Monday, January 14, 2019

Sacrifice Brings Forth the Blessings of Heaven

We just moved into a new ward last month, so of course we were given the opportunity to give sacrament talks this past Sunday. Without further ado, here is what I had to say:

I've been asked to study a talk from the April 2018 General Conference by Elder Taylor G. Godoy of the Seventy, called “One More Day,” and to let that inspire my remarks today. The focus of that talk was sacrifice, and I think this quote from Marion G. Romney, October 1982, fits the subject well. Considering that service is a form of sacrifice, just replace the word “Service” with “Sacrifice” and it’s perfect:

“Service [or, SACRIFICE] is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service [or, SACRIFICE] is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

As with all the things we endure and learn and go through and suffer — and enjoy! — in this life…it’s all a training ground for the eternal future we desire…and that future can’t be understood, or enjoyed, or be a proper part of our eternal progression if we don’t gain some important, relevant, experience here. How can we become like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ if we don’t first have some experiences which are at least an analog to Their own experiences?

This concept reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite apostles…Elder Neal A. Maxwell. In April 1991, he said:

“How can you and I expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’”

“The word sacrifice,” says Elder Godoy, “comes from the Latin words ‘sacer,’ which means ‘sacred,’ and ‘facere,’ which means ‘to make’ —in other words, to make things sacred, to bring honor to them.”

The hymn “Praise to the Man,” includes the line: “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”

One definition of sacrifice that I’ve quite liked is, “giving up something you want NOW for something greater you want LATER.” A trade-off, if you will, for those “blessings of heaven” alluded to in the hymn.

I think sacrifice has a generally negative connotation…that is, it’s HARD or BAD, or entails SUFFERING or WORK. While sacrifice is not intended to be easy, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to like it, or at least appreciate the blessings associated with it. Like anything that requires us to move from our comfort zone, we can, over time, choose to shift our comfort zone to better accommodate what we may consider difficult. What’s that? We can make sacrifice seem easy and fun, and love it? Well, maybe not exactly, but if you think about it, the concept is very familiar. Anything difficult that you’ve practiced and learned to do well, has moved your comfort zone…not the other way around.

President Heber J. Grant wisely stated:

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself has changed, but the power to do is increased.” 

Thus, the more we sacrifice, the better we get at it…to the point that the relative ease helps us actually enjoy it more…usually by focusing on the blessings and, most importantly, on the LOVE we feel for those we sacrifice FOR. Because, unlike the ritual sacrifices of the Mosaic era which were for instruction and remembrance and obedience, the sacrifices we make today tend to be for the benefit of others (our own personal enrichment from the act notwithstanding).

Elder Godoy pointed out three ways that sacrifice can make our days meaningful and blessed:

First, personal sacrifice strengthens us and gives value to the things we sacrifice for.

Returning to my earlier definition of sacrifice, “giving up something you want NOW for something greater you want LATER,” I’m reminded of the marshmallow experiment. You may have read about it or seen some duplications of it on YouTube: the experimenter places a marshmallow in front of a child and tells them that if they can wait for a specified time before eating it, they will get an extra marshmallow. Those children who deferred gratification were found, through the longitudinal study, to have better life outcomes than those who lacked the self-restraint. So…sacrificing what we want now makes us stronger and healthier…especially in spiritual ways.

Second, sacrifices we make for others, and that others make for us, result in blessings for all. 

Elder Godoy told the story of how his mother sold her family heirloom jewelry to pay for his dental school surgical supplies…and how that loving act motivated him to be an even better student.

Third, any sacrifice we make is small compared to the sacrifice of the Son of God. 

Certainly, any time we are called upon to sacrifice something in our lives (be it time, talents, or treasure — or physical, emotional, or psychological comfort —for example, having to give a talk in sacrament!) —it helps to remember how much our Savior Jesus Christ sacrificed for us. He describes that sacrifice in heart-rending terms in Doctrine and Covenants 19:18:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit —and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink —”

When we think of that, surely we can realize that our sacrifices, even though they may seem hard to us, are achievable, and will redound to our own eternal benefit when we do succeed with them.

As I mentioned, Elder Godoy’s talk on sacrifice was called “One More Day.” He placed sacrifice in the context of making the most of our days, since they are, of course, numbered. How would you choose to live if you knew you only had one more day to live? Whether it’s a day, a year, or another 80 years, life is, in the eternal perspective, very short…and we would do well to expend some daily effort sacrificing for others, and for the building up of His kingdom. It will bless others, it will bless ourselves, and it will better prepare us for the glorious future that awaits in the celestial kingdom, where we’ll continue to perform acts of love and grow closer to one another and to Heavenly Father.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Book of Mormon: It's True and it Helps Me

I conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon our 12-year old son, Seth, earlier this month, and ordained him to the office of deacon. And within three weeks, he got his first chance to give a Sacrament Meeting talk this past Sunday! And he did a wonderful job. He wrote it himself and really nailed it. As he told me later, "33 people" said he did a great even said it was the best youth talk she'd ever heard!

So, I'd like to share it here:

Good morning. I was asked by the bishop to do a talk on why we should study the Book of Mormon. I'm pretty sure he told me to do this topic because I have read the entire Book of Mormon before I turned 12. I did this to prepare myself to receive the Aaronic Priesthood.

It was hard to get started at first, but once I got going it was kind of like a snowball, and I read faster and faster all the way through to the end. I was worried that I wouldn't finish on time, but I finished about three weeks before my birthday.

Reading the Book of Mormon regularly helped me feel closer to the Spirit. It really really did! It's impossible to explain how much it affected me. It helped me out a lot, and transformed me into something much better than I already was. It's hard to explain.

I'd like to focus on how important it is to read the Book of Mormon every day, and how it can change your life.

First, it's important because it is true.

ElderJeffrey R. Holland talked about how Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were reading the Book of Mormon when in Carthage jail, about to be murdered by a mob. They were reading it for comfort, and because it is true. Elder Holland said:

"As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth? 

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."

I'm speechless.

I found out for myself that the Book of Mormon is true by reading it. Near the end, in Moroni 10:3-5 it says:

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I actually did that right after I finished the Book of Mormon. And I heard a small voice in my head and heart shouting "YES! It is true!"

Reading this true book every day relieves stress for me. I read it mostly during the summer, but I believe that if I read it during school too, it will alleviate even more stress.

It makes you, in general, a happier person. It makes you feel better. It can help you sleep, if you have trouble getting to sleep like I do.

It made me feel more worthy for the priesthood. I felt like I didn't deserve it before, but then I did. I went from feeling like "I can't, I can't, I don't deserve it" to "I can, I can! I do deserve it!" I felt like I was more ready for the responsibility.

The Book of Mormon can change your life because it has helped me feel closer to my family, and closer to Heavenly Father. My prayers didn't used to feel very meaningful before, but now they feel a little more meaningful than they used to. I still struggle with that, but I know more scriptures will help.

There were a lot of parts of the Book of Mormon that I really liked — things that really touched my heart and that I highlighted.

For example, I really liked in Enos, when he prayed all day and received a remission of his sins.

I also really liked it in Ether chapter 12 when it talks about how faith always comes before miracles, and gives a lot of examples.

And one of my favorite passages is in 2 Nephi 4:17-35, which I'd like to quote for you now. It's kind of long:

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

I bear my testimony that the scriptures WILL change your life, if you put the time and effort into reading them. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Faith: the Center of Our Lives

I had the opportunity to speak in our local elderly care home's sacrament meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty special, because my parents were there, and because it was Seth's first time passing the sacrament as a newly-ordained deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. Definitely a wonderful day.'s my talk:

Good morning brothers and sisters. I’m glad to be with you here today. My parents are in town from out of state for our son’s ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood, and I asked my mom what I should talk about today. She said FAITH.

I said, “That’s a broad topic!”

But as I started to research on this, the first principle of the gospel, I came across a number of great talks from General Conference that helped me prepare a few thoughts about faith and its power in our lives.  

ElderRichard G. Scott described faith and its power: “When faith is properly understood and used, it has dramatically far-reaching effects. Such faith can transform an individual’s life from maudlin, common everyday activities to a symphony of joy and happiness. The exercise of faith is vital to Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness. But true faith, faith unto salvation, is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in His doctrines and teachings, faith in the prophetic guidance of the Lord’s anointed, faith in the capacity to discover hidden characteristics and traits that can transform life. Truly, faith in the Savior is a principle of action and power.

Sometimes faith may seem a bit enigmatic: what exactly is it? How does one obtain it? How do you keep it and grow it? What can it really accomplish?

Like any spiritual gift, faith may be given to an individual, but unless used and nurtured and put to righteous use, it can be lost. It actually takes effort to “keep the faith.”

Elder Scott continued, “An axiom we all understand is that you get what you pay for. That is true for spiritual matters as well. You get what you pay for in obedience, in faith in Jesus Christ, in diligent application of the truths you learn. What you get is the molding of character, the growth in capacity, and the successful completion of your mortal purpose to be proven and to have joy.

Faith is not just a finite, easily-measured THING that you either possess or don’t possess. As we know from Alma 32, it can begin very small, as the mere result of a DESIRE to believe, and grow from there as it is nurtured.

In Alma 32:28, the great Book of Mormon prophet and missionary said: “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

Elder Scott described how faith grew like a seed in his life:

“I have personally verified that concepts like faith, prayer, love, and humility hold no great significance and produce no miracles until they become a living part of us through our own experience, aided by the sweet prompting of the Holy Spirit. In early life I found that I could learn gospel teachings intellectually and, through the power of reason and analysis, recognize that they were of significant value. But their enormous power and ability to stretch me beyond the limits of my imagination and capacity did not become reality until patient, consistent practice allowed the Holy Spirit to distill and expand their meaning in my heart. I found that while I was sincerely serving others, God forged my personal character. He engendered a growing capacity to recognize the direction of the Spirit. The genius of the gospel plan is that by doing those things the Lord counsels us to do, we are given every understanding and every capacity necessary to provide peace and rich fulfillment in this life. Likewise, we gain the preparation necessary for eternal happiness in the presence of the Lord.

Faith has been described in a number of ways. My mom says it’s like the wind: you can’t see it, but you can observe its effects. I agree with that!

Similarly, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is a principle of action. I like that because it makes it concrete. Faith actually MAKES things happen. It’s a necessary ingredient in the best parts of life. In Ether 12:12-18 we read:

“For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith. Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth. Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites. Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after. And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith. And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.”

And that’s the key. Faith is not just a nebulous feeling, a sense that things will turn out okay. Faith is only effective and powerful when centered in the Lord Jesus Christ. In his talk, “Be Not Faithless, But Believing,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity. Believe that his matchless life reached back before the world was formed. Believe that he was the Creator of the earth on which we live. Believe that he was Jehovah of the Old Testament, that he was the Messiah of the New Testament, that he died and was resurrected … Believe and know that he was a man of miracles. He who had created the world and governed it as the great Jehovah understood the elements of earth and all the functions of life. Beginning at Cana, where he turned the water into wine, he went on to cause the lame to walk, the blind to see, the dead to return to life — he, the Master Physician, who healed the sick by the authority inherent in him as the Son of God. He was the comforter of the burdened of his time, and of all the generations who have come after who have truly believed in him.”

My spiritual siblings, I believe in Him. I have faith. I know that as we follow Him, strive to keep His commandments, repent when we fall short, and live our lives as examples of His goodness, serving and blessing others, sharing our great gifts, talents, and blessings, and enduring to the end, our faith will grow, our peace will grow, and our lives will shine as a testament of the unfathomable love that Jesus Christ and God the Eternal Father have for each of us, His children.

I testify to you that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of God, that Jesus Christ stands at its head and directs His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I support and sustain and trust the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles . . . I look up to them and love them. I know the Book of Mormon is a true record, and I know that God hears our faith-filled prayers and responds to them in the manner and timing that is ultimately to our best good.

And I leave this message with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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 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, " never faileth." It doesn't say, " 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'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


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?

My Family

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

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