The Limits of “Business Sense”

Because the Church lacks intensive formal training for its officers, many within the Church seek to find alternative ways to articulate how a person’s life has prepared them for service. While most Latter-day Saints would eventually argue, ‘He whom God calls, He qualifies’, few would argue that the Spirit of God frequently fills a vacuum—rather, it seems more likely that the Spirit of God moves man through subtle ways to prepare him or her for divine service throughout his or her life. Examples of this fill the scriptures, Samuel, Nephi, Sampson, Alma, the Sons of Mosiah, Paul, Mormon, and Moroni spring to mind as men who were prepared by the Spirit through training and experience for their vocations to divine service. The early days of the Restoration were no different; Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, the Pratt brothers, and others bear testimony to God’s continuing providence and suggest that the miracle by which God qualifies those whom He calls, though on occasion sudden and dramatic, is more often gradual—the result of dedicated study, commitment, and training.

Given the Church’s lack of a formalised and intensive programme of study for the training of bishops, stake presidents, and general authorities, how are these people prepared for their ministries? One has only to give a cursory glance to the biographies and profiles of Church leaders to see the disproportionate influence of commercial training on those men and women who serve in leadership positions. While commercial experience can be very rewarding and inculcate leadership, administrative, management, and organisational skills, the primary purpose of a business is to make money—a goal not shared by the Church of Christ: whose ultimate goal is to be the vehicle by which God brings to pass the eternal life and salvation of mankind. But wait! Surely the skills of a business are transferrable? If souls were equated to monetary gains, then might not a businessman make a good under shepherd and steward in the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven?

I suppose it depends upon how successful the businessman was. If he made a profit, if he saved a business from financial ruin, or if he managed an efficient department, then perhaps his business acumen will be a hinderance to him. The Kingdom of Heaven, due to its very mission statement, is unconcerned with efficiency or finance. Christ set the pattern by which a priesthood holder or church leader is to undertake His ministerial mantel; urging them to set aside the ninety-and-nine to seek after the one, to take no thought for tomorrow, or what they should eat, or how they should clothe themselves. His ministerial commission, the commission which every ordained member of the Church of Jesus Christ should be most concerned with, is one of pastoral care. Take for example, the bishop, when he identifies spiritual dangers facing his flock, when he calls flawed individuals to fill callings, when he assigns speakers, or hears confessions, what will serve him more? Training in the hiring and firing of staff? Risk and opportunity analyses? Financial literacy? No! Instead, he must be qualified by a commitment to living a holy life, patterned upon that of the Saviour. He should be a good listener, an ardent defender of Truth and Righteousness, a compassionate healer—to whom sinners can apply for relief—and a scholar of the Scriptures.

There is a place for businessmen and women within the Church; she needs people to manage her assets, organise her charitable programmes, and oversee her auxiliary bodies which provide her resources that she might fulfil her divine charter. Other education and training is needed for her priests. They might have felt more comfortable as business administrators, but now theirs is a higher calling. In the pictures above, they should identify less with the image of spreadsheets and conference tables; instead preferring the calling of a Heavenly inspired shepherd in the image of Christ.

 

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

Christmas Day

And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly
host, praising God. St. Luke ii. 13.

What sudden blaze of song
Spreads o’er th’ expanse of Heaven?
In waves of light it thrills along,
Th’ angelic signal given –
“Glory to God!” from yonder central fire
Flows out the echoing lay beyond the starry choir;

Like circles widening round
Upon a clear blue river,
Orb after orb, the wondrous sound
Is echoed on for ever:
“Glory to God on high, on earth be peace,
And love towards men of love–salvation and release.”

Yet stay, before thou dare
To join that festal throng;
Listen and mark what gentle air
First stirred the tide of song;
‘Tis not, “the Saviour born in David’s home,
To Whom for power and health obedient worlds should come:” –

‘Tis not, “the Christ the Lord:”
With fixed adoring look
The choir of Angels caught the word,
Nor yet their silence broke:
But when they heard the sign where Christ should be,
In sudden light they shone and heavenly harmony.

Wrapped in His swaddling bands,
And in His manger laid,
The Hope and Glory of all lands
Is come to the world’s aid:
No peaceful home upon his cradle smiled,
Guests rudely went and came, where slept the royal Child.

But where Thou dwellest, Lord,
No other thought should be,
Once duly welcomed and adored,
How should I part with Thee?
Bethlehem must lose Thee soon, but Thou wilt grace
The single heart to be Thy sure abiding-place.

Thee, on the bosom laid
Of a pure virgin mind,
In quiet ever, and in shade,
Shepherd and sage may find;
They, who have bowed untaught to Nature’s sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-paved way.

The pastoral spirits first
Approach Thee, Babe divine,
For they in lowly thoughts are nursed,
Meet for Thy lowly shrine:
Sooner than they should miss where Thou dost dwell,
Angela from Heaven will stoop to guide them to Thy cell.

Still, as the day comes round
For Thee to be revealed,
By wakeful shepherds Thou art found,
Abiding in the field.
All through the wintry heaven and chill night air,
In music and in light Thou dawnest on their prayer.

O faint not ye for fear –
What though your wandering sheep,
Reckless of what they see and hear,
Lie lost in wilful sleep?
High Heaven in mercy to your sad annoy
Still greets you with glad tidings of immortal joy.

Think on th’ eternal home,
The Saviour left for you;
Think on the Lord most holy, come
To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untired His pastoral ways,
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.

From John Keble’s The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year, 1827

 

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

LDS-2NDCOMING-5X7

The eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them
that hear shall hearken. Isaiah xxxii. 3

Of the bright things in earth and air
How little can the heart embrace!
Soft shades and gleaming lights are there –
I know it well, but cannot trace.

Mine eye unworthy seems to read
One page of Nature’s beauteous book;
It lies before me, fair outspread –
I only cast a wishful look.

I cannot paint to Memory’s eye
The scene, the glance, I dearest love –
Unchanged themselves, in me they die,
Or faint or false their shadows prove.

In vain, with dull and tuneless ear,
I linger by soft Music’s cell,
And in my heart of hearts would hear
What to her own she deigns to tell.

‘Tis misty all, both sight and sound –
I only know ’tis fair and sweet –
‘Tis wandering on enchanted ground
With dizzy brow and tottering feet.

But patience! there may come a time
When these dull ears shall scan aright
Strains that outring Earth’s drowsy chime,
As Heaven outshines the taper’s light.

These eyes, that dazzled now and weak,
At glancing motes in sunshine wink.
Shall see the Kings full glory break,
Nor from the blissful vision shrink:

In fearless love and hope uncloyed
For ever on that ocean bright
Empowered to gaze; and undestroyed,
Deeper and deeper plunge in light.

Though scarcely now their laggard glance
Reach to an arrow’s flight, that day
They shall behold, and not in trance,
The region “very far away.”

If Memory sometimes at our spell
Refuse to speak, or speak amiss,
We shall not need her where we dwell
Ever in sight of all our bliss.

Meanwhile, if over sea or sky
Some tender lights unnoticed fleet,
Or on loved features dawn and die,
Unread, to us, their lesson sweet;

Yet are there saddening sights around,
Which Heaven, in mercy, spares us too,
And we see far in holy ground,
If duly purged our mental view.

The distant landscape draws not nigh
For all our gazing; but the soul,
That upward looks, may still descry
Nearer, each day, the brightening goal.

And thou, too curious ear, that fain
Wouldst thread the maze of Harmony,
Content thee with one simple strain,
The lowlier, sure, the worthier thee;

Till thou art duly trained, and taught
The concord sweet of Love divine:
Then, with that inward Music fraught,
For ever rise, and sing, and shine.

 

From John Keble’s The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year, 1827

Adeste Fideles

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi wrote ‘believe in Christ, for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’. Some commentators have attempted to use this verse of scripture to articulate a theology of work-based salvation or to explain the atonement as a way of making up the difference in some sort of heavenly payment plan; however, those types of commentaries are ultimately unsatisfactory because they misunderstand the very nature of grace and the Atonement of Christ. Ultimately, this scripture isn’t about work—it is about faith. 

‘After all we can do’. What can we do? Can we live sinless before God? No. Can we advance the interests of His Kingdom on our own? No. Can we offer any thing to Christ that can ransom our souls? No; nor does Christ ask us to. He asks us for faith and an offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. 

The prophet Alma wrote that faith was ‘hope for things which are not seen, which are true’ and some might reasonably think of faith in this manner; hopeful. While faith is hopeful in Christ’s deliverance, it is also resignation; acceptance that after all we can do, there is nothing we can do to change our fallen state. Only Christ can offer salvation. 

Resigned faith, a broken heart, and a contrite spirit. Sin, the realisation of life’s unsatisfying futility, the awareness of God’s perfection and our great shame, these lead us to a broken heart. We long for love and happiness but the Ultimate Love of Ultimate Happiness eludes is in mortality. Thus, we pine for the relief that comes from God alone—for He is Ultimate Love and Ultimate Happiness. His absence is our misery. Our separation from him, our heartbreak. 

A contrite spirit is not merely apologetic—to be filled with contrition is to submit oneself fully and unreservedly to the will of the wronged party. As God is the wronged party because of our separation from Him, our contrition must mean our absolute submission to Him. We seek reunion through entering into communion with Him. We pray, that our will may be United to His Will. We strive to change our lives, that our lives will reflect His mercy and redeeming love. 

Faith is hope but faith is also resignation. It is the realisation of our own unworthiness accompanied by the realisation that in Christ alone we can find relief. Faith is total submission to God. Paradoxically, it is in our complete submission, our broken hearted contrition, that we find happiness, peace, and freedom. 

To some, submission seems to imply an empty and mindless giving up. To the Christian, submission must be mindful and active. Resignation, to the Christian is noble; for after all we can do, Christ alone can offer us joy. 

In the name of Christ, amen. 

THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with
the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I
say unto you, and more than a prophet. St. Matthew xi. 7, 9.

What went ye out to see
O’er the rude sandy lea,
Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm,
Or where Gennesaret’s wave
Delights the flowers to lave,
That o’er her western slope breathe airs of balm.

All through the summer night,
Those blossoms red and bright
Spread their soft breasts, unheeding, to the breeze,
Like hermits watching still
Around the sacred hill,
Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees.

The Paschal moon above
Seems like a saint to rove,
Left shining in the world with Christ alone;
Below, the lake’s still face
Sleeps sweetly in th’ embrace
Of mountains terrac’d high with mossy stone.

Here may we sit, and dream
Over the heavenly theme,
Till to our soul the former days return;
Till on the grassy bed,
Where thousands once He fed,
The world’s incarnate Maker we discern.

O cross no more the main,
Wandering so will and vain,
To count the reeds that tremble in the wind,
On listless dalliance bound,
Like children gazing round,
Who on God’s works no seal of Godhead find.

Bask not in courtly bower,
Or sun-bright hall of power,
Pass Babel quick, and seek the holy land –
From robes of Tyrian dye
Turn with undazzled eye
To Bethlehem’s glade, or Carmel’s haunted strand.

Or choose thee out a cell
In Kedron’s storied dell,
Beside the springs of Love, that never die;
Among the olives kneel
The chill night-blast to feel,
And watch the Moon that saw thy Master’s agony.

Then rise at dawn of day,
And wind thy thoughtful way,
Where rested once the Temple’s stately shade,
With due feet tracing round
The city’s northern bound,
To th’ other holy garden, where the Lord was laid.

Who thus alternate see
His death and victory,
Rising and falling as on angel wings,
They, while they seem to roam,
Draw daily nearer home,
Their heart untravell’d still adores the King of kings.

Or, if at home they stay,
Yet are they, day by day,
In spirit journeying through the glorious land,
Not for light Fancy’s reed,
Nor Honour’s purple meed,
Nor gifted Prophet’s lore, nor Science’ wondrous wand.

But more than Prophet, more
Than Angels can adore
With face unveiled, is He they go to seek:
Blessed be God, Whose grace
Shows Him in every place
To homeliest hearts of pilgrims pure and meek.

From John Keble’s The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year, 1827

Miserable in Hope; Sadness, Silence, and Righteous Desire

Fr_Pfettisheim_Chemin_de_croix_station_XIII_-_Mary_Magdalene_weeping.jpg

Abraham desired an heir. He had most likely prayed for this for years. Hoping desperately. By the second verse, his Hope that God would grant him an heir was gone. (What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless?) He still trusted that God would give him something but he had resigned himself to the seeming hopelessness of his situation. His hope in God was such that he accepted his miserable lot and asked, what next? If you won’t give me what I righteously desired, then what next? This is important: Abraham did not give up on God and he still trusted that God had some sort of plan in store for him.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal a boy afflicted by a ‘dumb spirit’ who ‘teareth him: and he foameth and gnasheth with his teeth’, the boy’s father appealed to Jesus, in tears crying, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’! This man had already been there before; he had come faithfully trusting that the disciples of this Galilean Holy Man could heal his son. The Bible does not say how many cures had been tried before this moment, how many anguished treks in search of anything that would help his ailing son: it merely says that the boy had been so afflicted since his birth. The anguished cry of the father echos across the ages in immortal misery, pain, and suffering. ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!’ How many of us, miserable and beset by our cares and troubles, gazing longingly from the outside, fixated upon an acknowledged righteous desire, can so feel, pleading in prayer, sobbing into the night, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!’ Give me something, for now, I perish! ‘Carest thou not that I perish?’ ‘Jesus, Saviour, pilot me!’
Perhaps we fall asleep sorrowing; either in death, depression, inactivity, or in a living death. Perhaps like David of old, we wonder if our soul is to be left to ‘languish in this living hell’. Perhaps, our righteous desires sour and we long to sink into the relief of death or the oblivion of drugs or alcoholism. Perhaps, while waiting for God, we lose ourselves in addiction, as our prayers become more deaden and our shattered hopes begin to fade into desolation.
Or perhaps, Job-like, we endure—accused by many, suffering all manner of setbacks. Remember, even faithful Job longed to die. In agony, like Abraham, we finally say, “what now Lord?” My righteous desires have come to naught. I longed for thine aid and it came not. So, what will you give me?
Abraham, was assured by God that he would have a son. And for years more he awaited this promised happiness. Finally, when he could await no longer, he pursued the logical conclusion—he went in to Hagar the Egyptian ‘and she conceived’. The pain this caused Sarah, his wife—who in her commiserate misery suggested this dreadful remedy—must have been exquisite.  But Abraham gained a son and for a moment at least, though it does not say in sacred scripture, he must have believed the Lord has finally heard his prayers and acted. Finally the despair, for he was 86 when he had his first child, of the long years of waiting, we’re behind him. For thirteen years, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael believed that the saga was at an end. It did not sit well but it offered some happiness—more than Abraham had hitherto known.
Then, when Abraham was ninety-nine, the Lord again disrupted his life and informed him that he was to lose his natural son. Once again Abraham’s righteous desires were shattered, though briefly, and then the ninety-year-old Sarah conceived and a year later, Isaac was born.
To start the process over, after thirteen years, must have been exhausting and the loss of Ishmael must have pained Abraham, for Hagar and Ishmael were gone—cast out because they continued to mock Sarah and sought to establish Ishmael as Abraham’s heir. But once again, out of misery, Abraham’s righteous desires were finally to be realised. He had a legitimate son and heir through his beloved wife. This time it was perfect and his joy must have been as great as his previous misery.
Imagine then, the rollercoaster of despair, the sense of loss, hurt, and betrayal when his righteous desires were once again to be dashed—this time under the knife of sacrifice. For God demanded that Abraham offer Isaac as a burnt offering. A painful robbery of yet another happy ending, this time laden with the trauma of Abraham’s own near death at the hands of his father, Terah the priest of Ur.
Frequently, the exegesis of this passage skips over the offering of Isaac and Christians see in this a Type of Christ. But for Abraham, who had longed for a son, been promised a son, already lost one son, and was now about to lose another one. He was an hundred years old when Isaac was born, an old man already, and now older, more weary, more miserable for having had a taste of joy.
That is the misery of the Christian—to have tasted of the joy of heaven, through the sacraments, and then to find oneself still trapped in a fallen and vile world. Held prisoner by our vile bodies, held captive by the consequences of a lost world. To desire righteousness, to crave deliverance, and yet to be banished as ‘stranger in a strange land’.
Most, if not all, of us have righteous desires. Perhaps these righteous desires are to marry in the temple, that the friend or family member who has left off practicing the Faith of the Church will return to it, maybe that God will cure you or someone you love of a wasting sickness, the answer to an important and testimony-altering question, that He will end your loneliness, that you will be able to provide for your family, that He will change your sexuality to make your life more obviously fit the pattern expected by the Church, and the list goes on. Sometimes, for reasons unknown to us, God allows us to languish in righteous desire, miserably awaiting a divine intervention we have faith He can accomplish but is seemingly uninterested in fulfilling.
Perhaps, after awaiting the fulfilment of our righteous desires for what seems like aeons or until their fulfilment seems impossible, we, like Father Abraham, determine that God is not going to grant this righteous desire; and we, like him, ask God, “What wilt Thou give me, seeing as I go without x?”. Or perhaps, we are forced to watch as our joy is ripped from us while God appears to be unavailable and uninterested.
What wilt the Lord give us then? I do not know what earthly compensations, if any, we can expect. Just as it is the Christian’s blessing to know true joy; it is his lot to know true misery and spend his days hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I could hear write of heavenly crowns but to the truly miserable, a heavenly crown seems a long way off. Perhaps, to some, it feels like that righteous desire is taken from us because our earlier righteous desires are not to be fulfilled. I cannot offer any healing words of myself. The Heavens seem silent and though I plead for enlightenment, satisfaction, or even an end to pain, God’s silence endures.
And thus, so must we endure. That we may be brought to joy, I hope. That our earthly misery may be softened, I hope. But as for now, I can only say, ‘lead kindly light, amidst th’encircling gloom, lead thou me on’.

SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT

English Church in Snow

And when these things begin to pass, then look up, and lift up your
heads; for your redemption draweth night. St. Luke xxi. 28.

Not till the freezing blast is still,
Till freely leaps the sparkling rill,
And gales sweep soft from summer skies,
As o’er a sleeping infant’s eyes
A mother’s kiss; ere calls like these,
No sunny gleam awakes the trees,
Nor dare the tender flowerets show
Their bosoms to th’ uncertain glow.

Why then, in sad and wintry time,
Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime,
Why lifts the Church her drooping head,
As though her evil hour were fled?
Is she less wise than leaves of spring,
Or birds that cower with folded wing?
What sees she in this lowering sky
To tempt her meditative eye?

She has a charm, a word of fire,
A pledge of love that cannot tire;
By tempests, earthquakes, and by wars,
By rushing waves and falling stars,
By every sign her Lord foretold,
She sees the world is waxing old,
And through that last and direst storm
Descries by faith her Saviour’s form.

Not surer does each tender gem,
Set in the fig-tree’s polish’d stem,
Foreshow the summer season bland,
Than these dread signs Thy mighty hand:
But, oh, frail hearts, and spirits dark!
The season’s flight unwarn’d we mark,
But miss the Judge behind the door,
For all the light of sacred lore:

Yet is He there; beneath our eaves
Each sound His wakeful ear receives:
Hush, idle words, and thoughts of ill,
Your Lord is listening: peace, be still.
Christ watches by a Christian’s hearth,
Be silent, “vain deluding mirth,”
Till in thine alter’d voice be known
Somewhat of Resignation’s tone.

But chiefly ye should lift your gaze
Above the world’s uncertain haze,
And look with calm unwavering eye
On the bright fields beyond the sky,
Ye, who your Lord’s commission bear
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye: be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel’s life.

Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heavenward feet.
Is not God’s oath upon your head,
Ne’er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loans untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master’s midnight call?

From John Keble’s The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year, 1827