Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Beauty of Trials

holding hands

Each of us has at some point in our lives endured a painful experience.  The last five years of my life have been especially difficult. In fact, I feel like I’ve aged more in these last five years than I have in all my other years cumulatively. There have been frightening moments when I concluded that the only solution was  for me to leave this earth.

I have a vivid memory of contacting Dr. Bell, who is both a friend mine and an employer (as well as a doctor) and telling him I was concerned that I needed to be put on some kind of anti-depressant medication. I had been devoting an increasing amount of my time giving thought to suicide. There were moments that it seemed like the only sane solution. I’d even formulated a plan. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to realize how selfish I was being. I have children, which denies me the right to only think of myself.   My reason for contacting Dr. Bell was the fear that one night I would struggle so much that rational thoughts wouldn’t intervene.

I didn’t like the idea of anti-depressants, but thought it might be a good preventative measure for me. I was afraid something was wrong with me emotionally. He listened carefully to everything I had to say before replying. He then said that given everything I was going through in my life, he would be more concerned about my emotional well-being if I did not have those kind of thoughts. The fact that I was struggling showed that I was dealing with the issues and had not checked out. He also felt confident there would not be a moment in my life where I didn’t think of the children. Therefore, he concluded the anti-depressants were unnecessary in my case.

Fortunately, he was right. Though I’ve had many more painful, heart breaking days than encouraging ones, I’ve managed to live through them all and even become stronger as a result. So why am I bringing this up in a post entitled the Beauty of Trials? Because I want you to know, before I tell you how wonderful they are, that I have been there. I understand what it is to feel so trapped by your trials you’re confident the only way to end the pain is to die. I know what it is like to be so disillusioned with humanity you think there is not a truly reputable person on the planet. In fact,  around a year and a half ago I went through such a heart-rending experience that was not only unrighteous, but callously cold and calculated with someone I loved and trusted, and was supposedly above reproach,  that I was sure I would NEVER trust another living soul again. There are very few things anyone could have done that would have ripped me to shreds more than this “friend” did. Please believe me when I tell you I understand.

Yet, throughout all the anguish, I have learned that every life experience, both good and bad, my Father in Heaven has used to make something more precious than gold. I hope I can communicate it well enough. In a recent study I’ve been doing on the New Testament book of James, the topic of trials marched out front and center. You’ve probably read the passage a dozen times, as I have, in the past. It wasn’t until last night when asking the Lord to open its meaning to me while I dug deeper, with word studies and cross references, that I began to mine just some of its beauty. There is even more that I have to learn, but I am on my way. Maybe you’re quicker than I am and have already plunged the depths of its meaning, if so, bear with me as I get to share my joy in learning. The passage says:

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” ~James 1:2-4”

We all know that trials make us stronger. But there is so much more to it than that. The first thing I did was look at the original meaning of the words and not just the current translation I had. Be patient with me as I give some definitions and take the verses apart phrase by phrase.

….count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations….

Divers- Those used to King James English may already know that this word means varied, but I “grew up” with the NASB translation, so I needed a refresher.

The next word, temptations, takes on a much deeper meaning in its original vocabulary. It is the Greek word Peirasmos, which means a trial or test divinely permitted with a beneficial purpose and effect.

Now we are getting somewhere. These aren’t just temptations, especially since elsewhere in scripture it explicitly says God does not tempt anyone. These are tests specifically allowed into our lives for a purpose.

I want you right now to think about a trial you are currently facing. Now remember that this was sent to you for a beneficial purpose. We’ll find out what specifically in a moment. But, doesn’t it take at least a teeny tiny portion of the burden off your shoulders knowing there is a specific reason this is in your life?

…knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience…

Trying- This Greek word, dokimion, means a crucible or test. In the context it means a means by which our faith is proven. Not as in, “we’ll see if your faith is real” kind of proof, although it certainly can give you an indicator of that. This is more of a purifying kind of proof, the way gold is purified in the fire.

Patience-  A literal translation of this word, hupomone, means “abiding under”, the flavor of what it means is to bear up or endure courageously.

…that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing…

Perfect- Teleios means having reached its end, complete, fully grown and mature.

Entire- holokleros means sound in every part, complete, whole.

What God is trying to tell us is that He allows these trials into our lives to make us completely ready for exaltation. They are designed to make us more like our Savior! As I was doing some cross-referencing, I came across a similar passage that has the same meaning but in slightly different terminology.

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold  that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ….receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” ~ First Peter 1:6-7,9

Though I think we know instinctively that there is some heavenly purpose for all we go through, it is amazingly joyful when you think it through. Why can I count trials a joy? Because they are the building blocks to spiritual completion. This isn’t an instantaneous result. That tiny word in the beginning of James 1:4 “let” qualifies the whole thing. We have to allow the trials to perfect the maturing of our faith. How does that happen? I believe it is in our response to our trials.

Sitting down, or better yet kneeling down, and asking our Father in Heaven what we are to learn through this is always helpful. It is that quiet submission that we read about in Mosiah 3:19.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek humble patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Even if we are submissive and realize the truly eternal benefits of what we’re living through, I don’t believe that “count it all joy” means we will not feel the sadness and weight of what we are having to endure. Instead, it means that underneath it all we can have the quiet assurance and confidence that we are becoming like God as a result. You name any trial I have endured and I can tell you at least one (but often several) spiritual benefits and growth I have received as a result.

Oh! How frustrated I am that I am not communicating the beauty of this Scripture well enough. I’m just not doing it justice. What I request that you do is to open your scriptures to this passage in James and ask the  Holy Spirit to make known to you the riches, depth, and beauty of what the apostle is communicating the to Israelites who’d been scattered abroad from persecution. I pray that the Spirit will give you a glimpse of your future glory that is a direct result of your present pain if you respond to it in righteousness.

Your trials aren’t for naught. They are beautiful.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Trinity

by Annmarie Worthington
Recently, one of my favorite homeschool companies came out publicly stating that Mitt Romney should not be elected because he is accursed by God. This was based on the fact that he belongs to a church that does not hold to the traditional (and in their minds, Biblical) view of the trinity, and therefore is a member of a cult.
Now, I don’t care who you vote for (well….maybe I do, but I will allow you agency to choose for yourselves), however, I do hope you’ll take the election seriously, both thoughtfully and prayerfully choosing your preferred candidate. However, I want to address the idea that Mormonism does not hold to the Biblical view of the Trinity.
Many evangelical churches teach that not holding the traditional Trinitarian view is one of the key warning signs a group is a cult to be considered heretical, and therefore accursed. Now, if you’ve read my conversion story you know that I did not enter this church easily or lightly. I studied diligently for three years before joining at great sacrifice to my personal and emotional life. The Latter-Day Saint view of the Trinity was one of the first things I addressed with the ever patient missionaries.
In modern protestant thought, God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are believed to be one in substance and being. Anything else is considered a heresy. Many protestants don’t realize this view wasn’t officially adopted until the Nicene Creed, around A.D. 325. Those that do, believe the creed saved the church from a developing heresy. I want to examine that line of thought to see if it is the Scriptural view. I don’t want my theology to be given to me by the popular vote of bishops in the fourth century. Instead, I want to examine carefully, to make sure my beliefs are in line with what my Father in Heaven really taught.  After all, the Savior Himself said, “….this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” John 17:3.
In order to have eternal life, we must know God correctly. It is easy to call something heretical without taking the time to carefully examine the issue. Good people, committed to their faiths, have been doing that for centuries. Who was it that called the Savior Jesus Christ a heretic? Was it the riotous rabble who wanted to rule their own lives? Was it the quiet peaceful citizens of Jerusalem just trying to keep their head down and survive the Roman occupation? Sometimes. But the ones who were most adamantly opposed to the “heretic” Jesus Christ were the religious leaders. It was the ones trained in the Scriptures that seemed to know them the least. So, please read this with an open mind. Pray. Ask God in Heaven to help you know what is true.
If I’m writing something that isn’t true, I beg God in Heaven to help me know that. My goal is to love and serve God as He desires, not as I desire.  It is my prayer that the same is true of you. With that in mind, let’s see what the Bible says about the Trinity.
There are two issues addressed by the Nicene Creed that I call into question. The first is the issue of plurality. Is God is one or three? The second is whether He is immaterial.  I’ll only address the first one today.

One or Three?

In John 10:30 our Savior makes a remarkable statement: “I and My Father are one.”  Well, there you go. He’s answered it. No need to look any further, right? They are one. But was that meant as a  literal number of persons, or as an illustration of who They are and how They work with one another? I believe it is the latter.
Also, in the Book of John, Jesus calls Himself “the vine”. No one questions the use of allegory in that passage. We know He is not literally calling Himself a vine. Instead, it is a word picture designed to help us understand part of His function in our lives. I believe the John passage about them being one is illustrative as well. Why? Well, let’s look at the Scriptural evidence, beginning in Genesis.
“In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
The Hebrew word for God in this passage is Elohim. ‘El’ means ‘mighty, strong’.  It is often used in reference to any God, not just the God of Heaven. Things get interesting in the ‘him’ ending. ‘Him’ is plural. This seems to indicate more than one ‘mighty, strong’ being. Genesis says it directly just a few verses later.
“Let Us make man in Our image.” Genesis 1:26, emphasis added.
He doesn’t say, Let me make man, but us. There is more than one. If that is the case and they really are separate, they would relate to one another as separate individuals, rather than one being throughout the Scriptures.
We see that very clearly in the way Jesus the Christ prayed to and spoke of His Father in heaven. Even the fact that He prayed shows they are not one substance. If so, He would be having more of an internal dialogue, just as we do when trying to work out a problem. Instead, His was real prayer. Sometimes pleading as He did in the garden,
“And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:” Matthew 26:39
Other times in intercession for those He loved.
“But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke 22:32.
Ask yourself, why was He praying to begin with?  If they are one in substance and being there would be no need for Him to pray. He wasn’t doing it just to give an example to the rest of us, because He would most often go off alone to pray. He was praying because He needed to communicate with His Father.

The testimony of Jesus

   To me, however, the most important evidence comes from the words of the Savior Himself. What did He have to say about the relationship between He and His Father?
“My Father is greater than I” John 14:28
“I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” John 5:30
There are many, many other passages I could write, but this post has to end sometime. I think these Scriptures clearly show they are distinct beings. However, we cannot ignore the John 10:30 passage where Jesus states they are one. What does He mean by that? Fortunately, the Scriptures have a great way of interpreting themselves. One of my favorite passages is of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17. His time on earth was coming to a close. He was about to endure some of the most horrific agony anyone could experience. So He set Himself apart and prayed for us. Look carefully at verse 22.
“…that they may be one, even as we are one:” John 17:22, emphasis added.
It does not make sense that He would pray that we would become melded into one being. In this prayer He was praying for our unity. He wanted us to be one in purpose, just as He and His Father are one. Like-mindedness-- that is how they are one.
I wanted to write the many quotes of the ante-Nicene leaders, those who were closest to the time of Christ and the teachings of the original twelve apostles, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian. However, I intentionally limited myself to the words of the Old and New Testament, because I realize those are the words that will hold validity with the evangelical community.
I hope this came across in the spirit intended. I know what a struggle it was for me to re-examine my belief system while I was studying Mormonism. All I ask is that you come at it with an open heart and mind. Maybe one day the Savior’s prayer will come to fruition and we will all be one as He and His Father are.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.