Chastity: What are the limits?

I teach youth Sunday School in my ward.

And by youth, I mean teenagers. About 8 of ’em, between the ages of 13 and 17.

Tomorrow I will be teaching this lesson, How can I find answers to my own gospel questions? After introducing the topic, I plan on opening with the question, What are common questions people your age generally have about life, dating, religion, or God?

As I prepared my lesson this afternoon, I tried to anticipate questions they might shout out. I know when I was in high school, one question I thought a fair amount about was, when it comes to relationships, what are the limits? What is okay and what’s not okay? As I thought about what I might say if that comes up, I found this brilliant message. I especially like how it combines an answer to the (better) question with a call for the learner to counsel with the Lord about it.

Some Mormons Search the Web and Choose Faith

A lot has been written and discussed the last few months about Mormons who, upon finding unfavorable content on the internet, question their faith and leave the Church.

Likewise, writers and the individuals who comment at the New York Times seem to convey that those who express doubt or disaffect from the church should be celebrated, while those who express faith only do so because they live happily inside a bubble that resides somewhere between blind acceptance and sheltered naiveté.

I don’t mean to suggest that the crisis of faith experienced by members is not a serious matter. Having experienced a mild crisis of faith myself several years ago, I have sympathy for those who feel that they cannot find the answers they seek – either from others or from heaven itself. So without question, there are people who leave the Church. But a lot stay and stay informed. And a lot join too, having done a full load of honest investigating.

I recently read two sincere and candid conversion stories of two young adults who tell of their honest investigating and ultimate decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Why I Became a Mormon was posted a couple of weeks ago by Brittany, a good friend of mine, who spoke of her journey in becoming a Latter-day Saint. And the other came from a guy named Daniel, who went from being Jewish to being an atheist, and is now a full-fledged Latter-day Saint who served as a missionary in Russia and currently attends law school at BYU. Daniel maintains his own blog, symphonyofdissent, which contains thoughtful posts written before and after he was baptized.

Both Brittany and Daniel write how they read everything they could find about the church – both good and bad – and still felt confident in their decision to join the church. To me, their honest declarations of faith and testimony are more powerful, more convincing, and more encouraging than the expressions of skepticism by those who publicize their private doubts.

We will always have questions. And perhaps we will occasionally struggle with doubts. But Christ never seemed to place too much of a premium on the doubt or disbelief of skeptics. As I noted last week in my Throwback Thursday post on Elder Holland’s repeated message, in the eyes of God, Thomas’ publicized doubts were not deemed superior to the quiet faith of those who believe. Remember too, that Jesus promises to manifest himself by the power of the Holy Ghost to all those who believe in him (2 Nephi 26:13). Brittany’s and Daniel’s experiences underscore this point extremely well.

What is faith? Profound Truth from a 16-Year-Old

On Sundays, I have the great honor of co-teaching a group of teenagers, guys and girls, in a little place we like to call Sunday School. Each week I get to experience profound truth coming from the mouths of these ordinary teenagers. Here’s just one example of this type of profound truth, which explains why this Sunday School class is, well, awesome.

The lesson was, “How did the Savior compare gospel truths to familiar objects and experiences?” So we talked about the parables of Jesus and then I divided the class into two and had one group read Luke 15 and the other Matthew 20 – both of which contain pretty familiar parables. Then, after a brief discussion, I had the kids come up with parables of their own. Each group needed to come up with a familiar object or experience to complete the phrases:

A. “The scriptures are like __________.”

B. “Faith is like __________”

For A, the kids came up with: a Map, a Torch in a Dark Cave, and Batteries. All with great, simple explanations why.

For B, the kids came up with: an App. “How is faith like an App?” I asked. And here was the profound truth spoken by a 16-year-old girl from Northeast Minneapolis:

Because you use it and it helps you accomplish stuff, and because it needs to be updated regularly.

There you have it, the profound truth. Faith is like an App.

And here was the spontaneous takeaway from our lesson. All of us need a little update to our faith every once and awhile. So if you haven’t updated yours lately, give it a go. Taking some personal time to consult a good Map usually does the trick.

Does God Speak to People? Part II

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, which I have previously written about here, and which was the topic of a recent guest post here. Those two posts deal mostly with God’s communication through his prophets – both ancient and modern – and discuss the restoration of Christ’s gospel beginning in the 1820s.

But more personally, does God speak to ordinary individuals directly? Does he communicate with normal, everyday kind of folk to help us in our affairs? The Book of Mormon teaches that “God is mindful of every people” and that he “give[s] unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”

Many times in life I have felt God gently communicating with me to help direct my path. Sometimes that communication has come as tender and loving feelings that bring me peace, specific knowledge, and insight. Other times, the communication has come in the form of distinct phrases, like dictated words into my mind. In fact, a couple of months ago in my personal prayers I asked a specific question and then made a note in my phone about what I had asked. Several weeks later, having forgotten about my prayer and the note, I suddenly had a phrase come very clearly into my mind. I wrote it down somewhere else in my phone and went on with what I was doing. A day or two later, I was reviewing all the notes in my phone and discovered that what I had sensed the day or two before was a direct answer to my recorded prayer several months earlier. 

Although it can burst upon us unexpectedly, revelation from God typically responds to direct questions that we ask him. Consider the following from Spencer W. Kimball:

Spencer_W._Kimball3When man begins to hunger, when arms begin to reach, when knees begin to bend and voices begin to articulate, then, and not until then, does the Lord make himself known. He pushes back the horizons, he breaks the curtain above us, and he makes it possible for us to come out of dim, uncertain stumbling into the sureness of the eternal light.

On another occasion, Spencer Kimball taught the importance of having pure motives and sincere desire:

…Do you want guidance? Have you prayed to the Lord for inspiration? Do you want to do right or do you want to do what you want to do whether or not it is right? Do you want to do what is best for you in the long run or what seems more desirable for the moment? Have you prayed? How much have you prayed? How did you pray? Have you prayed as did the Savior of the world in Gethsemane or did you ask for what you want regardless of its being proper? Do you say in your prayers: “Thy will be done”? Did you say, “Heavenly Father, if you will inspire and impress me with the right, I will do that right”? Or, did you pray, “Give me what I want or I will take it anyway”? Did you say: “Father in Heaven, I love you, I believe in you, I know you are omniscient. I am honest. I am sincerely desirous of doing right. I know you can see the end from the beginning. You can see the future. Tell me, please, loved Heavenly Father, and I promise to do what you tell me to do.” Have you prayed that way? Don’t you think it might be wise? Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer?

The key then, seems to be desire and asking the right question. Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, described one of her experiences with the divine this way. Once, when feeling a strong desire to be alone with God, she prayed earnestly, and

sarah edwardsin the moments that followed, ‘the presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their

inconceivable loveliness and mildness, and gentleness, and their great immutable love to me…The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible.’¹

My conviction is that God does speak to people and He is mindful of us and our needs. And the great news is that each of us can learn this for ourselves, for as the Lord said:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

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¹ Givens, T. & Givens, F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak (2012). 21.
For another account, check out this blog post.

The Tao of Pooh and The Love of God

Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh (1982)

Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh (1982)

At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up The Tao of Pooh from the library recently. Although I typically refrain from using the word “delightful,” there’s not a better way to describe it: the book’s delightful.

The author, Benjamin Hoff, uses Winnie the Pooh to describe the basic principles of Taoism (the Uncarved Block; Knowledge from Experience; Inner Nature; Wu Wei, etc.) I’d recommend the book to anyone. It provides an easy and fun way to better understand Taoism, which for me always seemed rather difficult to comprehend in my high school world history class. 

But reading this book led me down another grassy lane in the Hundred-Acre Wood. How would I use Winnie the Pooh to describe my beliefs? Having watched the Winnie the Pooh movie several times recently with my two-year old and recalling my childhood adventures with Pooh Bear, it wasn’t all that hard to come up with something. Admittedly, the metaphor I came up with is pretty simple. It’s certainly not as clever as what you’d find in The Tao of Pooh, and maybe it’s not even that original. My bet is that others have talked about this long before I thought of it. Nonetheless, I think this metaphor captures the very essence of the Christian message. And this is what it is: God loves everyone, in spite of our quirks

Think of the characters in Winnie the Pooh.

  • There’s the amusing and lovable Winnie the Pooh.
  • Shy and hesitant Piglet.
  • Narcissistic and verbose Owl.
  • Nervous and scheming Rabbit.
  • Gloomy and depressed Eeyore.
  • Hyper and unrestrained Tigger. 
  • Innocent and childlike Roo.
  • Motherly, though often clueless Kanga.

And then there’s Christopher Robin. All the animals love and revere Christopher Robin. They go to him when they need help, often after they’ve expended their totally inadequate and usually misguided efforts. In fact, their attempts frequently make things worse. But Christopher Robin steps in, loves them all, and patiently resolves matters. They have implicit faith in him, and he, in turn, has patient love for each of them. In this way, Christopher Robin is appropriately named, for he is a type of Christ.

If you wonder if God really loves you, may I suggest that you remember this simple lesson from Winnie the Pooh. When I was about fifteen years old, I started to wonder if God was really there and if his love is real. I’ve since discovered that while God’s love is constant and unchanging, our ability to feel that love can fluctuate and is influenced in some ways by the tilt of our souls.

As I reach out to God in heartfelt prayer, and as I try to selflessly serve others, I more fully feel and experience that love, which is “the most desirable of all things.” The familiar phrase: ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find is more than a cliché – it is an instruction with a promise. I’ve tested it and know that God hears our prayers. For some reason, he allows us seek him in order to feel that love, but it is there and it is worth the journey. Recently, this message was given to Latter-day Saint women by Thomas Monson, prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Thomas Monson on God's Love - Sept2013