I Assure You: They’re Not

neither-do-i-condemn-thee

Dear Will:

I recently spoke with a friend who has not attended church in quite some time. After she shared with me a tender story about what had brought her to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first place, I felt compelled to ask: “Then why have you stopped coming?” She responded with a common, sad sentiment: “I don’t feel worthy.”

My heart sank. Worthy? As if any of us is ever truly worthy! Her words left me troubled, puzzling over our human propensity to shun God due to our nagging imperfections. And I’ve concluded that this tendency leads to several persistent and problematic misconceptions:

1. We act as if we could hide from Him –This notion has been around approximately forever. You’ll recall that after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they heard the voice of God and hid themselves for shame (see: Genesis 3). They seemed to think that they could hide transgression behind a bush. Likewise, sometimes our indiscretions make us too ashamed to pray or attend church when those are just the things we need in an hour of weakness. “Oh,” you say, “but how could I ever come before Him after what I’ve done?” To which I say: How can you not? He knows already anyway. And He wants to help.

2. We feel that we’re not good enough – I hear this one all the time. “All of those people at church are so much better than I am.” Without going into detail, let me put it this way: NO THEY’RE NOT! In truth, we all have our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. It is those weaknesses that draw us together. You’ll recall that Jesus was once criticized for socializing with sinners, to which He responded: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). His invitation was to all—especially to those who might feel unworthy. He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You’ll note that He didn’t say: “Come unto me, all ye that already have your act together.” Paul reiterated that thought when he said: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes, by the way, whoever sits next to you in Sunday School.

3. We believe we can never be forgiven – The scriptures are full of examples of those who felt that forgiveness was no longer possible for them. Yet Jesus was (and is) consistent in His willingness to extend forgiveness to all. And let’s be clear especially about this: You can never be worthy of that forgiveness; you can never earn it. He gives it freely. In this regard, His grace is truly sufficient—no matter what you or I may have done to make ourselves unworthy. In truth, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way: “Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it. . . . [However] far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012.)

I hope by now you have recognized in all of this an implied invitation, which I will now make explicit: Come join us on Sunday at the Santiago Creek Ward. You’ll fit right in. I’ll be saving you a seat in Sunday School.

PW

Which Makes Me Think of You

Dear Will:

I was puttering around the kitchen the other day when my wife, Dana, hollered from upstairs. She needed me. RIGHT NOW.

She was frantic. While changing the cartridge in her printer, a drop of ink had plopped onto the carpet, leaving a dark, unsightly spot. Immediately she tried to wipe it up, but all she managed was to smear it around and make things worse. So the two of us dashed around the house, pulling various cleaning products out from under various sinks until we found a couple of options that we hoped might do the trick. We weren’t successful the first time, but eventually we found just the thing. It looked like just some clear liquid, but properly applied it was magical. It took a little work, but after some vigorous rubbing with a damp cloth the blotch was gone—wiped clean, as if it had never been there before. And I thought to myself: How is that even possible?

Which, in turn, made me think of Enos.

From what we can tell, Enos was a rather sinful guy. He described a life-turning day in the wilderness when he went out to hunt but never lifted his bow. That day, as he reflected on his life and circumstances, he began to wrestle within himself, struggling perhaps with the conflict between his “natural” impulses and the enticings of the Holy Spirit that engendered in him a desire to rise up and become a better man (see: Mosiah 3:19). He began to hunger for a signal from God—some indication that he might be forgiven of his wayward ways. So racked was he, so burdened by the weight of regret, that all day and night he prayed, and yet relief would not come. Finally, after many heartwrenching hours, he heard the voice of God: “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” In that very instant, Enos’s guilt was swept away—as if it had never been there before—leaving him both overjoyed and puzzled: “Lord,” he wondered,  “how is it done?”

Which, in turn, made me think of Jesus.

The promise of the Atonement is that we can be freed of our earth-stains, made clean by the blood of Christ. His blood, said John, “cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). That cleansing power is freely offered by the Savior to all—not just to Enos, but to every person on the face of the earth. And it’s a good thing: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Including me. One of the primary reasons I go to church each week is to partake of the sacrament,  a sacred representation of the cleansing blood of Christ. It is an opportunity to be made whole—unblemished—on a weekly basis. Or as the scripture says: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9).

From time to time we all say or do things that we regret, make mistakes or commit transgressions for which we would like to be forgiven. So each week in the Santiago Creek Ward a big group of us sinners gather to partake of the sacrament together—to allow that clear liquid to make us clean. As we do so, we experience the renewal of spirit promised by the prophet Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet,” he wrote, “they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). I am so grateful to be blessed with such friends, so privileged to receive that weekly gift from God, so eager for others to enjoy that blessing with me.

Which, in turn, makes me think of you.

PW

So What’s Your Point?

Dear Will:

Simon was a fisherman. He was in business with a couple of brothers, James and John, somewhere near Capernaum, adjacent to the Sea of Galilee.

At the end of one long, unproductive night on the lake, the three partners toiled at the shoreline, mending and cleaning their nets. One can only imagine the thoughts that went through their heads and the substance of their conversation as they contemplated many hours of hard labor that nevertheless had left them fishless.

Just then, a crowd began to converge on the place. Jesus, a young teacher from nearby Nazareth, had arrived in town, and many had come to hear what he had to say. As the crowd swelled and pressed forward to listen, Jesus climbed into one of Simon’s boats and pushed out a few feet from shore so that everyone could see and hear. No doubt the fishermen set aside their nets and joined the gathering.

We do not know the subject of the lesson that day, but when it ended, Jesus suggested that Simon grab his nets and head back out on the lake to try to catch some fish. Given the previous night’s futility, the suggestion may have seemed a bit imprudent. “Master,” said Simon, “we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”  And so they headed out, Simon and Jesus in one boat, James and John in another.

At a certain place, Jesus gave the signal and Simon let down his net, which immediately bulged with fish. So great was the catch, in fact, that the net began to tear, and Simon was compelled to call for the assistance of those in the other boat in order to secure the catch.

Happenstance? Clearly not. This day on the lake was unlike any before it. Recognizing the source of his good fortune, Simon became overwhelmed by the implications. Why should this man choose him—this boat, this lake, this hour. What could possibly make him worthy of this great bounty? The thought crumbled Simon, and he fell immediately at Jesus’ feet. “Depart from me,” he pled, “for I am a sinful man.”

To which Jesus might well have responded: “Yes. Yes, you are. So what’s your point?”

That is the point, after all. Paul said: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus came for that very reason. His life and ministry were devoted to the sinful.

Of course, you know that Jesus did not depart from Simon, but rather invited him—with all of his so-called unworthiness—to leave his nets and follow him from that day forward. Simon’s life changed that day when he agreed to follow Jesus, even though—and especially because—he was a sinful man.

Do you sometimes feel you have toiled fruitlessly, that in spite of your best efforts your life is little more than a few broken, empty nets? May I suggest that in those moments, you give in to the impulse to set those nets aside and join others who have gathered to hear the words of the Master Teacher, others who, like you, are sinful and unworthy, others who could also use a few more fish in their nets from time to time.

“Come, follow me” said Jesus (Luke 18:22). And when He said it, He was talking to you and me.

PW