Friday, April 30, 2010

The Theology Program Podcast

I want to put in a little promotion for a podcast I found on iTunes.  I have a bit of a commute to and from work each day so I have to find ways to entertain myself or I go crazy.  So I often listen to podcasts.  Anyway, I found a great podcast called “The Theology Program” put on by Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

The name of the ministry is explained in their mission statement: “We believe that God has called us to have an impact on the church and culture by taking back what rightly belongs to God – the mind. We live in a time of anti-intellectualism, skepticism, and confusion. Our goal is to reclaim the mind by energizing the church providing resources for intellectual engagement.  In their first podcast they explain their worry that sometimes sermons have been dumbed down for the congregants because there is not sufficient education in basic theology.  They seek to provide the same education of the layperson as professional ministers receive in seminary.

I like this approach of intellectual engagement.  It reminds me of the scripture that says “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Sometimes we forget that in addition to loving God with the heart we should also love him with the mind.

The instructors present theology and its development throughout history.  They compare many different views and offer their own views coming from an Evangelical perspective.  It is very interesting and a great resource for anyone who wants to get some background in Christian theology and history.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Body and Blood of Christ

Much of the religious experience is found in its symbols. Symbols have a special power to go beyond what words can express and have the potential to elicit spiritual growth in a way unrivaled by any other means. Paul Tillich distinguished between symbols and signs. Both signs and symbols point beyond themselves. But according to Tillich, “signs do not participate in the reality of that to which they point, while symbols do”. A sign like a red light or street sign has some meaning by simple convention and is related to its meaning as long as the convention holds. But the distinguishing characteristic of a symbol is that “it participates in that to which it points”. [1]

As symbols participate in those things to which they points, I find the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to be one of the greatest symbols of Christianity. The experience of the Sacrament is similar in many Christian religions. It is called the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Sacrament of the Table, Blessed Sacrament, and The Lord’s Supper. Since I come from the Mormon faith I will relate my experience from there. In the Mormon faith we usually call this simply The Sacrament.

Every Sunday, before participating in the Sacrament, the Priest at the table kneels and blesses the bread and water. This prayer is very interesting because it describes in detail the significance of the symbol and what it means to those who participate. The bread represents the body of Christ. The water represents the blood of Christ. The prayer also blesses the congregants who eat and drink of Christ to always remember him, keep his commandments, take his name upon themselves, and have his spirit to be with them (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77;79).

What is most striking to me with this ordinance is the way we participate and remember Christ. The bread and water (or wine) represent his body and blood. There are many ways we could use these symbols to remember Christ. We could just look at them. We could talk about them. We could pass them around and just touch them and feel them in our hands. All of these things would help us to remember the body and blood of Christ. But instead we actually consume these symbols and take them within ourselves – we eat and drink them. This is about as close a relationship to a symbol that you can get. We actually take the symbol inside of ourselves, internalizing them both physically and spiritually, literally and symbolically.

When we eat the bread and drink the water we have the flesh of Christ taken into our flesh and joined into it. His blood flows in our veins. We symbolically become one with Christ. We can take about it and write about it but actually doing it and understanding it can create a very powerful experience. The covenant is more than simple to remember him – it is to become one with him and be transformed into his image (Romans 8:29). Prior to the last supper where he introduced the Sacrament, Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you... He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eatheth me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:51-57)

Many of Jesus’ disciples were so disturbed by this teaching that they left him there saying “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60) Of course Jesus did not literally teach his disciples to eat of his physical flesh or blood. Jesus was teaching his disciples that as bread and water are the source of physical nourishment and sustenance of life, so is he the source of eternal life, the bread of life, the living water.

The body and blood of Christ are as vital and nourishing to our spirits as food and drink to our bodies. The quality of food and drink we consumes affects our physical health and countenance. Likewise, spiritual health is determined by the things we consume in our hearts. By taking in the body and blood of Christ and becoming one with Christ we are transformed to be able to see the image of Christ in our own countenance (Alma 5:14).

[1] Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. Harper & Row. 1957.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Easter Message

Today we commemorate the day that the light and life of the world rose from the dead on the first Easter morning. Two thousand years ago, on a Sunday morning in spring Christ rose up and walked from his tomb. What does this mean? Why is it significant or pertinent? Today I want to share my testimony of Christ.

First, a passage of scriptures from the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men... He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-14)

I believe that Jesus Christ was the mortal God of Israel, Yahweh, descended to earth to dwell as a man among his people. He was the very image of God the Father, with whom he shared such unity that there was no need to even distinguish between God the Father and God the Son. The Word, Christ, was with God and was God. He was made flesh, the very Son God who gives all who receive him power that they might also become sons of God with him.

That Jesus was the very image of God the Father is no small issue. The fact that God revealed himself in the form of a person is very significant. Jesus has been called our perfect example and he is an example not just of how to live, how to be happy, but how to find God himself. Jesus said: I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7) After this Phillip said that if he would show them the Father they would be content. Jesus responded saying: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.” (John 14:9-11) If we want to know who God is and what he is like we need look no further than Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way to salvation and eternal life. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to the world.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

That we should know who God is the very heart of eternal life. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) I don’t understand this to mean that the way to eternal life is through knowing God and Jesus Christ. I believe that knowing God and Jesus Christ is eternal life. The verse is a definition. Eternal life is unity with God. To be with God, to be like God, to be one with God is eternal life. Why is it that we must know the only true God and Jesus Christ? Without Jesus Christ we do not know God. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18) Even in the few instances when the Father has been seen he has spoken only through his Son. Jesus was one with the Father and it is through him that we may be one with them.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

How can we become one with Jesus Christ and the Father? Christ has the power to make us one with him and the Father through his Atonement. The purpose of the Atonement is to make us “at one” with God. Christ was one with the Father and followed him in all things. “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” Likewise we must do the things that the Son has done. How can we do that? Must we be crucified and rise again? Actually yes, not literally but symbolically.

Christ as God descended to live as a mortal man, pass through the pains and suffering of mortality and died. His mortal, imperfect body was transformed and he was resurrected into a second life of perfection in body and spirit. The death of the old self and rebirth into a new being is the way to follow Christ. This is represented symbolically in baptism.

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:3-11)

Being born again is a dramatic process. Symbolically, the old self is actually “crucified” with Christ. We participate in his death with him and die in our old self. Then we rise again. We are born again spiritually and resurrected with Christ in a new life. This transformation is significant enough to be described as a rebirth. We are given a new heritage and identity in Christ.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

“Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 27:25)

“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7)

Being born again with Christ, becoming one with Christ is a process of justification, sanctification, transformation and (ultimately) exaltation. Through the redeeming blood of Christ and faith on him we are able to have all that the Father has through his merits. We are given power to become sons and daughters of God.

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:16-18)

To be joint-heirs with Christ we must be willing to suffer with him as well as be glorified with him. Discipleship can be difficult. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be persecuted. The sorrows and pains of life are difficult to bear. But we do not have to bear them alone. Christ shares are burdens and sorrows and he knows how to comfort us.

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows...” (Isaiah 53:4)

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Atonement, to be at one with another person is the most intimate kind of relationship there is. Marriage can be an example of atonement. When two people are truly brought into unity and live as “one flesh” sharing both heart and mind they share everything. They share great joy and also great pain. This is the kind of relationship Christ has with us through his Atonement. The Atonement causes him tremendous pain and suffering. He opens his heart to us and makes himself vulnerable to repeated rejection. But he is always willing to receive us again. And in us his joy is full (3 Nephi 17:20). That same fullness of joy is imparted to all who share in atonement with Jesus Christ.

After two thousand years the story of Easter is as relevant as ever. In a world where people are seeking for answers Christ is the perfect revelation of God in the flesh. In a world filled with death we can still look to Christ and live. In the midst of spiritual darkness he is still the light of the world. Christ is still the way, the truth, and the life.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Priesthood Session and Dinner

I just got back from dinner. Conference always makes me hungry because of course we go out to eat after. I think that restaurants must love Conference weekend because we Mormons sure hit the streets to go out to eat after the last "Amen". We went to Old Chicago and I had a calzone. It was called the "Meat Me". Enough said.

I enjoyed the Priesthood session. First I have to complement the choir and their arrangements. Wow! I loved listening to those guys. Elder Oaks gave a talk on healing. I really liked the beginning of he talk where he talked about modern medicine and treatments. Basically the gist was that we have to do something ourselves to treat sickness. He quoted Brigham Young who said that asking for healing from God without doing what you can yourself is like asking him to plant and plow your fields for you. Elder Oaks recommended that the medical and spiritual treatments be performed simultaneously. Sounds great to me.

President Uchtdorf talked about patience. This was a very interesting talk and I look forward to returning to read it. He started with an interesting story about a psychologist who performed an experiment on four-year-old children. He gave them a marshmallow and told them they could eat the marshmallow immediately or wait 15 minutes and receive two. Only 30% waited the 15 minutes. Over the years their research found that the children who waited performed better in school, had better relationships and better quality of life. He also talked about the blessings we receive from keeping the commandments and how those blessings are not always immediate.

Fun evening. Good talks. Good food.

Saturday Afternoon Session

I decided to do a live blog this time just for fun. So far, President Uchtdorf has an awesome tie! It's kind of mesmerizing.

Elder Perry is speaking on parents and family. It seems like there is a heavy emphasis so far in this conference on parenthood and mothers in particular. Kind of goes smoothly with the morning session. Elder Perry's mother sounds like she was pretty sharp. I like how he said she wanted to keep the mind active.

Elder Christofferson talks on the scriptures. I love the introduction with William Tyndale. Tyndale is one of my heroes. I love the spiritual democracy he provided by bringing the scriptures to the common people in their own language. It broke the yoke of dependence which is so easily linked to tyranny. I agree with his point that the study of scripture is more than just historical or archeological. Scripture is spiritual and its power is derived from the power we allow it to have on our own minds and hearts.

Elder Aoyogi spoke on spiritual helping hands. Elder Carlson spoke on keeping the commandments and reasons we might excuse ourselves.

Elder Bednar talks about parents teaching their children in the home (parents again). He gives these points:
1. Read the Book of Mormon in the home
2. Bearing testimony spontaneously
3. Inviting children to act

Elder Holland speaks on pornography. He is known for being pretty forthright in the first place. He was very passionate about this subject.

Morning Session: Talks On Women

Enjoyed the morning session. I didn't quite catch all of it because I was in a deep conversation with parents at the beginning. Seemed to me like there was an emphasis on women this session. I'm a big fan of that. Actually the deep conversation I was having during conference was about women and the way they are treated in society today and throughout history. Then come along President Beck and Elder Ballard. How serendipitous!

The audio archives are not up yet but I want to go back and listen to their talks. Some of Elder Ballard's comments really resonated with me. He talked about how women and girls are objectified in society. He made some very pertinent comments about the way women are portrayed in the media: silly, light-minded, flirty, ditsy, etc. Women often aren't respected for their identity but treated as objects, eye-candy on the screen. He said something to the effect that girls should know their value is not just in their sensuality.

Anyway, good stuff. I'll go back and listen again to get more details. But I was glad to see them bring these things up and address them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Special Weekend

We are nearing the end of the Holy Week and approaching Easter Sunday. This year, Easter coincides with the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am planning on covering some of the highlights of General Conference.

I am also preparing a post for Easter Sunday to discuss the significance of Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection. The Atonement, along with the Resurrection, is the core of Christian faith and I think talking about it and thinking about it is a great way to commemorate this special day.