pillars of wisdom and understanding on not publicized, but we all know someone who fits this description.
Counsel and Might
Where one is put in a position of influence and power, there comes with that the responsibility of counsel. Power is not given for self-aggrandizement, though that is the example most often seen. Power is given to help others from that position. Often the power given is not public power, though the expectation is still the same - help those who stand in need of your help.
Where good counsel is given, there comes a spirit of power. If a person tells truth and gives honest opinion without posturing for their own position, there comes to them a power, a steadiness of character, that cannot be shaken from without.
It is rare in this age to see counsel and might coupled together. The person who exhibits these two traits together clearly defines themselves as a person to be trusted. Their word is good. In a world where one idle word can make a man into a pariah, knowing that a person's word is good is priceless.
Knowledge and the fear of the Lord
There is more knowledge on the earth right now than at any time before in its history. There are very intelligent people alive today. There have been knowledgeable people in every age. The New Testament describes the deterioriating situation in the last days, our days, as follows:
"Ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."
(2 Timothy 3:7)
Why can men not obtain a knowledge of the truth? In these days where information is available like never before, why do men not learn? It is because of the second part of this coupled gift - the fear of the Lord.
Fear means respect. Do men respect the Lord? Do men acknowledge God, in whose image they are created? Is there reverence in the public square? Is anything sacred anymore?
Where there is piety, there will be knowledge. If a man respects God, no matter what his level of education, he will have knowledge that matters. Life is simple. The world is complex. Truth is not merely the gospel, but all truth that can be obtained through learning.
Secure in its own power, the world is not going to change. If we want to see change, it must first happen within us. These three coupled spiritual gifts are things we can earnestly seek after. They will come to us in the time of the Lord, as we are diligent. Diligence is key. If we want these gifts, which come in pairs in their most powerful manifestations, we must consistently move forward. Incremental improvement is our goal. Incremental eternal improvement.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Let Your Light So Shine Before Men

The Admonition from the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount to let our light shine to the world is one that still holds great weight today. To fully understand what is required of us to let our light shine, we will examine a number of scriptures that relate to the parts of this admonition.

Matthew 5:14-16 (KJV)
14 Ye are the alight of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a acandle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your alight so shine before men, that they may see your good bworks, and cglorify your Father which is in heaven.

“Ye are the light of the world”
Light is truth (D&C 84:45).
45 For the aword of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is blight, and whatsoever is light is cSpirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Light and truth forsake the evil one.
36 The aglory of God is bintelligence, or, in other words, clight and truth.
37 Light and truth forsake that aevil one. (D&C 93:36-37)

When the scriptures use the word World it means people or humanity. The word earth means the actual planet.

“A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”
A city is a gathering place. A place of organization.
On a hill” - a defensible position.
Mountains are symbolic in many cultures, and in the scriptures especially, of the meeting of heaven and earth. Mountains are symbolic of Temples, where God can communicate with Man.
Hills are less than mountains, but still above the earth.
Keep in mind that Sodom and Gomorrah were known as two of the “Cities of the Plain” (see Genesis 19:25-29).
“Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel”
The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” (Prov. 20:27 emphasis added)
Hebrew tradition is that thoughts emanate from the heart, and feelings (or emotions) come from the bowels, or the belly.
So another way to say the proverb above is to say that the Spirit of Man becomes the shared Light from the Lord, searching (or pondering and understanding) and enlightening the innermost feelings.
A bushel is a unit of measurement. We can interpret this as a container or a basket of a certain size to measure grain. Grain is the staff of life or the requirements of worldly survival.
When the Light of Truth from the Lord gives enlightenment and understanding to thoughts and emotions, the physical requirements of the world cannot hide or overcome that Light.
Remember Parley P. Pratt reading The Book of Mormon for the first time.

“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” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 20).

“But on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”
Candlesticks are witnesses. There are two candlesticks mentioned in Revelation 11:4, and seven candlesticks in Revelation 2. (see also Bible Dictionary: Candlestick)
In the Old Testament, the candlestick in the Temple of the Lord was of beaten gold, all in one piece. It included several components, but they were all crafted from the same piece of gold (see Exodus 25:31-37). There were no seams.  It was not several pieces, crafted separately and then brought together; it was of one piece. We can interpret this symbolically, “That which gives Light is not divided, but is one.”
To give light or truth to all who are in the house is to continually share truth and understanding and enlightenment with those who are closest to you.

“Let your light so shine before men”
This is the admonition from the Savior to let your light, or the light of truth which has place in you, so shine before men.
Be not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16) .

“That they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in Heaven.”
Already you are not hidden. They (the world, those around you) know who you are, and they know what you are. Do good, that they may be brought to know the truth, or, barring that, know that you know the truth.
In this way our Heavenly Father is glorified. His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all men (Moses 1:39).
This starts with a single light shining in the darkness, awakening that divine spark in those who are asleep.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Equality = Equalness?

The cry for equality sounds loudly and clearly from both sides of the aisle right now.
"The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior."
--The Screwtape Letters
 Equality under the law has one meaning, Constitutionally-derived. Equalness has a very different connotation. Equalness is used here as the antithesis of Equality. They are two very different terms.
Equalness draws its power from the illegitimate use of the word "fairness". If one person claims that something is not fair, than it must not be equal. Fairness is unfortunately a subjective term. Equalness results from fairness. Fairness in the current political dialogue means equality in outcome, which cannot be legislated, forced or adjudicated.
If one person has more through his own industry and thrift, should he be required under the law to give up the fruits of his labors that the slothful should have an equal amount? Such is not fair from the perspective of the laborer. But if the laborer has more than the slothful, he who has not worked esteems that discrepancy as unfair. This cannot be resolved adequately between the two of them. There are two directly opposing philosophies that cannot be reconciled. It requires a third entity to step in as a mediator.
That mediator is the Law. Equality under the law means that all men are judged the same way under the same law. No preference is given based on the standard criteria by which we define ourselves. A worker is entitled to the rights of property, privacy, expression, petition for redress of grievances, and so forth. A person who takes of the laborer's earnings is judged as a thief. They are dealt with under the constraints of the Law.
The government has as its sole responsibility the protection of the rights of the people under the Law. The specifics are laid out in the Constitution of the United States of America. No government, at any level, whether public, private, institutionalized or religious, should ever be in the business of making people feel good about themselves. Governments are instituted to enforce laws, statutes and guidelines. They are to protect those they serve, they are not entities unto themselves.
To draw this full circle back to the quote by CS Lewis, "The claim to equality ... is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior." Let's look at the stars. Some are brighter than others. Why? There are several possible explanations for this difference in brightness.

  • One star is farther away than another.
  • One star is larger than another.
  • One star is actually brighter than another.
Much of the brightness depends on the perspective of the viewer. The man who mops floors may be overlooked by the executives and the white collars that drive the business. This same man who works all day may receive honor, praise and thanks when he comes home to his family. A child may think his father a hero, no matter if he mops floors, shuffles papers, or seals deals. 
So apparent difference in brightness may be imagined through differences in perspective, or it may be accurate. What's wrong with a person being superior to another? The moral trap enters when one assumes that they are destined to superiority. 
Just as the man with the mop may be promoted, so too the CEO may be fired. We are all in a constant flow up, down, sideways. Some days I may be equal to you, other days you may be superior to me. We look to heroes as being greater than ourselves. That superiority of our heroes gives us attributes to strive to obtain in ourselves. The inferiority of others gives us opportunity to lend a hand, teach, share and lift.
Equality does not equal Equalness. The Utopian ideal of equality in possessions, knowledge, wisdom and power does not exist in this world. The closest that we can get is a free-market system with limited government regulation to protect the rights of the people. In this system, the worker gets what he earns. The marketplace of his peers decide through the power of their purchases if the product/service/idea is of worth. Worthwhile ideas find success. Poor ideas do not find success but failure.
The freedom and liberty we strive for engenders equality, which is equal parts success and failure. Some days you win, and some days you lose. When you lose, you work harder the next day, and you get what you earn. You keep what you earn. That is fairness. That is equality. That is liberty.

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