29 May 2014

Redemption: I do not think it means what you think it means.

"25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." ~2 Nephi 2:25, 27
Now, every LDS seminary student has heard these verses a thousand times. Most Mormons folk have heard them nearly that much. They're Scripture Mastery verses, intended for memorization, just two of the 25 passages from the Book of Mormon course.

Such a stellar job had been done of teaching these two verses that I had never paid much attention to what lay between them on the page: verse 26.
"26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."
When I read that, I did a triple-take. Did that just say what I think it said?

I read it again. 

And again. 

I stared, then stared some more. And I saw this looking back at me from the page:
"And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day . . ."
There it was! The doctrine of grace, explained. In the Book of Mormon! The way my own baptism of fire taught me to understand it! I was seriously stoked for days about this discovery, and told at least a half dozen people. (And have continued to share it ever since. I'm still pretty stoked about it. lol)

You see, this verse is what informed my understanding of salvation for most of my life:
"23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." 2 Nephi 25:23
Until the baptism of fire, I had understood the underlined words to mean we had to work our behinds off during our lives, and then, after it was all over and we left this life, THEN Jesus saved us, because we still weren't good enough. (Remember King Benjamin's "less than the dust of the earth"? Yeah. That.) 

We were saved by grace after we've done everything right we could possibly do right on earth. That's what "after all we can do" means, right?

Wrong.

All my life, I had ignored verse 20:
"20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." 2 Nephi 25:20
 This verse speaks in a context of grace. The story of the brass serpent is such a powerful example of this . . . they only had to believe enough to look! And the water springing from the rock: Moses only had to ask. And even then, when he messed up and hit the rock instead of speaking to it, the Lord still gave His people the water they needed.

Key elements of 2 Nephi 25:26 have different meaning for me now. Here they are:

1) Redeemed from the Fall.

The Fall sent Adam & Eve out of the Garden of Eden, and out of the presence of God. It was the introduction of sin into the world, of mankind's willful following after of his or her own nature. So what does "redeemed from the fall" mean?

It means we have been brought back into the presence of the Father & Son.

This doesn't mean that if we try really, REALLY hard, we'll be brought back into the presence of the Father & the Son. It means we already have been brought back into the presence of Ahman and Jehovah. Their presence is all around us. Always. 24/7/365. Never a minute that we're not literally swimming in their presence. We're just deaf & blind to it, utterly unaware because we haven't been taught it's there . . . or even that it's possible to be in God's presence.

I'm reminded of a phrase from the 80's movie "Better Off Dead" that I watched on TV in the 90's, (since I was only nine when it came out), when Lane & Charles are at the top of the insane ski run. Lane is psyching himself up to take off down the mountain, and crazy Charles is freaking out about the snow that's everywhere, all around him, throat tight with excitement and nearly guy-screaming: 

"This is pure snow! It's everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?"

We're all in that very same situation, surrounded by the presence of God . . . and we wander around, wondering when we'll ever get to experience these things we've heard so much about, possibly even shushing those who, in their excitement, are trying to tell us about it. We have so many barriers in our minds, so many "I'll be worthy when's"  that we don't open our hearts & minds to what's available to us right now.

There are different levels of the presence of God, from spiritual awareness, to hearing, feeling or seeing in the Spirit, and then on to hearing, seeing and feeling in the flesh. But no matter which of these different ways you experience being in the presence of God, you're in the presence of God! Isn't that awesome? Amazing? Wonderful?

As our hearts become more open and willing to accept Him, to submit to Him, we can experience the presence of God more fully. For some, like King Lamoni's father, Paul, and many others, it's nearly immediate. For some, it takes more time as we figure out how to soften our hearts and leave behind the unbelief and unforgiveness, the fear and anger that shuts Him out. (More on unbelief/fear and unforgiveness/anger later.)

But whether the wind-up is long or short, the forgiveness we are told to receive is instant, complete, and changes us fundamentally.

2) Knowledge from Fall + Jesus' Atoning Sacrifice = free forever
Knowing good from evil*  is where humankind was up until Jesus won. When He claimed the victory and was seated in heavenly places upon His Father's throne, He then claimed the right to forgive everyone.

Everyone.

Forgiveness isn't simply not wishing someone harm, or even saying you wish them well. It is opening your heart to God fully, not keeping in reserve any corners of anger or pain, so His love can flow through you totally and fully for others. Forgiveness is allowing that love to flow through you for the person you have forgiven, in fullness. Nothing hindering or redirecting that gift that God gives so freely to us, and that we must give freely to all if we are to receive it in any measure.

Jesus loves everyone, unconditionally. He forgives everyone, totally. The only unknown quantity here is who will turn to Him and totally let go of what they're holding in their hearts so they can receive what He has to offer. Receiving a remission of your sins is instant. The Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit comes and burns it all away. You really do receive not only a remission of your sins and become a new creature born from the ashes, but can receive visions and feel as though you're surrounded by warmth. Some feel surrounded by fire, but not burned, or even uncomfortable.

*(We come to know good from evil as we make wrong choices and mess up. how else do you actually know what wrong is, until you've done it? You can know about wrongdoing, as Adam & Eve did after being told by God to not eat the fruit of that tree, beause they would die. But they didn't know what all that really meant, didn't know what the sorrow or consequences really were until they experienced them.)

3) We will NOT be acted upon until "the great and last day" of judgement.
Up until Jesus' Victory, God was required by justice and according to the law to strike people down. A whole lot of them, if the Old Testament is any example.  But since the battle was finished and Christ was seated on His Father's throne, the mercy of God has held sway. Mercy is what sustains us in our current state, what allows us to have access to the Love of Jesus Christ despite our uncleanness before Him. 

People still bear many of the consequences of their actions according to natural law and the agency of others, but God no longer is required to actually mete out direct punishments, like the earth opening and swallowing hundreds of the camp of Israel. Yeeee-ahhh. I'm so glad Jesus won. Aren't you? ;o)

We are not saved by grace after we've done everything. We are saved by grace, despite all we can do.

So.

What are we waiting for?

(We'll talk about that next . . . )

26 May 2014

Learning Wisdom

"Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." ~Proverbs 1:7 NLT
In reading this morning, I began at Proverbs 1:1 and read that verse. Then I couldn't get very much farther on without my eyes returning, almost of their own accord, to it. I didn't really grasp what it meant . . . so it surprised me that it stood out to me that much. I'd read down the column a bit, and my eyes would search back up to find and read that one over again. And again. Some questions came to my mind:

  • How can I be wise?
  • What is fear of the Lord?
I tried a few different translations to see if that would open that verse to my understanding. The Amplified version was the best:
"The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; but fools despise skillful and godly Wisdom, instruction and discipline." ~Proverbs 1:7, AMP
Revering and worshiping the Lord God of Hosts really is the beginning of godly Wisdom. If you don't accept the Lord for Who He Is, you cannot receive the full blessing of what He offers.
"He who receives and welcomes and accepts a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who receives and welcomes and accepts a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." ~Matthew 10:41 AMP
When we honor God for who He is, and value the Wisdom He teaches us, we can receive the reward that comes from the true value of what we learn, and from our relationship with Him, from accepting God for Who He Is.

So, if reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning of godly Wisdom, what comes next?
"If you will turn (repent) and give heed to my reproof, behold, I [Wisdom] will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make my words known to you." ~Proverbs 1:23 AMP
As we position ourselves to revere and worship God as we should, we can't help but have repentant hearts, turning to Him. And what comes next is wonderful: an outpouring of the spirit of Wisdom and understanding. I could really use more of that in my life . . . how 'bout you? ;o)

In Proverbs 2, we get a step-by-step tutorial on how to understand what comes next:

  1. Receive words of wisdom and treasure up prophetic instruction. (2:1)
  2. Listen for, ponder and meditate on them. (2:2)
  3. Pray for insight and understanding. (2:3)
  4. Seek for it as you would a precious treasure. (2:4)
And here's the result:
"Then you will understand the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of [our omniscient] God." ~Proverbs 2:5
 Boom. I love it when God lays things out so simply for me.

As I walk out the things I have come to understand, the second half of verse seven comes into play:
"He is a shield to those who walk uprightly and in integrity, that He may guard the paths of justice; yes, He preserves the way of His saints." ~Proverbs 2:7
I learned, the hard way, over the last week, what it's like to fear mortals more than God. To walk outside of the guarded path, without the Lord's shielding. In my case, it was denying very clear promptings because I didn't want to cause discomfort to others. As a result, I wandered spiritually all week. I walked without the presence of God's Spirit in power, struggled with depression and all the old demons, and my family had a less than stellar week. Sunday was the worst, when I ignored two more (very clear) instructions on how God wanted me to use my time that day. That cost me sore repentance, and finally brought me down in humility, once again confessing the wisdom and love Jesus Christ has for me, if I'll but stay turned to Him and follow.

Walking without Jesus is a crushing weight. I don't ever want to do it.

It's simple craziness to ignore what He tells me, even when it doesn't seem that important, and expect to have the same deep connection as when I am walking in His will for me. One of the instructions I ignored I was able to fulfill last night . . . and it was such a sweet blessing. All of the concerns I had were totally unfounded. (Whaddya know? God knew what He was talking about! {facepalm}) As for the others, I know my Lord will give me more opportunities to obey Him. He wants to be close to me, and that requires offering me opportunities to obey Him, so I can get to know Him better, learning His ways.

I'm so. glad. He loves me so much, that when I come to Him He does not upbraid, doesn't get on my case or send me on a guilt trip. Universally, the response I receive when I've turned to Him anew after following my own will: "Oh, Annalea. I'm so glad." It's filled with love for me, and awash with a deep relief that the suffering I put myself through is over . . . even if only for a short time, until I stumble again. My goal is to continually shorten the length of that period between stumbling and returning.

Lord, I'm so grateful this morning for Your love. Your steady, patient, unfailing and overwhelming love that heals and entreats, persuades and teaches. I'm so grateful for your infinite nature that means You can lavish me with love and a fullness of Your attention in my linear, earthly existence, as if I'm Your only and most favorite daughter . . . just as You do for every other one of Your children. Thank you for the innumerable chances You've given me. Thank You for Your mercy that still offers Your sustaining love in my foolishness, and for Your amazing grace that empowers me to become more than my flesh would ever permit. I'm beginning anew, Lord. Keep leading me, please. And show me how to better accept Your grace so I can glorify Your name more, bringing more joy to You and into the life of those I love most of all. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus' name, amen.

21 May 2014

Loving God, with ALL.

"Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength."~Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 NLT

I have always thought this verse was a command because it was a "for our own good" kind of thing. Of course we should love God with our everything we've got; it all came from Him, right? That's how He loves us after all, and it only makes sense, etc. 

This morning, a new way to look at it was whispered into my soul as this verse came into my mind:

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." ~Deuteronomy 4:24 NKJV

I thought of the many astounding encounters I've had with the presence of The Lord, and how, despite the incredible love and light and forgiveness, the sheer weight of glory is physically hard to bear because of the weakness of my flesh. It takes tremendous effort to really receive His Spirit in power, let alone The Lord Himself.

". . . God is love." ~I John 4:8 NKJV

God urges us to love Him with all our heart, soul & strength because that's what it takes to get anything but the tiniest of tastes of Who He Is. He wants to immerse us in His overwhelming transformative power. A light brush with The Lord of Hosts, one that we can control, is not enough. It takes true surrender, world-rocking experiences with His love and presence, to enable us to receive and walk out the glorious plans and callings our beloved Jesus has for us. 

I'll be meditating on what it can mean in my life to love Jesus with all my heart, soul & strength. I'm excited to see what He has to teach me about it. (I think it's far more all-encompassing than I have ever thought . . .)

Lord, I'm so deeply happy to know You, even as physically weak as I am now. Thank You for the way You keep teaching me, one perfectly-sized increment at a time, because each taste is so sweet to my soul. Each piece renews my mind and changes my course to bring me into more alignment with You! I rejoice in Your goodness, Your mercy, Your strength, for You are faithful, God of mine, and I trust You. :-) Totally. I know You will lead me as I follow, so I ask You to teach me more, Lord. Fill me up as I turn to You today, and show me how to love You in all I do. Reveal to me the worship possible in my every moment, so I can pray without ceasing, lifting You up with every breath, in Jesus' name, Amen!

15 May 2014

Dream Archive: Art at the Olympics

I was here, at the house, and an air strip was in our front meadow. A plane kept buzzing the house, dropping short volleys of rocks on it--mostly golf ball size or smaller. I remember getting everyone inside, and being grumpy about the rocks hurting someone, or my house.

Eventually, the plane landed, and there were a couple more people there. One was our neighbor, and someone who was supposed to be his wife. They introduced me to a man with them, who I think had been flying the plane. The grumpiness turned into neighborly friendliness, and relations were repaired.

Then, I was lost. The the Olympics were being held in a huge school on the outskirts of Sandpoint (which looked like the hill going down into Springville), and I was walking into town with the guy I'd just been introduced to. He had spent time in & truly loved the town I had gone to high school in. We walked & chatted, and the beginnings of a friendship sprouted. Talking with him was fun; he liked to joke and laugh. Interacting with him felt like talking with Steve from way back at BYU the summer before I met Vern. Carefree, confident, easygoing.

For some reason, we took a detour through the school--I think to just check out what we could see of the Olympics quickly. We couldn't get to where any of the events were, and I couldn't find a way out of the building. I kept following the guy I'd come into the school with, but he kept drawing further and further ahead of me little by little, and disappeared around a corner in a stairwell. When I got to the corner, it looked like he got out through someplace that I couldn't manage. (I think it had a bigger drop than I could jump, or something like that.) After that, I was left to wander on my own. I would follow exit signs, only to find myself at a dead end, or trying to make my way through up or down stairwells that got smaller and smaller before feeding into a ball field or gymnasium. (The stairwells felt like they went both up and down at the same time. So odd.) At one point I found myself walking with Janell from It Works towards some kind of synchronized dancing event she was going to compete in. (I don't think she dances in real life--not sure why she was in my dream. lol) She's so super nice, and it was a relief to not be alone, but with someone I knew & was certain of their regard for me. Being abandoned by the charmer had shaken me, because that's just not something you do to anyone, let alone someone to which you had offered friendship.

As we stood behind some bleachers, waiting for Janell's event to start, a feisty little Philippina security guard came up to me, seized my elbow hard, and escorted me away. She said she was taking me out of the complex, and while I was really embarrassed at being hauled off like a miscreant (she laughed derisively when I said I was lost) her whole demeanor was that of a superior to a slave or criminal. I was so glad that I could finally get out of that place that I went along with her without fighting, suffering the embarrassment.

The guard took me to a hallway with exit signs and told me to follow them. I did, and wound up in another gym, this time with a basketball court. The lights were on, but it was strange-looking because the maple floor was stained a deep brown, with really high walls of the same dark wood. It felt like a very old room, like something out of Hogwarts.

There were some high school girls in dark royal blue jerseys & shorts coming in through doors on the long wall of the gym to my right to practice basketball, and so I finished walking diagonally across the gymnasium from the door I entered through to the only other door which had a glowing green EXIT sign above it.

Once through those doors, I was in a long, high, proportionately narrow classroom, walls of the same dark-stained wood with a hard, smooth floor of some kind. It was an art room, and there were drawings of all kinds on the walls, including murals directly on the wall itself. I looked at a lot of them, but when I turned and saw a man sitting at a table and drawing by the light of a simple desk lamp, I went to talk with him to try to find out how to get out of the school. Most of the room had low light--more like candlelight in color. The desk lamp was pure white light, and illuminated the desk and white paper he was drawing on perfectly.

I trusted him instinctively; I knew he was a teacher. He had such an air of peace and comfort about him, in noticeable contrast to the sparkling charm of the first guy, which charm had proven empty after he had led me into the school and stranded me there. The teacher's hair was dark, dark brown in the ambient light. The first man's hair had been blonde. (He kind of looked like the lucifer actor in the second new temple movie.) I sat and talked with the teacher for a little bit, asking how to get free of the building, but became distracted by his drawing. He had only a pencil, either graphite or dark brown in color, and was drawing something I couldn't decipher. A moment later, I realized what he had drawn, and the beauty of it sunk deep into my soul.

Then I had a pencil and paper, and began to draw after a little instruction, both our heads bent over the paper and the pool of light on the desk. I was surprised at how well I did, even though it wasn't anything like the teacher had been able to draw. I laid down lines and watched the drawing take shape. I thought I knew what I was drawing, (since I had imagined it in my own mind and not said a word about it), but when I thought I was about done, he began drawing, too, and suddenly my drawing was transformed into something incredibly beautiful and meaningful to me. I don't remember what any of the drawings were . . . just that the transformation from something really pretty amazing for my skill level into something outright amazing happened with surprisingly few lines.

And then I woke up.


Dreamed in the early morning of 17 April 2014.