Friday, April 21, 2017

Pruning the Rosebush: A Parable

I've lived in this house for three years, and there's a group of rose bushes next to the carport.  These rose bushes weren't neatly pruned when we moved in and I only pruned back a branch here or there if it poked me getting in and out of my car.  Last year these bushes had many flowers.  With the coming of spring this year, as leaves and new buds started showing up, many dead branches sticking up above the new growth became obvious and ugly.  I knew I had to, at least, trim out all the old dead branches.  I had no idea how much that would entail after so many years of neglect, and after getting started it proved to be a much bigger job than I initially thought it would be.

I started with the ones up at the top of the bush and worked my way down, and the more dead branches I removed it seemed I just kept finding more dead branches deeper in the bush.  Some branches were dead all the way down to the bottom cane of the bush and were dried brittle thorny sticks and easy to remove aside from the thorns.  Trying to save the parts of the plants that were still alive while removing dead and withered canes from the middle of these overgrown bushes meant getting poked and scratched by the thorns many times.  Most these scratches didn't hurt much after the initial scratch, but one kept hurting with each movement of my finger, till I looked at it to find the thorn was still stuck in the scratch and I removed it. The thorns also made it harder to get a branch out of the bush after I'd clipped it.  The thorns of the live branches would catch on the thorns of the dead branch I was trying to pull out.  Often I would find where I wanted to cut a branch and I would then have to cut it in several places to get it untangled from the rest of the bush.  Other branches were only dead at the top.  Some canes looked greener than others, and when I followed some brown canes to their branches up higher they eventually did turn green and produce leaves and buds.  After two days of solid work on these bushes I could still see much more that needed work, but our trash bin was completely full of the dead branches I had already pruned away, and the thorns covering the branches prevented me from trying to smash them in tighter.  This forced me to take a break and give my wounded hands a rest.

The pruning of an overgrown rosebush is very difficult.  I decided to watch a video about pruning rosebushes, and it looked so easy, but the man in the video was working with a bush that had obviously been regularly pruned and maintained.  What a contrast it was from the painful experience I was having.

Churches claiming to belong to the scriptural Church of Christ have become overgrown with dead branches that do not serve true followers of Yeshua.  From pagan holidays and traditions of men to the judgments of others based on things that can't be understood without really experiencing it, there are many dead things that need to be pruned out of our hearts, to make room for the life giving unconditional love that needs to grow, if we are ever to become like Christ as his true disciples.  This can be a painful process.  We had a very fun Easter last year with our children, and this year we had a Christ centered Passover.  Passover was a beautiful and enlightening experience that brought me closer to Christ.  I worshiped with Davidic dance, and I fell short of being completely yeast free, but I did my best with a family that wasn't observing kosher rules with me.  It felt surreal walking through stores and seeing things that once made me excited for a coming holiday, which now instead, made me feel distinctly different from the people around me.  I found myself wondering why more people didn't educate themselves about these holidays and choose to replace them with God given Holy Days.  But I was one of them only last year.  My eyes have been opened, and I can't close them again.  Once a dead branch has been found and cut out, it can't come back to life again.  It is time to open our eyes and cut the dead traditions of men out from our hearts.  Make room to be filled with unconditional love, so it can have a place to bloom in your heart.

What you trim first is up to you, and between you and God.  I've been actively trimming false traditions and unbelief for a year and a half now, and would be lying if I said it hasn't been a painful process.  But the joy and beauty that can grow when the dead works are cleared away is well worth the painful process of clearing it out.  Just as Paul, I too have a thorn in my flesh that must be discovered and removed before full healing can occur.  Some traditions have become so entangled it might take multiple cuts to rid ourselves of one false tradition as we find deeper ways it was intertwined with truth and life.  It is a process, and a much longer one than we likely anticipate when we first take it on.  But the good news is that we don't take it on alone.  My children have eagerly helped me in little ways with trimming the dead out of my rosebushes, and likely the efforts of my children could be a parable for my efforts to get rid of unbelief and dead works, and there is an older more experienced gardener doing much of my pruning for me, working on my heart in ways I will only understand when I look back.  What are the dead works you need to prune from your life?  What is your thorn in your flesh?  Who is helping you tend your garden?  There is likely more than one helper.  Take some time to praise the gardeners of your heart today.  Shalom.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reflections on Hanukkah

Since my post "A Woman Without a Religion" I've been attending both the Messianic synagogue, and a Christian church.  This December we Celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah, and I have to say our celebrations of Hanukkah were beautiful and brought me closer to Christ and my Messianic community.  I enjoyed Christmas and it was rather more low key and centered on Christ more than gifts and Santa, though there were gifts from relatives we are grateful for.  Hanukkah was centered on Christ as well.  It is the feast of dedication and the festival of lights.  We celebrated by dedicating our synagogue and grounds to God, our city, ourselves, and our community.  Each were separate events taking place over the course of the week of Hanukkah. 

We spent Christmas Eve at Havdalah and lighting the first candle of Hanukkah.  At Havdalah we read the story of Hanukkah to the children, about the miraculous military victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors who would not let them worship God and had desecrated their temple.  All through the story was the message, "Sometimes it only takes a few, who know what's right and do it too!"  After their victory they cleaned and rededicated the temple for eight days, and that was the first Hanukkah.  Then we drove home singing Christ centered Christmas carols and looking at Christmas lights.  It was an evening full of joyful anticipation of the coming week.

Christmas Day we opened presents and played, then headed over to rededicate the synagogue.  We marched around the perimeter of the property once then the synagogue six times while praying over it, each praying whatever God put in our hearts to pray. When we finished our march we all shouted together, "The Lord is our strength!" after playing the Shofar.  We went inside and the Rabbi invited a couple people to bare testimony, then we split into two groups and anointed each doorway with oil and prayed dedicating the room to it's purpose and praying for God to fill it with teachers and children ready to be taught, and for whatever difficulties the particular age that met in that room would face.  We gathered as a group again and the Rabbi anointed the adults present and prayed over us.  It was the most thorough dedication I'd ever experienced, the Rabbi had anointed every pew and doorway and the box that holds the Torah scroll, and other things used in the synagogue, the building as well as everything in it, was dedicated to God's service.  And while praying over each room with these other followers of Yeshua I felt more than ever that this was a community of believers God wanted me to be a part of.

Wednesday we drove around the city praying over it to cast out bad spirits relating to bad things that have happened here and inviting in the spirits of love, light, forgiveness, and life to fill the city so that the work of God could be free to move forward here.  The Rabbi taught us of the reality of spiritual warfare and the necessity it is to engage in it through prayer.  It was again a powerful, Spirit filled, meeting and event.

From Wednesday through Friday the Mikvah was open for any who wanted to privately rededicate themselves to God, and at the Friday evening service Rabbi explained the Mikvah and six of us, myself included publicly rededicated ourselves to Yeshua.  During Rabbi's sermon he talked about the change that we should expect when we go through the Mikvah, and the changes he'd seen in others as they go through immersion.  He talked about asking people questions before immersing them, and it made me a little nervous. I wondered if I could answer them honestly, I loved this community but my ultimate loyalty is to Christ.   I went through the Mikvah to rededicate myself to Yeshua, and the only questions the Rabbi asked was if I accept Yeshua as my Savior, and whether I desire to serve Him, and never turn back.  He asked nothing of my willingness to eat kosher, or pay tithes to his church, or whether I thought he was called of God to be my Rabbi.  My immersion in the waters of Mikvah only had to do with my personal commitment to Yeshua and whatever serving Him looks like for me, that I'm willing to do it.  I came out of the water filled with joy and healed of an ailment of a personal nature that had bothered me off and on for several months with every remedy I tried only bringing temporary relief.  I was then given the opportunity to bare testimony of why I'd chosen to go through the waters of Mikvah that day.  I shared my story of coming to Christ, and the things I've learned over the last year and recommitting myself to say to God that I've learned much and I'm still committed to you and I'm committed to acting on the new knowledge I've gained.  The meeting was long, but it was a meeting so filled with God that I didn't notice till getting into the car to leave, "Oh my goodness, it's late!"  It started at 7pm and went till after 10 but no one was falling asleep.  No one minded except maybe a child or two.  All were sustained by God's Spirit there in abundance.

The last night of Hanukkah was a party at Rabbi's house where we had Havdalah and also the lighting of all eight Hanukkah candles.  After dinner we also had a dedicating of us together collectively as a community to Christ by taking communion.  Rabbi Talked about building community being the purpose not just a passive congregation that sits in pews each week but doesn't actually do anything about what we are taught.  We covenanted to be a community of believers who are each in pursuit of building and contributing to that community as we are each directed by Christ.  I still don't know my role within this community God has led me to, but I know I am meant to be part of this community for my experience and learning.

My first Hanukkah was a week of holidays that brought me closer to Christ and my community of fellow believers than any holiday I had ever had before.  This week of dedications and rededications wasn't what all synagogues do, and we might not do all the same things next year even at this same synagogue, but it sure made for an amazing Christ centered Hanukkah that was just the experience I needed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Woman Without a Religion

About nine months ago I started wearing head coverings.  After a couple weeks of begging God for answers to a question He finally (instead of answering the question) instructed me to wear head coverings.  I did it every day for a few months, and I researched them (something I hadn't been doing about my question; I wanted the easy answer).  I grew to love them for multiple reasons.  I had a halo of frizzy regrowth after some postpartum hair loss that it conveniently hid, it kept my baby from pulling my hair, it kept my ears warm in the winter time, it kept the wind from blowing my hair in my face, and I felt pretty in them.  These were the practical and superficial reasons for it.  The biggest reason to wear it went much deeper.  I felt closer to God by obeying a direction that came personally to me, and my attention was drawn to Him more throughout the day as I had a physical reminder of something I was doing only for Him every day.

So now as I go about my days I've been asked a couple times by people I've met if I'm Muslim.  No, I'm not.  I've never read the Quran.  But how do I explain who I really am?  Mormons don't accept me as one of them because I don't believe in blindly following their modern prophet.  Christians, I've been afraid to admit to them that I still believe in the Book of Mormon, and I believe that bad things Joseph Smith is said to have done, are rumors spread by his enemies.  And for anyone who isn't Christian it brings to mind a variety of bad things Christians have done in the name of their religion that I don't agree with.  I feel no loyalty with the Remnant Movement started by Denver Snuffer.  I'm grateful for the stepping stone it was in my transition leaving the Mormon church, but don't quite agree with some things happening among their group either.  Messianic Jewish seems the best fit, but their services are at times difficult to attend.  And most people have no clue what that means, which is okay, I can explain it to some degree, but not very well since I haven't been attending with them very long and have much to learn myself.  So if they have any questions beyond my simple explanation I'm unable to answer them. Talking to my atheist/agnostic brother-in-law he said, "So you're agnostic. That's a start.  You can't go straight from Mormonism to atheist.  I was agnostic for years before I was atheist."  Almost as if I was on the way to atheism because I no longer believe in the men who lead a worldly cooperate institution.  So I explained that my relationship with God is stronger now than it ever was, and I still believe in a specific God so "agnostic" doesn't seem right either.  And talking with my husband, even he didn't understand my aversion to labels, saying, "We're just Christian."

Labels are a way of lumping people together and associating them with other similar people.  The problem is that most these labels end up misrepresenting parts of that group.  Some people lump together Muslims into one group, and even though the violent terrorists are the minority among them, all the rest are guilty by association.  Likewise with race labels.  People of one group label people of another group and consider the other group to be guilty of whatever the worst people among them have done.  Guilt by association.  This is the most divisive thing we as people do.  And we do it as much with religion as we do with race.  Dividing those who believe in one thing from those who believe in another.  Rather than loving each other regardless of what we each believe and building on common ground, and discussing with the purpose of understanding one another and realizing we both probably have truth to offer the other that we hadn't previously considered.  But instead we are often too caught up in trying to convince others of our ideas to stop and consider theirs.

Ultimately no label fits who I am.  My journey is more complex than that. When it comes down to it, nothing feels quite right except to say I am a lover of God, a lover of people, a humble follower of Christ, and a seeker of truth. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Things We Couldn't Say... at the Mormon Church

My sister from western Colorado asked if she could write a guest post, and she being my sister, I agreed.  Enjoy.

A Guest Post By Diane Cummings

I was recently told, by someone who believes himself to be in a position to know, that quoting Scripture in church is not okay. Apparently, only people who are "apostate" quote scripture. Or, at least, "apostates are really good at making it sound as though scripture justifies their position." I find this to be a very curious concept. Why, I wonder, would scripture sound like it is backing an alternative position so easily? I think it does back an alternative point of view; not because of twisting the meaning, but because of believing what the scripture literally says.

Let’s look at some real-life examples and see where it leads us.

YW Leader: So if you were suffering from depression, what should you do?
Beehive: I would pray.
YW Leader: Well, you could pray, but you should talk to the Bishop about it, because he has the authority.

What do scriptures say about this?

2 Nephi 28:5 says: "And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men;"(emphasis mine).

This did have the desired effect, though, on the girls. Later, the same girl raised her hand to answer a question. When called upon, she only said, "Never mind." Ah, the sweet sound of a successfully stifled opinion.

How about this example?

Leader: How can you know if something is true?
Me: If it agrees with the word of God in the scriptures, it’s true. If it disagrees with those scriptures, then it isn’t true.
Leader: But you have to believe in modern revelation. If a modern prophet says something, it trumps the scriptures.
Me: No, it doesn’t. Scriptures win, every time.
Leader: Was Jesus a living prophet?
Me: Yes.
Leader (triumphant): And he trumped the scriptures!
Me: No, he didn’t. He lived the law perfectly.

There’s more to it than that, really. He kept the law of Moses. He fulfilled the law. He fulfilled the scriptures. He quoted the scriptures. He did not live, keep, or teach the traditions that had been allowed to replace the scriptures in importance. You see the difference? He kept the law as God told it to Moses, not the tradition taught by the Pharisees. He quoted the scriptures, not the leaders of the day. He did the work of his Father, not the work of his ecclesiastical leaders. We would be without a Savior if Jesus had put the will of men before the will of God; but he didn’t. He did the will of his Father. He fulfilled it all.

If, on the other hand, you say that anything a modern leader says can trump the scriptures, and you’re talking about some of the verses in 3 Nephi 11 where Jesus is teaching the people about baptism (which Leader did bring up), then what you’re really saying is that modern leaders can trump Jesus. Not okay. That is a real apostasy.

The following conversations are composite accounts of various real conversations, had recently between myself and said Leader.

Leader: In scripture Jesus says, when he was teaching the Nephites, "I declare unto you my doctrine." And a few verses later, he says, "And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil." So anything other than what the church teaches is apostasy.
Me: You skipped the verses that say what his doctrine actually is. In verses 30-35 of 3 Nephi 11, the passage you mentioned, we find out what the doctrine is: Do away with contention. Repent and believe in Jesus. Believe in him, and get baptized. We, as a church, have declared more than this and established it for doctrine. You have to repent, believe in him, pay your tithing, and not have gay parents. This is not what the scripture said.

In fact, the idea that you have to pay tithing to get baptized sounds a lot like Mormon 8:32, which says: "Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins." This is not a good thing, and the next verse continues the condemnation Moroni began back around verse 27. In verse 33 he goes on: "O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye to the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled."

Leader: Isaiah 24:5 says: "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant." So we have to be really careful when dealing with apostates.
Me: In that verse it says the earth is defiled because the people have changed the ordinance. The church has changed the ordinances. The church has changed the endowment many times.
Leader: What do you mean by "the church?" Who do you mean?
Me: I mean the leaders.

Let’s take a closer look at this verse. Who, today, has "authority" to change the ordinances? The leadership of the church. Can the common members change the ordinance? No, only the leaders. Have the common members changed the endowment? No, the leaders have; although some of those changes were based on opinion polling and focus groups, which is a whole different topic. Have the common members changed the initiatory? No, the leaders have. All changes to wording, procedure, recordings, etc. in any of these ordinances has been done by the leadership. This verse is a warning to the leaders, and a caution to the lay members in listening to or following the leaders rather than following God.

Me: You really haven’t been very clear. How do I know if something I would say is "apostate" or not?
Leader: You ask me. I’ll tell you if it’s apostate doctrine.

A scripture applicable here would be 2 Nephi 26:29 – "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain, and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion."

It seems to me that telling people to ask you, rather than to ask God, is setting yourself up as a light. Why is Leader the great source of all knowledge? They aren’t pointing us to God anymore. They point to themselves saying, "We know what is and is not okay. Ask us."

These examples are some of the reasons I choose a literal interpretation of scripture, rather than a tradition-protecting interpretation. I think the scriptures–and God–mean what they say. I have found this view of the scriptures is "good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding; yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me." (Alma 32:28, at the end) I cannot turn my back on God, even if it leads me in unexpected directions. I love the Lord and want to put him first in my life. I choose to put my trust in him, not in any mortal man. (2 Nephi 4:34) This is my desire and testimony.

Diane Cummings
4 Nov. 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Real Love of Christ and Dreaming Dreams

Wow!  I was talking to my sister about her idea to write a guest post and realized it had been a couple months since I've written.  School started, and we've been bombarded by problems that I won't bore you with, but despite all that I think it time I record the next chapter of my spiritual journey.

I joined a group on Facebook about divine dreams, and at first thought it would be just for fun, but the longer I was there the more I learned about my own gift for dreaming.  I learned the meaning of a significant dream from my childhood and threw myself into seeking learning from God about the direction he wants for my life.  Having found joy in service at a nondenominational church after a while it seemed I'd learned about what they had to offer.  Then I started having dreams that gave me the impression it was time for me to move on somewhere that would offer more and deeper knowledge.  I remembered a woman telling me about a Messianic Jewish Synagogue.  I started feeling the desire to learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity, after all Christ was himself a Jew and taught Judaism, and while the sacrifice of Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses so there was no more need to sacrifice animals, Jesus being the last "sacrificial lamb", there are other aspects of the law that can and likely should be kept.  In my heart, I feel that learning more about these laws will inform me of more of the nature of God and His character.  I decided to seek out and attend one of these Messianic Jewish Synagogues.

After attending a Friday night service I notified the people I served with at the Christian church I had found.  The contrast between their reaction and the reaction I got from Mormons when I differed with them on some matters of doctrine was so stark it was truly astonishing to me.  The reaction of Mormons had been to gossip, shun, or argue or some combination thereof.  Here, they prayed for me and my family and our journey, told me they would miss me, hugged me, and reminded me I was always welcome.  They accepted and validated my spiritual journey agreeing I had to follow what God had placed in my heart and I felt nothing but love from them.  There was no judgment whatsoever.  I almost couldn't believe it!  Was this what it was like for normal Christians?  They just do what feels right in their own spiritual journey, and allow others to do the same, and just love each other with the love Christ preached?  What an idea!  It was such a refreshing experience I almost rethought my decision.  My kids had fun there, and I could do something more productive if the sermon wasn't a topic that would enrich me.  Last week I couldn't get myself to go because I knew the topic was relating to how to decide who to vote for, and I've already decided and this not being a political blog I'll say no more about that, just that it wasn't how I wanted to spend a Sunday.  Perhaps this next week, or perhaps not, either way I know I am welcome and loved there despite believing things that are not common held beliefs in the congregation.  And with that example of Christlike love I don't think I've met a more Christian bunch of Christians anywhere else!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Voluntary Service

In my new church home where I've been attending for a couple months now I've volunteered to be one of the greeters and ushers.  Greeters hold the door and Ushers pass out programs, pass the communion trays, and the collection plates.  I was more full of joy and gratitude to serve today than I ever was in an LDS setting. I loved serving in the LDS church too, but it being expected and not really voluntary makes an interesting difference.  I remember moving to different wards, and sometimes waiting months before getting to serve, and really wanting to but you aren't allowed to serve until you are given a "calling" and other wards where I barely attended a week before I was extended a calling and told what to do to serve.  The waiting was always full of a certain amount of fearful anticipation wondering if I would get called to something I wasn't very good at or don't really enjoy.  It was very much stressed that you shouldn't decline a calling, making one almost feel guilty if they didn't want to serve in the calling they were given.  Serving to avoid a feeling of guilt is so much different than serving motivated by a real love and desire to serve.  Often that love and desire are there too within the LDS setting, sometimes that comes after the service and often at such a time the person would then be released and called to something else.  This expectation of service regardless of what that person really wants to do and what their gifts are makes the service feel less like a gift freely given and more like an obligation. Yet that expectation of service prepared me to volunteer. 

After not very long attending my current church home I couldn't help but feel the need to make a meaningful contribution to their services.  I was grateful to the others I could see volunteering each week to watch my children, hold the doors, and other such services.  I wanted to be involved in this community of Christians and not simply an observer of them as I came and went enjoying my personal worship of my Savior.  Christ was a man of service and following His example to serve within the church greatly amplified my worship experience.  Initially I worried that the time spent ushering I would miss out in singing and worshiping, and though I didn't sing as much as I did as a member of the audience the Spirit was over me and God filled my need to commune with Him so I really wasn't sacrificing anything that I thought I would be. 

As I was greeting and ushering this week I was wearing my head covering. And two very interesting things happened. One lady talked to me about how to tie my scarves the way I did and said she wants to get scarves for cancer patients, but doesn't know how to tie them. I told her about the youtube tutorials I watched and to search for head coverings.  I hope to see her again and see if this is something I could get involved in with her.  Another lady asked me if I'm Jewish, and she told me she is a Messianic Jew, and talked about the women wearing head coverings at her synagogue. I told her I wasn't Jewish, and I wished I could have talked to her more. I would be very interested in visiting her synagogue if they would let me.  These were both people I wouldn't have met had I not volunteered today.  I hope to make the same connections next week and get to learn more about these women's journey.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Commandments of Health Really are Spiritual

I got a gym membership with childcare 3 days ago, and have gone twice now (so sore!) and am resting today (a Sunday).  I wanted to get in better shape so I would feel better about how I look, and have better energy and endurance to keep up with my kids.

Yesterday I was listening to something someone shared with me about how to receive a Second Comforter experience, and he talked about keeping the commandments and to keep them you have to search the scriptures to learn them.  A lot of things on this path I've not wanted to do my own research about, but have preferred to read or listen to the research of others.  Some things I have researched for myself (head coverings, early Relief Society) but when it came to a visit with God I didn't want to have to dig through the scriptures (honestly my mission almost ruined the scriptures for me largely due to the lack of freedom about what to study).  This morning my heart was softened, and I repented of this anti-scripture mentality and was going to start searching the old testament commandments.  So I went to Genesis Chapter 1, and a verse or two in after thinking I should remember to look for the "Joseph Smith Translation" footnotes, the Spirit said, "Then you should really start with Moses 1"  And there it is Moses encountering God and being physically exhausted afterwards.  And the Spirit said, "and you want to see God, but a couple little work outs at the gym leave you sore?  Do you really think you are ready for the physical toll of an encounter with God?"  And I remembered another part of the talk/interview I'd listened to he talked about the laws about what to eat having things in common with the word of wisdom, and there being a connection between health and spirituality.  And this was a HUGE "Ah ha" moment for me.  Surely ALL commandments ARE spiritual.  The LDS Church teaches the word of wisdom like a way to live longer, and sometimes that drugs and alcohol can interfere with feeling the influence of the Spirit, but this brings a whole new insight and reason to be healthy.  Joseph Smith was a farmer and they are strong!  And he was tired after encounters with God.  Now, I'll be working out with a completely different motivation than I started with!  If my health has been something preventing the ability to encounter the divine I will do what it takes to regain the physical stamina I once had before having kids.  Let God and your love for Them and your desire to return to Their presence motivate you to gain the physical stamina to be able to withstand such an encounter.