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The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.

There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.

You are worth loving.

What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”

The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….”  As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”

Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine.  Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6).  Jesus detested phonies.  He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Jesus detested phonies.

He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….”  (Luke 18:10-14.)

The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)

To reject yourself is to reject God.

You must learn to love and accept yourself.

Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person.  To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.

In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others.  This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept.  Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for.  True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits.  After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.”  (John 15:5.)  Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation.  God created you.  You are worth loving.  You are worthy of giving love.  You were created in God’s image.  To reject yourself is to reject God.  You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.

This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them.  Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.  Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.

Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception.  It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty.  Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God.  You will see that God loves you no matter what.  And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.

Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Amazed by Grace

Amazed by Grace

What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me?  Many things.  But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue.  It is not a one-night-only show.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a partnership with God.  It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God.  Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation.  It is a process of transformation.  Grace works.  It works on us.  It works with us.

To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.

Grace is even more than the enabling power of God.  It is the enabling presence of God.  It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:

For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

dentist-1427291_1920It’s a fact, as confirmed in a recent International Dental Journal Article—there is “systematically a suicide rate among dentists higher than those of other occupations.”  (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21302740 .) While we don’t yet know why, dentists suffer unusually high rates of suicide and depression.  The two dentists in my life—well, one’s not really my dentist—seem to have bucked this trend on their own and seem to be two of the happiest, kindest people I know.  I think this is because they are both built to love.  Maybe if I tell you a little more about these two dentists, you’ll get a better picture of what I’m trying to describe.

People who are built to love are some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.  They’re confident, grounded and give off a positive energy.  They make you feel special when you’re around them.  They have a servant-leader mentality.  They tend to love what they do and it shows.  They love what they do because they love who they serve and, so long as they have the opportunity to help and heal others, they’re as happy as a two-tailed puppy.

Many years ago, Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, who I had been seeing for years, was out of town or on vacation or something for the Christmas holiday.  As luck would have it, I developed a very large abscessed gum, which was causing me excruciating pain.  Think of a massive boil inside your mouth, pressing in on the nerves surrounding your teeth.  If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

Luckily, my next-door neighbor and dentist, Dr. Pitts, had not left for the holidays.  I think Christmas was on a Sunday that year and, being a man, I made the genius move to tough the pain out all week long until Friday night, when, of course, it was too late to get in and see the dentist.  After much pride-swallowing by me and coaxing from the wife, I sheepishly called Dr. Pitts, explained my situation and asked if he had any advice for me.  He told me to meet him at his office in about 15 minutes.

So, as I recall, at night, on a weekend—a holiday weekend nonetheless—Dr. Pitts met me down at his office, lanced the abscess (or whatever kind of voodoo magic he did) and sent me home with some kind of antibiotic rinse that almost immediately relieved my pain.  He didn’t charge me a thing.  And, even though I wasn’t one of his patients, he dropped everything to help me.  I reminded him of this years later and he didn’t even remember helping me, which signals to me that he must help so many people that this just blurred into all the other acts of kindness he has performed over the years.

I have followed and observed Dr. Pitts over the years.  His patients love him.  He serves the community, donating his time and products to countless football teams and youth groups.  His employees love him.  He is physically active and takes good care of himself.  He is always propping up others, whether it’s his wife, his daughters, his former teammates, etc.  His Facebook posts are not “Look at me!  Look what I did!”  His Facebook posts are, “Look at this amazing person I’m with!  Look at this incredible person I get to do stuff with!”  He’s happy.

Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, seems to be cut from the same cloth.  I have so many Dr. Richards stories that I could fill a book.  But I’ll just share a few.

My daughter, Abby, must have been about 5 years old.  It was one of her first trips to the dentist and she was so nervous she asked me to hold her in her arms while Dr. Richards worked on her teeth.  Dr. Richards was so nice and kind to her, just chatting it up the way dentists do, when all the sudden I heard this blood-curdling scream come out of his mouth.  As it turns out, my sweet little Abby had chomped down on his finger with a python death grip and wouldn’t let go.  Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

There were no harsh or negative words from Dr. Richards.  No scolding.  Nothing like, “What the heck is wrong with your kid!”  As I recall, he complimented Abby on her strong jaw muscles and made her giggle about the whole thing.

Dr. Richards is patient with me, too.  You see, my body metabolizes lidocaine and articaine faster than a lawyer can take money.  By the time the doc has given me the shot and gets his drill turned on, the numbness has gone and I can feel everything.  Dr. Richards and I learned this the hard way.  So, poor Dr. Richards must give me multiple injections and stock up on the lidocaine, articaine, adrenaline and epinephrine just to keep me numb.  I take about twice as long as all of his other patients.  But never, not once, has he complained or made me feel like a wimp.  He seems to say just what I need to hear to make my bruised male ego feel better.

Dr. Richards has done acts of kindness for my family that he probably wouldn’t want me to write about publicly, so I won’t.  He has helped us out in rough times.  I’ll leave it at that.  He has made multiple trips to the Dominican Republic or Haiti (I can’t remember which one) with members of his staff and family to provide free dental care to those in need.  He has a gift for putting people at ease and making sure they are comfortable.  He makes people feel loved and important.  I don’t know how he does it.  He just does it.  I can’t explain it.  It’s a gift, I suppose.  He’s physically active.  He loves the outdoors.  He is a happy person and I love being around him.  There’s a positive energy I get.  He just exudes it.  The license plate on his truck says, “Dr. Smile.”  That’s a good description.

So, what do these two dentists have in common (other than I think they might be cousins or some distant relation)?  How do they buck the trend that seems to afflict so many others in their profession?  I think they have both learned what I wrote about in my book, Built to Love:

Choosing love adds purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.  To a heart built to love there are no mundane jobs.  As long as there are people where you work, your work is the most important work on earth.  This is because you will see your work as being larger than the work itself.  You’re not there to build the company.  You’re there as an emissary of God to build others.  And in so doing, you build yourself and experience joy and happiness.

Thank you, Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts, for serving your community and building others up.  Hundreds of people pass through your doors and sit in your chairs each month.  You are doing more than healing wounded teeth.  You are healing wounded souls.  You are healing a wounded world.

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Everyone, whether they be a Wal Mart greeter, a fast food worker, a teacher, an accountant, an engineer, etc., could take a cue from you.  All it takes is a paradigm shift.  All it takes is the realization that, so long as you interact with people, you have the most important job in the world.

There may be days when you feel empty, like you have nothing to give, like you just can’t give.  But dig deep.  Push through.  Force yourself to get outside yourself.  Force yourself to think of others first.  Stop processing your own feelings and start trying to empathize with those around you.  We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way you can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  Try sharing it today and that empty void inside of you will soon be replaced with love and contentment.

You can’t love Him if you don’t encourage, lift and support your fellow human beings. However much you learn about God doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t learn about the people you share this planet with. Figure them out and you’ll figure Him out. Get connected with them and you’ll get connected with Him. Take care of them and He’ll take care of you. It’s that simple.  Like Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts apparently did long ago, make the decision to become built to love today and you, too, will buck the trend and find happiness in a dark world.  Decide today that you, too, will become built to love!