Monday, January 9, 2017

Obedience Enables Agency

I know we often speak of agency enabling our obedience: we can only choose the right if we have the ability to make choices. We understand this principle intuitively...choices have consequences that affect our agency. For example, if we choose to steal, we may find our agency limited by the fact that we are now in a jail cell. If we choose to do drugs, we may find our agency greatly impaired by the fact that we have become addicted to a substance. This cause-effect relationship is pretty straightforward.

But yesterday in sacrament meeting, I bore my testimony on the converse principle: how obedience actually makes it possible for us to fully utilize our agency. Allow me to explain.

  1. Obedience leads to keeping the commandments.
  2. Keeping the commandments invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  3. One of the Holy Ghost's primary objectives is to testify of truth.
  4. Discerning truth enables us to use our agency.

Aside from the embedded links, I don't think there's much to delve into with those first three; they're pretty self-evident. I'd like to focus on that last one. If we don't know the truth, we cannot effectively make use of our agency (that's why deception is Satan's number one tool). For example, if I tell you to choose between my chocolate ice cream and my vanilla ice cream, you may be free to choose, but that agency avails you nothing if the truth is that I only have strawberry ice cream.

Satan pulls this bait-and-switch all the time, by trying to convince us that sin will bring joy, or that our actions have no consequences, or that there is no good or evil, or any number of other lies that make it more difficult to make an informed decision. In fact, if we could see all things as they really are, using our agency correctly would be much, much easier for most of us.

And that's why it's critical that we do all we can to keep truth in our sights...and the best way to do that is through the gift of the Holy Ghost. Truth can be found in all sorts of places: certainly in the scriptures, and from the prophets, but also in many other places in life. And the Holy Ghost will help us discern truth from error.

And there's no better way to stay close to the Holy Ghost than by keeping the commandments. Yes, we all fail and fail often, which is why we should repent quickly and often (see item #4 here, though the whole talk is fantastic). But working toward perfect obedience is the goal, and the key to our ability to choose the right and thus fail less often. I now better understand what it says in my patriarchal blessing, that "learning and obeying the commandments is the most profitable thing you can do in this life."

If we strive for obedience, we will find ourselves better equipped to choose correctly, enabling that all-important gift of agency and helping us to become more and more of what our Heavenly Father wants us to become.

I love how the gospel all fits together so neatly, perfectly designed for our benefit and blessing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Please Excuse My Charity

It's been a very long time since I've posted here...I've had things to say, but little time to say it. Alas, time remains short, so I will jump right in.

A few weeks ago as I sat in a Sunday School class at church, I felt inspired to say something...not in that class, but here at Intelligent Life. What I had to say would have been difficult to address during that lesson, but I felt strongly that it needed to be said nonetheless. I just didn't want to speak up because my emotions were not in the right place and it would've disrupted the lesson.

The lesson was about the first few chapters of Mosiah, and a discussion took place about giving to beggars. My heart sank when I heard my neighbors nearly-unanimously agree that it was best to refrain from giving to beggars. Frankly, I was shocked, dismayed, and disappointed in what I was hearing. One person even stated that the Brethren have explicitly recommended that we do NOT give to "panhandlers" — as if this reported admonition got us all "off the hook" once and for all.

I subsequently engaged in an extensive search for ANY reference to a General Authority in ANY official capacity telling members that they should stay their hand in helping the poor in this manner. Unsurprisingly, I found nothing.

What I did find was the following:

In his October 2014 General Conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,
So how might we "do what we can"? For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, "Are we not all beggars?
...Amulek says, "After [you] have [prayed], if [you] turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if [you] have [it], to those who stand in need—I say unto you, … your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and [you] are as hypocrites who do deny the faith." What a stunning reminder that rich or poor, we are to “"do what we can" when others are in need.
"He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker,"and "whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor … shall [also] cry himself, but shall not be heard." (Proverbs 14:31, 21:13) 
....I also know that although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and "because I have been given much, I too must give."
...May we...in the true Church of Jesus Christ to do what we can to deliver any we can from the poverty... (italics are Elder Holland's; bold is mine.)
Hmm...nothing there about making sure we don't give to beggars.

Meanwhile, in a 1988 "Questions and Answers" in the Ensign, John F. O'Donnal, president of the Guatemala City Temple, said:
"Based on the scriptures and my experiences, I have determined that giving [to beggars] is a personal matter to be decided by each individual."
Again, no statement telling us NOT to give.

And the actual lesson we were studying that Sunday stated:
"...there is no single right approach to helping the needy. We should remember the principles taught by King Benjamin and seek the guidance of the Spirit in each situation." 
Again, no citation to General Authorities telling us to refrain from giving to beggars.

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other."
The prophet's admonition mentioned nothing about only serving other members, or those approved by our bishop, or selected by a committee, or found to be worthy in some way. "Each other" includes the guy standing out in the cold holding a sign.




Moroni 7:46 says, "...charity never faileth." It doesn't say, "...charity never faileth, as long as you don't give to beggars."

D&C 44:6 says, "Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief..." — yet doesn't go on to say you should not visit them and administer to their relief if they happen to be sitting on a curb in the Walmart parking lot.

The Prophet Joseph said:

"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." 
Nothing there about avoiding the beggars on the street while ranging through the whole world. Nothing excluding beggars from the whole human race.





Mosiah 4:16 says:
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish."
Matthew 25:40 says:
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
This short item in the September 1991 Ensign is a clear endorsement of giving to panhandlers. Why would the Church print this item if the word from the Brethren was to NOT give?

The Prophet Joseph Smith said,
"It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase." (bold is mine)
Nothing there about avoiding the beggars.

As I've said, the tenor of that discussion in Sunday School a few weeks ago was frankly heartbreaking. My friends sounded cold-hearted. But I know they are not. They are good, loving, generous people! I'm not here to cast judgment upon any of them. I'm just pointing out that I think there was some well-meaning but misguided groupthink going on that day. I also wanted to specifically call out the fact that, lacking any citation to the contrary, I can safely say that no General Authorities have told the members of the Church to withhold from those who ask of us. To the contrary, the admonition to provide for the needy is repeated again and again. Granted, the best way to help the poor may be to give a generous fast offering, but turning away the beggar is by no means the recommended course of action (or inaction). The whole class discussion that day was really disturbing to me.

Obviously, we must use good judgment and listen to the promptings of the Spirit with regard to beggars. No, we needn't give to everyone who asks, every time, if we don't feel right about it. But to categorically state that we should give to NO beggars is simply wrong.

Finally, I refer you to this experience I had a few years back. Please read it...you'll be glad you did. (If I were to listen to those who say "never give to a beggar," I would have missed out on this profound, heart-changing experience.)

Give, or do not give...that is your choice. It is not my purpose here to make anyone feel guilty. The scriptures and the words of our leaders are clear; please, please...don't spread false information about what the prophets and apostles have said regarding charity. It may ease the conscience to believe that we've been told not to give, but it's just not true. I don't always give...and I feel bad when I don't...even though I know that there are scammers out there. But for me, erring on the side of charity and doing whatever I can is my choice — a choice for which I know I will be blessed regardless.

So, please excuse my charity, but I am not going to stop giving to beggars.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's Up With Utah Mormons?


Everyone knows that there are a lot of Mormons in Utah. It seems that many people, both in and out of the state, have the general impression that Utah is some kind of monolithic demographic block - that virtually "everybody" in Utah belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "LDS" Church. To many, this is Mormonville, USA.

It's true that we have a high concentration of Saints in this state - 58% self-identify as members - constituting a slight majority of the overall population. But that still means more than 1.2 million of our fellow Utahans are not members of the Church. And such raw data ignores the reality that the population is not static; people move out, and new people move in all the time. It also fails to take into account that many members may not be fully active and enjoying all the blessings the Church has to offer.

Demographic data aside, I think that a major stumbling-block to member missionary work in our area is not the numbers, but the perceptions those numbers evoke among the members. That is (and I may be making a false assumption, here), I get the impression that many members who might otherwise like to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends, neighbors, and coworkers make the false assumption that there aren't that many good opportunities - because of the demographics.

They may feel that "most people around me are Mormons already," or "the non-members I know have probably already been swamped with people trying to share the Gospel with them -- I'm not going to add to the pile-on."

The trouble with this attitude is that we don't share the Gospel with demographic groups or data sets - we share the Gospel with individual human beings, one-on-one. And each person is different, with different experiences, and a different receptivity to truth on any given day.

When we assume that a person will not want to learn about our faith and what it has to offer, when we prejudge that they will dismiss our message because they are not ready, or when we simply assume that a person won't be receptive to an invitation for whatever reason - we are preemptively denying them their agency. We're not even giving them the chance to say "no." In effect, we are saying NO for them.

Don't pre-reject yourself. The consequences are eternal.

President John Taylor cautioned us, “If you do not magnify your calling, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty.”


An important aspect of member missionary work is reactivation. Since the dominant demographic is LDS in Utah, it may be that you're more likely to find yourself loving an associate or neighbor back into full participation in the Church, rather than sharing the Gospel with a brand new investigator learning about the Church for the first time. Conversions of members are just as important as conversions of non-members.

In some ways, even more important, since those who have fallen away have greater accountability in the end.

So, before you let Utah's demographics, and the concomitant assumptions, derail your efforts and undermine your natural desire to share all the Lord's church has to offer...before you inadvertently allow your perceptions of the population at large to become a rationalization for withholding your testimony from specific individual children of God...remember these three points from above:
  1. We share the Gospel with individuals. We love each unique person, not some abstraction on a census chart.
  2. Assuming they don't want you to invite them is saying NO for them. A person can't accept an invitation that's never made.
  3. So many of our brothers and sisters need (and perhaps want) to be loved back into the Gospel, not just introduced to it. Here in Utah we may have more opportunities to do that than anywhere else.
Let's keep these truths in mind when we're tempted to let sweeping generalizations about Utah's Mormons dictate whether or not we fulfill the prophetic call of "every member a missionary."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will Power

All God ever asks of us throughout the scriptures, in all the commandments, and in all the covenants we ever make, can be summed up in one short phrase: "Not my will, o God, but thine, be done."

Consequently, consecration is all about us obediently giving God the one and only thing we truly have to give: our will. Once we voluntarily relinquish that fully to Him, He will take care of everything else, guaranteed.

The great thing about that principle is that if we follow it, we will become the kind of being He wants us to become, in every way. It will only be to our eternal benefit. It's probably the hardest thing to do in life (as it requires true humility and the shedding of selfish desires), but it is the most worthwhile pursuit of our brief mortal sojourn.

It's a great principle because it encompasses the entire gospel in a half-dozen (or so) words! And it sums up the Savior's life, perfectly.

There is so much power in freely turning over your will to God. It is indeed the great test of mortality to apply this principle in all things.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Faith and Blind Faith

As part of a long discussion thread on Facebook the other day, a friend of a friend who subscribes to no religion stated that he thought "faith and blind faith were synonymous."

I was quite surprised that anyone would make that mistake, and my first reaction was "REALLY? Wow. So that's what you think of believers." Yes, it felt a little insulting.

But I thought better of it and deleted that response before posting. I realized that for some people who are unacquainted with faith, the two might actually seem like similar phenomena. Instead, I wrote:

"Faith and blind faith are indeed different things. Faith is confirmed in the believer via a spiritual experience. Blind faith is uncritical acceptance. One is validated, the other is not. To conflate them is to misunderstand spirituality at a fundamental level."


For what it's worth, he liked my comment.

But it got me thinking...while my on-the-fly definitions were, I think, a pretty decent way to explain the distinction between "faith" and "blind faith," I think "blind faith" gets a little bit of a bad rap, as if it is an illegitimate way of thinking and feeling - something only for foolish people.

In fact, I think "faith" and "blind faith" are only different because they are at opposite ends of the same spectrum - the spectrum of belief. Much of what we call faith (as I described above - a knowledge or sense of truth that is confirmed by the Holy Ghost) might actually start out as "blind faith" (that which is uncritically accepted because it has not yet been confirmed).

And really, there's nothing wrong with that.

It's quite noble that someone who is not yet mature in his faith would take that "leap" and believe without having yet had a confirmation. Isn't that how belief starts for anyone? You may only have a desire to believe. Blind faith is perhaps the act of planting that seed in your heart, and nourishing it, and patiently awaiting its growth as it blossoms into a much more confident - and thus less-blind - faith.

So, blind faith is not - in and of itself - a bad thing. However, it's best if it is nourished, and grows and develops - via confirmation of the Holy Ghost - into a faith that is solid and sure and supported by a lifetime of personal spiritual experiences that strengthen the faith and make it unshakable, because it is built on the foundation of Christ. However, if blind faith is all you can muster - if you are, for whatever reason - unable to meet the challenge of developing your faith beyond the blind variety - I am sure you will still be blessed, as long as your faith is placed correctly.

One final thought: it may be easy to mistake faith for blind faith because a faith that is strong results in not having to question and confirm every little thing. For example: if the prophet issued an official statement regarding a certain point of doctrine, I would automatically accept it. While this might appear to some to be "blind faith," it is in fact the consequence of having already decided, as an act of non-blind faith, to follow my prophet and believe that he is the mouthpiece of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth today. Yes, we are encouraged to pray about what the prophet says and get our own confirmation of the truth, but there comes a point when such an exercise is not always necessary, because of the nature and strength of your well-developed faith. Another example: once I knew the Book of Mormon was true, there was no need to ask in prayer, after every verse, if that verse was also true. I just knew it was true in its entirety, and did not require constant confirmations every step of the way and with every turn of the page. My faith was strong, not blind.

So while I can see how a non-religious person might get it mixed up, faith and blind faith are definitely different...but blind faith can grow into faith, and faith might even sometimes look like blind faith, just because it is so well-founded.

What do you think? Did any of that make sense? What kind of faith do you have?





Monday, February 24, 2014

Goals

Last night, I co-hosted our latest quarterly dual-ward Ward Mission Conference - a fireside we hold once every three months. We get together with another ward with whom we share the building, and focus on ways to hasten the work of salvation - namely, to get the members fired up about member missionary work and give them tools for success in their missionary efforts. It's one of my responsibilities as the ward mission leader.

Last night's topic was GOAL SETTING  within the context of member missionary work. The idea was to explore ways that we can use goal setting as a tool to help us bring souls unto Christ.

After an opening song, prayer, and remarks, we split off into three rotating breakout sessions. Here is the material that I prepared for presentation:


Breakout #1 – Overview

Goal setting, planning, and accountability can help many people receive the restored gospel.

Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish. Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action. Goal setting and planning are acts of faith (see Preach My Gospel, ch. 8). As families and individuals, we should prayerfully set goals that contribute to the fulfillment of our Ward Mission Plan.

A key part of our goals as member missionaries is names. Names of people we know who will help us achieve our missionary-oriented goals. This includes neighbors, friends, family members, work colleagues, families we home teach or visit teach, or anyone else we may know who needs the gospel in their lives to a greater degree. We should set goals for what we hope will happen with these people  attend church, read the Book of Mormon, set a baptismal date, and so on (see Preach My Gospel, ch. 8). These goals should be specific and include milestones with target dates.

“I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.” –Elder M. Russell Ballard

Carefully considered, challenging goals will give you clear direction and help to stretch you as you strive to do the Lord’s work. Here are some important guidelines as you set your goals:
  • Do the gospel things that will help you to feel the desire to succeed in member missionary work. Pray for the motivation to do your best as a member missionary.
  • Focus on specific people, not abstract numbers.
  • Be specific and realistic, but set goals that will make you stretch.
  • Set meaningful weekly, monthly, and annual missionary goals as a family.
  • Once you’ve set goals, decide how you are going to achieve them.
  • Take note of your successes and also note where you may have fallen short or missed an opportunity. Review those notes in a family council and adjust your goals accordingly.
  • Approach your goal setting and planning with the idea that you will account for your efforts to the Lord through prayer.
  • Feel personal responsibility for the sacred trust the Lord has given you as a member of His Church.
  • Above all, live worthily to feel the Spirit and follow His promptings. Pray for inspiration.

Remember, setting goals is very valuable, but it is worthless if we do not follow through with implementation.

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.” D&C 58:26-29


Take a few minutes now to think about NAMES of people who may need the gospel more fully in their lives. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.


Breakout #2 – SMART Goals

You’ve probably heard of the concept of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym from the business world designed to help you make worthwhile goals. There are a few versions of the definition of SMART, but here’s the meaning we’ll work with:
  • Specific – not vague hopes, but a concrete objective you can put your finger on
  • Measurable –progress can be tracked (needn’t be numerical, just a benchmark of some kind)
  • Achievable – in other words, realistic
  • Relevant –the goal is tied to overall objectives such as the Ward Mission Plan
  • Time-based – specify when the result(s) should be achieved

SPECIFIC: Some of your specific member missionary goals might include:
  • Helping an individual or family to develop greater faith in the Savior
  • Teaching an individual or family to repent and make changes that will bring them closer to God
  • Guiding an individual or family on the path to receive the covenant of baptism and confirmation
  • Encouraging an individual or family to come back to the church and renew the baptismal covenant

MEASURABLE: Some benchmarks may include:
  • Having a non-member or less active individual or family over for dinner or FHE (maybe a certain number of times)
  • Bringing a non-member or less active individual or family to a ward activity
  • Bringing a non-member or less active individual or family to church on Sunday
  • Giving away a Book of Mormon (maybe a certain number of them)
  • Bearing your testimony to a non-member or less active individual or family

ACHIEVABLE: Don’t overwhelm yourself by setting too high a bar, but be sure to stretch yourself. Also, be sure that your goals do not rely too much on the agency of others. You can only control what you can do. You can set a goal to invite 10 people to church, but you can’t set a goal for them all to say “yes.”

RELEVANT: Make sure that your goals are ultimately about bringing souls unto Christ.

TIME-BASED: Your goals should not be left flapping in the wind with no chronological anchor. Your goals should not have a deadline of “before I die.” Put a realistic time frame on your goals – a little pressure from the clock or calendar can be a good motivator!

Take a few minutes now to think about some SMART goals that you can set as an individual or family – specific things you’d like to achieve as a member missionary. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.


Breakout #3 – Implementation

Now that you understand the general approach, the motivation, and how to set SMART goals, you need to focus on the actual steps you can take every day to make those goals become reality. This is how you MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Some things to consider:

Overcoming fear – President Monson has taught us that when we act in faith, the Lord will show us how to strengthen His church. He said that the Lord will sanctify your efforts and you will gain a capacity beyond your own to lift and bless the lives of others (see Special Broadcast). Also, Elder Oaks has said that when we are doing the work of the Lord, the power that's behind us is greater than any obstacles that are before us (see Hastening the Work in Europe video)Finally, remember the principle of "Jehovah-jireh" as taught by Abraham (see Genesis 22:14). This is what Abraham named the mountain where he was to sacrifice Isaac. It means "the Lord will provide." And He did - He provided the ram - but only after the trial of Abraham's faith. Faith precedes the miracle. Thus we see that if we are willing to sacrifice for the Lord in faith, He will provide what we need to accomplish His purposes. 

Time management – We are all busy, but with a little organization we can find ways to fit member missionary work into our lives – and many of the things we do can actually take very little time with wonderful long-term results. Some things may require no additional time at all in our schedules, such as orienting our attitude toward missionary work.

Forming good habits – Just as we work to form the habits of daily prayer and scripture study, weekly church attendance, and temple worship; we can form the habit of member missionary work. Try to set goals that you can implement via the formation of simple good habits.

Accountability within the family – Hold one another accountable for the goals you set. Lovingly encourage each other and remind each other of the importance of the work.

Accountability to God – Include your thoughts on your missionary goals in your personal prayers. Report to the Lord, and ask Him for help. He will provide. 

Truly loving others – We can have a mighty change of heart that impels us to seek after the lost sheep, to love our brothers and sisters who do not currently have the gospel in their lives. We can show our gratitude for all we've been given by answering His call to share the joy we have with others. President Monson said, “May we ever increase our faith and faithfulness in fulfilling our sacred duty to rescue our brothers and sisters.” I can tell you from sacred personal experience that it is so very rewarding to love a family into the gospel!

With these general guidelines in mind, you should be able to develop a list of specific steps that you intend to take as you strive to meet your member missionary goals. The steps should be customized to the actual people on whom you plan to focus your missionary goals.

Before the final exercise, grab a tissue and watch this wonderful video:




Without words, this video shows so many beautiful ways to be a  missionary. Three takeaways I got were that having a focus on prayer and scriptures is key to being open to inspiration; service is an excellent way to share the gospel; and when it comes down to it, it's all about simply loving others. What did you notice in the video?


Now, take a few minutes now to think about WAYS that you can achieve your goals as an individual or family – specific things you can do to succeed as a member missionary. Just brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas that come to mind. Jot down and share your thoughts.

-------------------

And that was it. We regrouped for a few closing words, a song and a prayer, and then enjoyed some treats. I also made sure that all in attendance had the phone number of the full-time missionaries in their cell phones.

All in all, it was a good meeting! 

What is your family doing to hasten the work of salvation?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Repentance

After I baptized Seth eight days ago, we stepped out of the water and into the changing room, and I asked him how he felt. After a tepid “good,” I asked what was wrong, and he told me that now that he’s accountable, he’s concerned about his ability to keep the commandments. I briefly talked about repentance as we dried off, but it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have our next few family home evenings continue to focus on baptism (as our previous few had) – kind of like new member discussions – and to include a special focus on repentance, and the blessings of the Atonement.

Moroni 8:10 says, in part: 
“Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin…”
Meanwhile, D&C 68:25 says: 
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
I think that as parents we often tend to focus on items 1, 3, and 4 in the First Principles of the Gospel; perhaps it’s natural since the children we are preparing for baptism are not technically in need of repentance…yet. But as soon as they come out of the water, that need begins.

So, clearly, we are to teach our children repentance. But it shouldn't be all doom and gloom; to the contrary, repentance is a most beautiful and uplifting doctrine.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine. It is available to the gross sinner as well as to the already-good individual striving for incremental improvement.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, 
“Without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life…the invitation to repent is an expression of love. When the Savior ‘began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ it was a message of love, inviting all who would to qualify to join Him ‘and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life [itself] in the world to come.’ If we do not invite others to change or if we do not demand repentance of ourselves, we fail in a fundamental duty we owe to one another and to ourselves. A permissive parent, an indulgent friend, a fearful Church leader are in reality more concerned about themselves than the welfare and happiness of those they could help. Yes, the call to repentance is at times regarded as intolerant or offensive and may even be resented, but guided by the Spirit, it is in reality an act of genuine caring.

I had the great blessing of serving in a branch presidency for young single adults with a branch president who understood this doctrine: as a result, we convened, on average, one church disciplinary council a month during my time serving in that calling. These were amazing opportunities to watch young single adults change their lives, be lifted from the shadows of sin, defeat and despair; be cleansed and renewed, and to turn their lives around – through the repentance process.

I testify that it is critical that we follow Christ’s admonition to “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation,” and that is most especially and critically applied to us as parents teaching our children – who should be able to take comfort in knowing that as they make mistakes, they can truly have them washed away by the Savior.

I am so grateful for repentance, for I need it (and the power of the Atonement) every day. It is my obligation and joy to now teach that principle to my wonderful son.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Baptism!

My son and I have something in common: we both remember our baptisms. Mine was nearly 17 years ago in Oregon. His was yesterday, in Utah.

About to enter the waters of baptism...

Baptism is an essential saving ordinance. It is a commandment, and our Savior, Jesus Christ, set the example by being baptized Himself by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?' And Jesus answering said unto him, 'Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.' Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" - Matthew 3:13-17

My boy has been eagerly awaiting his own baptism for several years now. It is the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to baptize children when they reach the "age of accountability," which has been established via revelation to be eight years old.

My son is now old enough to understand the covenant he made with the Lord yesterday. He was able to choose for himself to be baptized, and he is now able to repent and be cleansed by the ongoing power of the Atonement. Prior to yesterday, that was not necessary:
"Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children. Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell. Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell. For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism."   -Moroni 8:8-15
Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "Baptism is the gate through which all must enter to accomplish the Lord’s desire to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Taking upon us His name is one of the most significant experiences we have in life."

It was indeed a significant and wonderful day yesterday, filled with the Spirit. I love my son, and I am so grateful that I hold the priesthood and was worthy to perform this important ordinance. My only regret is that it all happened so quickly (the immersion itself) - less than a second and it was all over. I wish to savor that second in my mind and heart for eternity.

One happy boy!

I love my son, I love the Gospel, and I am pleased that I was also able to confirm him as the newest member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confer upon him the gift of the Holy Ghost, and pronounce a blessing upon him at that time. He is a great example of love, faith, and sweetness. I know he will be blessed as he continues to grow in the gospel.

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life, ranking right up there with the day I married my lovely wife, and the day our son was born.

Baptism is awesome. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Lord is Hastening His Work

Wow, what a day!

It started at 8:00 a.m. with a meeting with the bishopric to discuss missionary work in the ward, and the new directive from the stake to provide two appointments per week for the full time elders. We made some specific plans for the next ward council. Then I gave a talk in sacrament meeting on missionary work. For the third hour of the block, I presented some of the material from last month's worldwide training broadcast. Unfortunately, I had some technical difficulties that limited which video clips I was able to show. I showed Elder Perry's message, but I also really wanted to show the musical vignette, "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go," and President Monson's remarks. You can watch those at the link above, if you like. I especially recommend the musical vignette. After church, I went home teaching, visiting with a wonderful family in our ward who I just love. Then I attended the monthly stake missionary training. After that meeting, I co-hosted a special fireside with the other ward that meets in our building, an event we called Ward Mission Conference (which will become a quarterly meeting). It went really well, and I was glad to see the folks who turned out. Finally, I baked some brownies and delivered them to another home teaching family. Whew!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Brigham City Temple with my good friend Ryan and perform baptisms for the dead. They had a shortage of Melchizedek Priesthood holders on hand, so we got to not only do Ryan's family names, but also assist with some youth who were there. We each got to fulfill six different roles: baptizer, proxy baptizee, baptism witness, confirmer, proxy confirmee, and confirmation witness. The trip took four hours all told, and it was really nice that we had no restraints on our time and could just relax, wait, be patient, serve, and enjoy the spirit of the temple. That's really the way to do it!

So, a great spiritual weekend all around! Exhausting, but refreshing all at once. (Note: I mention all these things not to "toot my own horn," but simply to recommend to you the great blessings that come from being active in the Lord's work. It takes effort, but it really makes you feel good!)

Anyway, here's a transcript of the talk I gave in sacrament meeting today. Hopefully it may be of some use to you. (Note: a small portion of this talk was previously published as a post on this blog.)

Sacrament Talk: Missionary Work in the Ward

This talk may not be for everybody. It is really only for some of you.

So, if you are someone who has no interest in missionary work, no desire at all to fellowship the less active, befriend the part-member family, or be an example to non-members in your neighborhood, this isn’t for you. If you are convinced that you can personally never make any difference in someone else’s life, if you are certain that you’ve got nothing to offer and you don’t ever want to try to be a missionary, if the whole idea of member missionary work is impossible to you –I guess you can just go home and take a nap until Sunday School starts.

Meanwhile, if you’re a complete missionary superstar – fully on board with the program, totally ON FIRE with missionary spirit, bursting with excitement over the Church’s big new emphasis on missionary work and are currently providing me and the full-time elders with multiple solid referrals and teaching opportunities each month – and to be honest you’d rather be out in the neighborhood right now spreading the gospel – well, you don’t need to hear what I have to say either. You can leave.

Oh. So, I guess you’ve all self-selected to fall into the third group – those who, deep down, WISH they could do more to build up the Lord’s Kingdom, who truly desire to make a difference and to be a faithful member-missionary, but perhaps struggle with overcoming the challenges of stepping out of your comfort zone, or maybe have a hard time with thinking of things you can do. Perhaps you have a desire to share the gospel, to be an example, to make more friends – but you just don’t have time. You have no idea who to talk to – you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re just tired, overwhelmed, or scared.

Well, looking around, I see you are not alone.

And brothers and sisters, I’m in that category, too.

What I’ve found, as I’ve analyzed my situation, is that I have many excuses. I’ve also determined that most of them are pretty lame. Maybe these sound familiar:

I'm too busy. I am too shy. I don't want to offend anyone or make them feel uncomfortable. I would rather keep to myself. I don't want to open up that "can of worms." The status quo is just fine. I feel awkward – I don't even know where to begin a gospel conversation. Someone else is better qualified. I don't know anyone who could use the gospel message. So-and-so would never want to hear it. The time is never right.

While it's possible that each of these statements is technically, in some way, true; it does not excuse my inaction. It does not absolve me of the responsibility – the duty I have – to do what I know is right. It just helps me to rationalize and justify my personal failures.

That said, it's not productive to beat myself up, either. It's time to just recognize the fault, and fix it.

Put simply, it's time to repent. Time for change.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a special worldwide broadcast training for mission presidents – it was opened up to members of Ward Councils and their spouses as well – and is now available for viewing online by anyone. It was called “The Work of Salvation.” I found it to be a great motivator to remind me of my obligations, and to inspire me to do what's right.

And, lucky you, if you have not already seen it, I will be showing portions of it today during the third hour in a special joint meeting of the Priesthood and Relief Society.

In that video, our wonderful leaders are so inspiring. They make you want to change – not by making you feel guilty, but with gentle and loving counsel designed to inspire, uplift, and remind us of the great blessings we enjoy. The messages instill in us a true desire to live up to our divine potential, to serve, to share, and above all, to love.

As has been said several times recently by the prophet and apostles, the Lord is hastening His work. I do not take that message lightly. It means great things are ahead. It also means that I need to step up my own game, because the Lord's work (you know, that one that is hastening) is performed by His people – His followers – His Saints. We are the ones who must accomplish that work, as His hands, doing His work on the earth as His servants, blessing and serving others.

AsKing Benjamin said, "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

Now is the time to serve our fellow beings, and thereby serve our God. All it takes is love, and a willingness to act upon that love. If you let love be your motivator, and let the Spirit be your guide, all you need to do is ignore your excuses (say "no" to laziness, "no" to fear, "no" to any and all of those false obstacles in my "excuse" list I mentioned earlier) – and you will have success.

In that training video, we were reminded of some great and wonderful facts by President Monson and the apostles:
  • As we do our best, Heavenly Father will not let us fail.
  • When we are on the Lord's errand, we are entitled to His help.
  • Wishing will not make it so; the Lord expects our action.

These are powerful messages that can help us overcome the things that we let prevent us from sharing the gospel.

When I think of how happy the gospel makes me, when I consider the great blessings in my life that come because of the gospel, and when I think of the eternal significance of the gospel – I am driven, I am motivated, I am urged from deep within my soul to share the wonderful truths of the restored gospel.

Now all I need to do is ignore the excuses and do it.

The best way to share the gospel is in the way we live our lives. We should let it be evident in the way we live and serve others and build friendships that we love others and want them to share in the joy we experience in the gospel. If we can shift our focus ever so slightly away from ourselves and look outward to those around us, this should not be hard.

In a message found in the February 2013 edition of the Ensign, called “A Word to the Hesitant Missionary,” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

“Disciples of Jesus Christ have always been under the obligation to take His gospel to the world. Nevertheless, sometimes it is difficult to open our mouths and speak about our faith to those around us. While some members of the Church have a natural gift for talking to others about religion, others are a little hesitant or may feel awkward, embarrassed, or even fearful of doing so.”

He then outlines four important things to consider when being a member missionary:

  1. Be a light: that is, let the joy radiated in your life be, in itself, a reason why people may ask you questions to find out what it is that makes you so happy.
  2. Be conversational: here he includes the simple method of not avoiding references to the Church when speaking with others not of our faith – in fact, we should freely speak of Church-related things, as it opens a door for people to ask questions. In the past, I've found myself editing my speech by saying "my neighborhood" when I really mean "my ward." I really should just use the language of the gospel, as it opens up doors. President Uchtdorf also mentions using social media to be conversational about the Church - something that's easy for us all to do – as simple as clicking "like."
  3. Be full of grace: meaning, be clear and kind and civil; do not be disagreeable.
  4. Be filled with faith: for this one, I will quote President Uchtdorf – “Sometimes we take upon ourselves too much credit or too much blame when it comes to others accepting the gospel. It’s important to remember that the Lord doesn't expect us to do the converting. Conversion comes not through our words but through the heavenly ministrations of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes all it takes is one single phrase of our testimony or about an experience to set in motion the softening of a heart or the opening of a door that can lead others to experience sublime truths through the promptings of the Spirit… The Lord can magnify the words you speak and make them mighty. God doesn't ask you to convert but rather to open your mouths. The task of converting is not yours—that belongs to the person hearing and to the Holy Spirit.”

So, by your efforts, you can bring the Spirit, and then let him do the work.

Elder Clayton M. Christiansen said in February 2005:
“The ability to share the gospel isn’t a ‘gift’ that has been given to only a few Latter-day Saints and denied to the rest. We have concluded from our own experiences and from watching others that finding people for the missionaries to teach can be easy and natural for all of us—if we go about it the Lord’s way.”
One of the things Elder Christiansen mentions is the importance of not editing people off your list of “possibly interested” folks, simply because you don’t think they’d be interested (for whatever reason – usually some kind of judgment on your own part). You simply never know who is ready, unless you provide the opportunity. He described how he and his wife had made a list of possible contacts for the missionaries, but left certain couples off the list as “obviously not interested.” When the missionaries became desperate for referrals, they offered those “unlikely” names, only to surprisingly find that they were receptive. Elder Christiansen says, “The only way all people can have the opportunity to choose or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ is for us, without judgment, to invite them to follow the Savior.”

Now, while much of what I am saying today has to do with building friendships with our neighbors in the context of missionary work, I think Elder Christiansen said something very interesting. He said, 


“Over the past 20 years, we have observed no correlation between the depth of a relationship and the probability that a person will be interested in learning about the gospel. But the reverse is almost always true: Everyone who accepts an invitation becomes a closer friend, regardless of whether or not he or she ultimately accepts baptism. We have also learned that even when people decline our invitations, they are not offended if they can feel our love and God’s love when we invite them to learn about Christ’s gospel. They typically have expressed gratitude that we cared enough about them to want to share something so personal and important.” 
That’s worth thinking about.

As many of you may know, a few decades ago, President David O. McKay stated that every member should be a missionary. Of course, he didn’t mean that you – with your busy life, your job, family, and other responsibilities – needed to be a full-time missionary every hour of every day of your life.

Instead, you might think of your missionary efforts – the sharing of the gospel through words and actions, being a friend and being an example – as something you tithe. A tithe is ten percent, so with 168 hours in a week, that works out to 16.8 hours of missionary work a week. Nah, that’s WAY too much to expect. So, how about we just go with a tithe of a tithe – just one percent of your time. Well, that’s a little over 90 minutes a week. Still too much? Okay, how about just 0.3% of your time – which works out to about a half hour a week?

But what can you accomplish in a half hour a week, when it comes to missionary work? It turns out there’s a lot you can do. Here are a few ideas. I’ve arranged them into three levels that represent varying degrees of “stepping outside your comfort zone.”

LEVEL 1:
  1. Wave and smile to a neighbor you don’t know very well.
  2.  Say “hello” to a neighbor you don’t know very well.
  3.  Say “Hello, how are you?” and stop and wait for the reply.


LEVEL 2:
  1. Bake some cookies and bring them to a neighbor you don’t know very well.
  2. Without being asked, perform a small service, such as bringing their trash can in from the street (preferably AFTER the trash has been collected), pulling a few weeds in their yard when you’re already out doing yours, mowing their grass when you mow yours, or some other little thing.
  3. Invite a neighbor over for dessert or perhaps a barbecue.


LEVEL 3:
  1.  Invite a neighbor to a church-related activity, such as a picnic, fireside, or other event.
  2.  Invite a neighbor to church.
  3.  Invite a neighbor to meet with the missionaries in your home.


Of course, the different ideas may be applicable to different neighbors. For example, if you already say “hello” to a certain neighbor, and have been doing so for the last four years, maybe it’s time to move to the next level with them, and bring them some cookies. Or, if you have a neighbor with whom you regularly exchange treats, maybe it’s time to ask them over for dessert *inside* your home. There is great power to touch hearts in the sacred and spiritual environment found in your home. Make use of it.

There are a bunch of other ideas, too, such as those found in our Ward Mission Plan. You may not be familiar with the Ward Mission Plan…I had intended to post it on the wall over here in our corridor, but have not done so yet. But here it is:

The purpose of the 2013 Fox Hollow Ward Mission Plan is:
  • to help every member of the Fox Hollow Ward fulfill the prophetic admonishment to be a member missionary
  • to help every less active member within our ward boundaries return to full activity and receive the blessings attendant thereunto
  • to assist the full time missionaries in their efforts to teach the gospel to non-members within our ward boundaries by regularly providing qualified referrals


You and your family can advance the purposes of the ward mission plan by participating in the following ways:
  • February/March: Prayerfully select a specific family to invite to visit the church investigator website www.mormon.org or to whom to give a pass-along card.
  • April/May: Prayerfully select a specific family to give a Book of Mormon. Write your family’s testimonies in it to give meaning to the gift.
  • June/July: Prayerfully select a specific family to invite over for a family dinner, BBQ or FHE.
  • August/September: Participate in our neighborhood “Snack ‘n’ Shuffle” and invite a less active or non-member neighbor to participate. By the way, that Snack n Shuffle is two weeks from today, on August 11th at 6pm. And I’ll be talking to a few of you very soon about being “snack stations.”
  • October/November: Prayerfully select a specific family to invite to Sunday church meetings.
  • December: Prayerfully select a specific family to invite to visit Temple Square and see the lights.


For the youth (as a year-round challenge): Prayerfully select one specific non-member friend to invite to a weeknight Young Men/Young Women activity.

For the primary children (as a year-round challenge): Help your little ones think of a less active or non-member friend they can invite to Primary.

If your efforts through the year are successful, you may also want to prayerfully select one specific family to hear the missionary discussions in your home.

Review these goals regularly to assess progress, and pray about missionary opportunities daily.

I also recommend taking full advantage of digital opportunities to share the gospel – such as blogging and social media – per Elder M. Russell Ballard’s suggestions found in the June 2008 Ensign. It was that message that inspired me to start my gospel blog, called Intelligent Life, found at brittonwrite.blogspot.com. It is a blog that is strictly about Church doctrine, intended to be used a missionary tool. I really wanted to have the opportunity to be a missionary in that way, since I did not have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission, being an adult convert.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “With a relationship of trust established and with help from the Lord, we generally can feel comfortable moving beyond the realm of friendship and can invite our friends to learn more about the Church.”  He also emphasized that you must set deadlines for yourself, or things don’t get done.

Also, if you haven’t been to lds.org lately, check it out. There are tons of great resources there now for sharing the gospel – they have really put a lot of effort into the missionary direction and it’s actually pretty cool.

The work is hastening. Doctrine & Covenants 4:1-2 says, “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” As a covenant people, you have already embarked in the service of God. Let that service, then, be with your whole heart and might and mind and strength.

The General Authorities have passed along expectations to the stake, and the stake has passed those expectations on to the wards. We are to provide two new names each week for the full time missionaries to visit. These can be names of non-member investigators, part-member families, or less-active members. This does not mean names for the missionaries to cold-call. They must be folks with whom you have already spoken, and who have agreed to have the missionaries over.  Yes, it is a daunting challenge, but remember, that’s not two new names for each member, that’s for the whole ward. Together, we can do it. The important thing is to not think that someone else will take care of it, because if everyone thinks that, it won’t happen. But think of it this way: based on the math, you really only need to provide a referral about once every six months – but it may take you six months of relationship-building to get to that point with one of your neighbors. So, I encourage you to start now.

Think about your nearest neighbors – on each side, and across the street. Which one of them will you start improving your relationship with today? Who will you say “hello” to today? Or bring a treat to? Pray about it, then act on it.

If you have any additional ideas, please let me know. You can email or text me anytime. Also, you may wish to bring your ideas to a special fireside we are having tonight. It’s a joint meeting with the other ward that shares our building. We’ll be talking about the referral challenge, and also doing some hands-on practice in stepping outside the comfort zone. That’s at 7:00 p.m.

Brothers and sisters, I’m glad you decided to stick around for my talk. I know that your family will reap many wonderful blessings as a result of your concentrated, focused missionary efforts. It will definitely bless your children and increase the faith and love in your home. It will prepare your children for their missions. And it will help build the Kingdom of God.

I testify that as you make the effort, you will be blessed. We can and will, as a ward family, meet the challenge that’s been set forth by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to share the gospel with the world.

God lives. He loves us. He wants all of His children to have the opportunity to choose to come unto Christ. I know that Jesus Christ suffered and died for me, and was resurrected. I know that this is His restored Church, and that we are led by a true prophet. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)
 

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