Thunker’s Weblog


Faith is What?

Robert Wheadon-126x150

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Let’s talk about something that can’t be seen, but can be shown in our actions.  And I’m not talking about rocketship underpants.  Recently I’ve been pondering the meaning of faith as a point of personal motivation and core of religious belief.  Faith is one of those terms that is bandied about with immense frequency, but rarely with clear application.  I believe this is due to the many ways we put the term, “faith” to use.

Faith can be a church, (the noun) with which we affiliate, or an inner belief, (the verb), which can drive many of our actions. Both usages interplay with each other.  For example, my inner beliefs can motivate my actions within my religious community.  My beliefs drive actions, which in turn allows my actions to manifest my beliefs.  How’s that for circumlocution!

Biblically, we are taught that “faith is the substance (assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 1:11.)

While I agree with that general definition, faith becomes much clearer for me when focused on Jesus Christ.  To merely say I have faith is too ephemeral, empty and even vacuous. To tie my faith to the person of Jesus Christ is a proposition with much more substance and meaning.

In fact, it is everything.  Faith in Jesus Christ is what heals the wounds of our hearts.  Faith in Jesus Christ leads us to turn from error and turn towards Him.  Faith in Jesus Christ allows divine grace to save us.

Faith in Jesus Christ also requires some effort.  The apostle Paul recorded in Romans 10:13-14:                                                                                                                                                                 “13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.                                     14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard…?”

Joseph Smith, in the Lectures on Faith, wrote:

“2 Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.

3 First, The idea that he actually exists.

4 Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.

5 Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Lectures on Faith, #3.)

The language here is of relationship.  It is learning who Jesus Christ is and what He does and how His actions impact each of us.  If we don’t know anything of Jesus, how can we possibly place our faith in His grace and goodness?

And faith requires us to make an effort.  In Matthew 11:28-30, the Savior taught:

“28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Notice the very first words?  We are required to come to Him. We must make the effort to learn of Jesus and re-direction ourselves towards Him.  In verse 29, the invitation to action continues.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…”

In the book, “The Crucible of Doubt,” Teryl and Fiona Givens discuss how many desire the path of faith to be walked for them.  The Givens write: “Christ invites us to assume the yoke, but we would rather ride in the cart,” The Crucible of Doubt, pg 62.)  Faith is not acquired or strengthened through a Laz-e-boy lounger approach.

It is often said that faith is a word of action.  Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, has the same requirement.  And the wonderful thing with developing faith in the Savior is that it doesn’t matter if we feel a strong confidence with God, possess an abstract association with deity, or merely think we might want to see what this faith thing is all about.  The Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, encourages all to make the effort.  He said:

“27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words,” (Alma 32:27.)

Lastly, where should this effort be directed?  A couple of thoughts include:

  1. Read about Jesus, take in his teachings and thoughts.  In other words, read the scriptures. Read the Four Gospels, read 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, read Doctrine & Covenants, sections 19, 76, 88, or 138.  The apostle John wrote:

“39 ¶Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me,” (John 5:39.)

2. Devote some quality time to prayer and thought.  Matthew wrote:

“22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” (Matthew 21:22.)

Try it!  Our efforts are done with the goal of turning our hearts towards God, of learning about His son, and then making the effort to try and live our lives as Jesus did.

Sound fun?  It is.

 

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Age and Change

Robert Wheadon-126x150

Emma Morano turned 117 last Tuesday.  She lives in Italy and is considered the world’s oldest living person.  Born November 29, 1899, her life spans three centuries, beginning in the 19th century, living through the entire 20th century, and now well into the second decade of the 21st century.

Emma Morano, 117 years old, talks with her physician, Carlo Bava, in the day of her birthday in her home in Verbania

She credits her longevity to family DNA and diet.  Her mother lived into her 90’s and she had sisters who lived to 100.  Her diet, started over 90 years ago, consists of a raw egg for breakfast,  an omelet for lunch and some chicken for dinner.  She eats very few fruits or vegetables.  She also credits her longevity to kicking her husband out in 1938.  He was an abusive sort, and she thrives on her own.

Think of all the things she has seen.  She has seen the introduction of so much we see as commonplace.  Automobiles, airplanes, two world wars, space travel, frozen food, microwaves, cell phones and computers are all things that did not exist when Ms. Morano was born.  Some of these technologies didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Morano has seen much of life, having lived so much of it.  Yet, are technological advances the mile-markers of a civilization?  Do we measure the march of humanity by the inventions that make our lives easier and longer?  Do the quantity of our years demonstrate our impact on life?  For historians, anthropologists and archaeologists, those things are the meat of their work, the essence of their studies.

Individually, I have a much smaller sphere in which to operate.  The measurement of my own life marches to a different meter.  It doesn’t appear I am going to come up with a cure for cancer, discover physics-bending ways to travel to the stars, or develop the perfect doughnut.  Krispy Kreme has beaten me to that one.

Rather, the quality of my heart and purity of my actions will mark my place in life, however long or brief the span.  Scripturally, we see the topic of the heart quite frequently.  Here are a couple of examples.

In Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”

In biblical Hebrew, the word, “heart,” is transliterated as, “leb.”   The definition of leb according to Strong’s Bible Concordance is: 1) inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding, and soul.

In the Book of Mormon there is an interesting passage.  In 4 Nephi, after over two hundred years of peace and devotion to God, a crack manifests itself in the society.  A split occurs.  A rupture based not upon family affiliation, but upon the desires of one’s heart.

“35 And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the two hundred and thirty and first year, there was a great division among the people.

36 And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;

37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.

38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.

39 And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.”

As people’s desires, wants and motivations changed, the tide of change ran over even into national identity.   Even after over 230 years of having a community without class or faith distinctions, the inhabitants returned and associated non-Christian beliefs with Lamanites and followers of Christ as Nephites.

And it all came down to the desires of their hearts.  The Savior said in Matthew 6:24, “No one is able to serve two masters.  He will either despise the one or love the other;  cleave to one or think little of the other.  You can serve God or mammon.” (Translation by author.)

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.”  I believe the same is true with our inner desires.  “We are what we think.”

As a Christian, I am trying to follow the counsel of John:

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth,” ( 1 John 3:18.

So for as long as I’m on this earth, whether it is a brief time or I live to 117, my desire is to try and live as the Savior would like me to live.



The Magdala Stone and Memory

Robert Wheadon-126x150

On the western shore of the Sea of Galilee exists the archaeological project of Magdala, the ancient home of Mary Magdalene.  Discovered in 2009, the site has “a synagogue, marketplace, fishing pools, four mikva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), mosaics, a domestic area, wharf and harbor.”[1}

The site had been covered by a series of landslides over the past two millennia.  In the area of the synagogue, the most amazing discovery was the Magdala Stone.  It is a block of stone covered in carved images of the temple at Jerusalem.  It is not large, measuring 1.8 feet x 2 feet x 1 foot tall.

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One side is carved with images of the menorah from the Second Temple period , flanked by two urns, possibly resembling the temple urns for oil and water.

Two opposing sides are decorated with carved arches and a lit oil lamp, helping observers visualize walking through the passages of the temple.

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The top of the Magdala Stone is replete with carved symbols.  A six-petaled rosette is surrounded by palmette sheaves and heart-shaped images.  Some scholars suggest the heart-shaped images are actually two loaves of shewbread because if the heart-shape is divided into two, the resulting total of six would equal the six loaves of shewbread that are to be offered upon the altar.

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The six-petaled rosette is a symbol of the the veil before the Holy of Holies.  The ancient historian, Josephus, describes the veil of the Second Temple as being decorated with flowers, which the high priest would pass through on his way to be in the presence of God.

The last remaining side shows images representing the Holy of Holies.

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The wheels represent the chariot wheels in the visions of Ezekial, (see Ezekial chpts 1, 10.)  The triangles beneath the wheels represent the fire that Ezekial discusses in the same chapters.  The wheels are thought to symbolize God’s throne.

What was the Magdala Stone used for?  Seeing as it was found almost in the center of the synagogue in Magdala, it is thought that the Stone was used as the resting place for the synagogue’s scrolls of scripture, the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets.

Why carve images of the temple into the stone?  One thought is that of remembrance.  Magdala is about 114 miles east of Jerusalem.  I’m thinking that would be a sizeable journey for a 1st century C.E. Jew to make to present him/herself to the temple.  The Magdala Stone, for Jews living away from the temple at Jerusalem, would be something that would remind them of their covenant status with God, and the House of the Lord.

In Deuteronomy 32:7, Israel was commanded, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:12, “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.”

Just as the Lord asks us to remember him and keep him in our thoughts, there are plenty of times when we in our need, ask to be remembered.  The Psalms are full of prayerful requests for God to remember us.  Psalms 79:8 reads: “O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.”

Memory of the goodness of God brings humility and is a wonderful counteractive agent with pride.  In the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah 2:41, it says; “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”

The word, “remember,” is used 167 times in the Old Testament and 157 times in the Book of Mormon, exhorting us to think of God, his goodness and love for us, and exhorting God to remember us and the promises made to his children.

Perhaps most important is God’s call for us to remember Him, found in the prayer of the sacrament each Sunday.  We are to “always remember him and keep his commandments,” (D&C 20:77.)

I believe the Magdala Stone served the same purpose as scripture, church, and prayer have in our lives.  Just as the Jews who lived far from their temple needed visual reminders of their relationship with God, so do we.  We are separated for a time, in this mortal period, away from our Heavenly family, to prove ourselves and grow more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I truly believe the function of remembering Him, his Father, and their attributes, would help us in our journey.

[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/magdala-2016-excavating-the-hometown-of-mary-magdalene/