Monday, March 21, 2011

The Perfect Body!

The world today puts so much pressure on women and girls to have a perfect body.  Something a friend said really put things in perspective for me personally.  She said that when she looked at renaissance art before the time of boob jobs, tummy tucks, liposuction, and other forms of plastic surgery, that the perfect body was completely different.  In these forms of art we see women with average to small sized breasts and tummies, hips, and legs that have definitely been through child birth.  My friend commented that to her this was a “real” woman’s body.

What is culturally beautiful to one culture can seem pretty odd to another.  In some cultures women put rings on their necks to elongate them. In other cultures, women and men wear large circular objects in their lips or ears.  Yet in others, feet are bound in order to make the foot appear dainty.  These images of “beauty” sound painful and barbaric as they altar the natural human body.  But how different really has our society become with our own painful ways of altering our natural bodies through plastic surgery?  I wonder if in generations to come, people will look back in wonder at our bodies that have been operated on, starved to death, and exercised to the extreme in order to reach a current cultural standard of beauty. 

So, what is a perfect body?  We know that man looks on the outward appearance but that God looks on the heart or the inward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).  In other words God does not judge us by our outward appearance but finds beauty in the human by what is inside.  I think this is very important but what I want to focus on is Christ’s perfect immortal body.  When Christ appeared after his resurrection, it is interesting to me that he still had the marks in his hands and his feet from his crucifixion.  Here he was an immortal man with a perfect body and yet that perfection included what most of us would consider “imperfections.”  I think the purpose of the scars he still bears are to testify of who he is when he comes again, but I also think there is symbolism in his scars that I can apply to myself.

His scars represent his voluntary sacrifice of his life for us.  They symbolize his perfect life, his love, his pain & agony, his selflessness, etc…  His body alone tells us who he is and what he did.  What does my body say about me?  I think stretch marks on a woman’s tummy and breast (and the extra weight many of us gain) might be the noblest marks we have because they symbolize the sacrifice we willingly made for another.  I look at my stomach and see lots of scars from tissue & skin debridement (cutting out) after contracting the flesh eating disease at the birth of my youngest child.  They remind me of the miracle of my life and God’s love for me.  I think our bodies tell the story of a pampered person or a hard working person, a busy person or a lazy person, a person concerned about his outer appearance or one focused on the inner.  When Jesus comes again we will know him by the scars he bears.  What will my body tell him about me? 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Its not Fair!

Even though I know better, sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair!  This is especially true when I feel wronged by someone else.  This issue of fairness is found in a parable of the laborer in the vineyard (Matthew 20).  A householder of a vineyard hires people all through the day; the first hour, the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and the eleventh hour.  He offers each person a penny a day regardless of what time they started working.  Some only worked an hour while others worked the entire day.  At the end of the day, those that worked all day complained because they were not rewarded more than those who worked less. 

Matthew 20:10-16  But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.  But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?  

I don’t necessarily feel I deserve extra blessing because I work harder or longer than others, but sometimes others actions have caused me to suffer in the heat of the day.  It doesn’t seem fair that I or those I love should have to suffer for the choices of someone else.  If feels unjust!

I guess the question is, what does justice look like?  Is it just that one person should suffer for the sins of others?  Is it fair that some people can commit horrible crimes and them be completely forgiven and cleansed without having to suffer for them?  Is it fair that those who labor for only an hour will get the same reward as those who labor all day?  If all was fair and just, it would not be looking real good for me!

Romans 3:19-20, 23 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin… For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Justice completely condemns me!  I really don’t deserve any more than this. Condemnation really is fair; by one little mistake I am guilty of the whole law (James 2:10) and I have made lots of mistakes.  But luckily, life is not fair!  One man did suffer for the sins of many.  The crimes I commit can be forgiven and I do not have to suffer for them if I repent.  No matter how long I labor, I will be rewarded for the labor I perform.  

Romans 8:1-3 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

Even though I can see that I don’t want justice to apply to me, I sometimes really want it to apply to others.  I have suffered for others sins, horrible crimes have been committed against me, and I have labored in the heat of the day!  In Matthew 18, there is a parable of a king and his servant.  The servant owed 10,000 talents (30,000,000 shekels) to the king.  The servant begged for mercy and the king being filled with compassion forgave the whole debt.  This same man who was forgiven went to collect a debt owed to him in the amount of 100 pence (10,000 shekels) by a fellow servant.  His fellow servant also begged for mercy, but the first servant demanded justice and sent him to prison.  When the king found out what this servant had done to his fellow servant, the first servant was likewise sent to jail to pay off his debt. 

Like the first servant, my debt to God is bigger than what any other person could ever owe me.  In other words I have wronged him more than I have been wronged.  I have caused him to suffer for the crimes I have committed; Christ has suffered through the heat of the day because of me.  He has had to unjustly suffer for every mistake I have made.  When I demand justice for the wrongs towards me, I am no different than the first servant in this parable.  Christ paid the price and so he is the one who decides the wages, not me.  The reality is that I am really no different than my offender.  Fairness would mean that neither I nor my offender is saved; justice would condemn us both to hell.  No, its not fair and for that I will be forever grateful! 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who Am I to Judge Another?

Several years ago while going through a difficult time, I found much solace in writing music.  I don’t claim to be a great musician or even a good one, but I am somehow able to come up with original tunes for the words I write. (Disclaimer: it is yet to be determined how good they are!)  During this time I wrote several songs based on the different aspects of the atonement of Jesus Christ.  One of the aspects of the atonement is his grace.  The one thing that has stuck out to me in regards to Christ’s grace is that my salvation is not dependent upon where I am compared to anyone but myself.  His grace takes away the need for me to compare myself with or judge another.

His Grace is Sufficient for Me (© 2007)
Verse 1
I found a stairway on the earth
Up to heaven it did reach
The wide steps were so beautiful
They beckoned unto me

I climbed the stairway anxiously
But with every step
I came to realize
To the top I could not get

Verse 2
Looking up at those ahead
I feel discouragement
So much farther up are they
Compared to where I’m at

Can I make it up that far?
Will I ever be that good?
I wonder if I ever will be
Up to where I should

Bridge 1
No matter how I try
No matter what I do
I can never make it alone
Even if I run
Or never stop to rest
I still need help to reach the top step

His Grace lifts me where I need to be
His Grace makes the difference up for me
Because of His Grace, I don’t have to live perfectly
All He requires is my best
Then He makes up for the rest
His Grace is sufficient for me
Verse 3
Then I glance way down below
I see others climbing there
Some just making their first step
Others slowly climb each stair

Then I come to realize
That is where I did begin
And those above me also stood
In the very spot I’m in.

Verse 4
The higher that you climb the stairs
The more you learn and know
Some start early some start late
Some are quick, some slow

I am not required to be
Where another person is
Nor another person judged upon
The knowledge I’ve been giv’n.

Bridge 2
It really doesn’t matter
Upon which step I stand
Alone no one can make it to heav’n
As long as I keep climbing
And am true to what I know
Christ’s Grace will lift me and carry me home!

His Grace lifts me where I need to be
His Grace makes the difference up for me
Because of His Grace, I don’t have to live perfectly
All He requires is my best
Then He makes up for the rest
His Grace is sufficient for me

When we don’t understand his grace, it leads us to not only compare ourselves with and judge others, but we can’t fully appreciate the gift of grace given to us by our Savior through his atoning sacrifice.

Romans 5:10-12, 15 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:… For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

When Adam partook of the fruit in the Garden, he brought upon himself (and us) mortality or in other words, death and sin.  Christ’s gift to us that that he saves us from both.  While Adam’s fall separates us from God, Christ’s atonement unifies us by making us “at-one” again.

Romans 5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

Romans 5:19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Christ has overcome both death and sin.  Through his resurrection, all men/women whether good or evil (Acts 24:15) are given the gift of the “justification of life” or resurrection. By his suffering for our sins, all can be made righteous that choose to follow him.  Both of these gifts are a result of his grace regardless if our choice enters the equation.  Even if we all did our very best to live a good life, it would not be good enough.

James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

Each of us has a complete dependence upon the Savior for our salvation regardless of how large or small our sins.  To compare ourselves to another is almost to say, “I don’t need the Savior as much as you do.”  The understanding or lack of understanding of his grace I think looks like this:

Not understanding his grace
Understanding his grace
Aura of Perfection
Shame &          Guilt
Love of God
I have to be perfect OR I have to pretend to be perfect
I am not perfect, so why try?
I know I am not perfect and I rely on Christ to make up the difference.
I can't make a mistake or I am bad.  I want to hide my mistakes or problems or pretend I don’t have any.
I make mistakes so I am bad.  I will never be perfect. I give up!
I know that perfection is only through Christ and nothing I can achieve on my own.  I see that mistakes are part of growing and necessary in the perfection process. How can I grow without learning?  How can I learn if I don't make mistakes?
In order to feel better and to feel better about my sins, I classify people, make judgments, and compare myself to others.  "At least I am not that bad."
I feel less than others. I can never measure up to others or to expectations I have of myself.
I recognize that I have just as much need for the atonement as anyone. How can I judge? We are all sinners!
I rely on my works to save me and feel I have to do it all!  I believe in Christ but I don't understand his grace.
My works aren't good enough, I can't be saved!  I believe in Christ but I don't understand his grace.
My works will never be enough to save me or anyone else. As long as I continue to repent of my mistakes and keep moving forward, Christ's grace is sufficient for me.
I can get so discouraged when I don't meet my own personal expectations that I can fall into shame & guilt.
I may try to hide my shame and guilt by taking on the Aura of Perfection.
I am ok to be my imperfect self! I am ok with others imperfections as well!
Instead of helping others, I am in the habit of judging, comparing and classifying.
I feel unworthy or unable to be of help to anyone.
The Lord has blessed me with his grace and I want to help others. I mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that need comfort.

When we truly understand his grace, we become like the woman who washed Jesus feet.  

Luke 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

I don’t think we have to be great sinners to love the Lord but to recognize the sinner that we are.  When we come to see our complete dependence on the Lord, our love for him and others will be much and we will cease to feel the need to judge and compare.  Instead of seeing others as sinners because their sins are more visible, we will see them as our equals.  Our hearts will be filled with compassion and we will reach out in love instead of judgment and we will forgive more easily. Instead of hiding our problems, we will be able to open up and seek for help.  To a degree I have hidden many of my problems.  This has made me realize that we cannot help each other if we do not know the problems of others.  In opening up a little, I have found that others struggle just as much or more than I.  Many of us hide our problems not necessarily because we want to appear perfect but because we fear judgment and sometimes rightly (and sadly) so.  I personally have times when I have felt the need to be perfect so others would like me or in order to earn God’s blessings.  Other times I have felt that I was less than others and had absolutely nothing to offer.  The times I strive for and do not always reach are those when I have felt the love of the Lord for me and have seen that I am not meant to be perfect or have a perfect life.  In writing this blog, I am opening up a little more than really is within my comfort zone.  I know that some will judge me but I am hopeful that my experiences will benefit someone, even if just one. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death & Resurrection Principle

My husband and I make a common practice of praying before we make any big decisions.  My understanding has always been that if I knock he will answer and direct my path.  My take on this has always been that the path he directs me on will be one that will bring me good things.  A prayerful decision regarding my children will bring about their safety and increase in their testimonies of God.  A prayerful financial decision will bring about financial prosperity or at least will not result in a loss.  A prayerful decision about change will not bring on any undue hardship to the family.  A prayerful decision about whom I marry would never lead to a divorce or tragedy.  In my limited and lower way of thinking, how could I receive answers to my prayers and then have those things go all wrong! 

Six years ago, we made a very important financial decision.  Having done our homework both spiritually and temporally, we relied on these positive feelings and moved forward in a business venture.  We were completely convinced that no ill could come to us with God on our side.  As time went on we realized that the business was having serious problems.  Dishonesty was rampant in the industry and collecting money was very difficult.  Although things looked dismal, peace guided each decision and gave us feelings of certainty that all would be well.  Our peace was replaced with confusion and despair when the company did not survive, our resources tapped dry.  We had just planted ourselves into the worst financial situation of our lives! 

Even though things looked grim, I kept holding onto that rope of hope.  Even when I could see it burning, I was just sure if I had faith and didn’t let go the Lord would put out the flame before it reached me!  After a year and a half of gripping tightly, the heat became too hot and with the disintegration of the rope came the breaking of my heart.   I could not believe that I could trust in the Lord with all my heart and that he would direct me down THIS path.   With a scorched heart and a burning soul, I was left with the most severe trial my faith has ever experienced.

The feelings of betrayal were blisters to my soul and questions to my mind.   Is this the God in whom I believe, a God whom will guide you and then leave you?  If I felt the spirit about this and it wasn’t right, then what about the other things I have prayed about?  If these feelings weren’t real then were those other feelings real?  If this is the kind of help I get when I pray, then I might just be better on my own!  Although I had been singed, the blisters did not fester.   Many defining moments in my testimony of God served at this time as a balm to my unanswered questions, but my attention turned from self-justification to self-mutilation.  There must be something wrong with me.  I really must not know how to receive answers to my prayers.  I am possibly delusional or if not delusional then definitely a complete fool.  In my mind if it could not be God then it must be me.  With no where else to turn, and I went to the scriptures for answers.

After Jesus died and was then resurrected, the apostles had a hard time believing that he lived.  This surprised me!  Were their testimonies of Him strong enough?  Were they taught by Jesus that he would be resurrected?  Did they properly understand what was taught them?  Did they have incorrect expectations of Christ’s mission?  What was it that caused some of the most righteous men that ever walked the earth to doubt, question, and not believe witnesses of the empty tomb and of his resurrection?  Little did I know at the time, but the answers to these questions would become the solution to my own dilemma.

Was it Testimony?  I believe that the apostles testimonies of Him were very strong.  They knew who he was.  They believed he was the Son of God.  Peter, James, and John had seen Christ transfigured before them.  I don’t think they doubted Jesus’ divinity, but like us their testimonies needed to grow.  The most important testimony growing ingredient was missing during this time.  When Christ was alive he was their light, and there was no need for the presence of the Holy Ghost.  Once Christ died, the apostles not only lost the direct light of Christ but they also had not yet received the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  This must have been a time of darkness for them, yet they stayed true to their testimony of the Savior.

Were They Taught?  Jesus’ followers were taught about his death and resurrection.  When the women went to Christ’s tomb and found it empty, an angel spoke to them. 

Luke 24:6-8 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, 

Jesus also took his disciples aside on their final journey to Jerusalem to warn them of his fate.

Matthew 20:18-19 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. 

Not only this, but Jesus prophesied in public: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Although ignorance was feigned by the Jews, their understanding was apparent in this statement made by the Chief Priests and the Pharisees to Pilate.

 Matthew 27:63-64 Sir we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.  Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away,  and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so that the last error shall be worse than the first. 

Did They Understand?  The understanding of the Priests and Pharisees was likely because they knew the scriptures, including every detail of the prophesied Messiah’s life.  They were an elite class that had access to the prophesies, and the study of them was a part of their profession.  The apostles on the other hand did not have this type of background or knowledge.  They definitely had been taught by Jesus, but even after Christ’s death they lacked understanding.  

 John 20:9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must arise again from the dead.  

It was not until after Christ’s Resurrection that they really understood this concept.  Comprehension did not come until Christ “opened their understanding.”

 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45)

 Notice that it is not the apostles opening up their own understanding; Jesus did the opening.  In reading this verse it seems that this understanding was not opened to them previously, as if it were “shut” to them.  Although they had been taught, they did not grasp the meaning of these teachings.

Did They Have Incorrect Expectations?  On the way to Emmaus Cleopus and possibly Luke are relating to each other the events of Christ’s death and the empty tomb. As they are talking Jesus joins them on their journey, but they do not recognize him.  Jesus asks them why they are sad.  They explain to Jesus the events of the last three days where Cleopas says something that gives us some enlightenment on what they were expecting.

 Luke 24:21 But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.  

Israel was not a free country; they were in bondage to Rome.  Many felt oppressed, and the Jews as a whole looked to this Messiah to free them from bondage.  This is the type of Messiah they knew and believed in.  God had delivered them from the Egyptians and helped them literally conquer their enemies.  God had helped them wipe out the nations which possessed the land promised to Abraham and his seed because those people were ripe in iniquity.  Would not this promised Savior when he came once again free them from their physical bonds?  The Jews misunderstood the prophecies of Christ’s second coming and physical reign to be prophecies of his first.  The Jews emphasis was on physical redemption rather than spiritual.  Look at these words of Isaiah.        
Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. 

Through this and other scriptures, we can see how easily the Jews could be expecting a Messiah to bring peace to the land, to establish once again the throne of David, and to break the yokes of bondage.  It is apparent that this is one of the expectations of the apostles because they asked him about it while Jesus was ministering to the apostles during the 40 days after his resurrection.

Acts 1:6-7 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  

So how do all of these answers provide a solution?  It is all in the principle!  

The Principle:  I believe that the main purpose of our life on this earth is to develop the spiritual strength to overcome our physical bodies.  The natural man runs on bodily appetites and wants: eating, sleeping, physical comfort, sexual desires, accumulating wants…  The natural man also has an effect upon our ways of thinking and understanding.  Our upbringing, environment, education, experiences, and many other factors affect what we think and how we believe which will in turn also affect how we act.  Our spiritual side helps us balance our important appetites and overcome the negative ones.  The Holy Ghost also guides our spirits to help us overcome improper or incorrect ways of thinking.  Paul explains it like this.  

 Romans 8:5-9 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. 

This scripture is better understood with a definition of the word, carnal.[i]
1.       pertaining to or characterized by the flesh or the body, its passions and appetites; sensual;
2.       not spiritual; merely human; temporal; worldly 

 Those who allow the carnal man to rule their thoughts and actions are of the flesh while those who seek to overcome them are of the Spirit.  Man in his natural and carnal state cannot be saved; he must change. When we are baptized we are buried in the water to signify that we are putting to death the natural man.  We then are raised up out of the water in the “newness of life”: a new way of thinking and a new way of doing! (Romans 6:4)  The apostles had to put to death incorrect expectations and had to arise with new understanding.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Just as the apostles did not understand certain teachings and had wrong expectations, I came to understand that I did also.  My thoughts are not as high as his thoughts, nor my ways his ways.  While I was expecting Christ to come and establish me physically, his intent was to establish me spiritually. I did not have to beat myself up for making a wrong decision nor did I have to stop trusting in God.  The real problem was a result of my flawed logic and lack of understanding.  With time, I have come to see very specifically the spiritual (and even delayed physical) blessings that have directly resulted from this decision.

Christ’s death and resurrected are symbolic of the continuous resurrection of our own thoughts and actions.  We must overcome our own biases and allow the spirit to raise us up to a higher sphere. This lifelong challenge I believe is the purpose of our existence on earth.  I call this the Death & Resurrection Principle!

[i] Carnal. (n.d.) In Unabridged (v.1.1). Retrieved October 2, 2008, from>