Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another Perspective on Christmas

Sitting in sacrament today, I thought of something that inspired this. I call it, "Joseph Delivered." It considers the most celebrated private moment in history, and the figure we don't often focus on:

Joseph was told in a sacred dream
Of the Life entrusted to his care
He stood beside Mary and took care of her
An outstanding man, and his wife so fair

Joseph delivered the Deliverer
Into his calloused young hands came He
Joseph helped raise that little Boy
Who was raised after three days for you and for me

Joseph witnessed the sacred event
The Babe as He entered this mortal realm
Present at the start of the new dispensation
Receiving the ultimate Present to o'erwhelm

Joseph delivered the Deliverer
And protected his new family
Joseph, the greatest step-father of all
Held such a sacred responsibility


This is for all the step-fathers out there, and folks in non-traditional families, people in poor and humbling circumstances; and those who may think that their role in life is small, insignificant, unglamorous, or little noticed - just remember: Joseph delivered the Deliverer.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS to you!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gratitude in Adversity

I'm BACK! :)

My wife and I were asked to speak in Sacrament meeting today. We were both asked to speak on the subject of gratitude.

So, as an easy way to get back into the blog, I thought I'd just post the text of my talk. So, here it is (with minor adaptations for the internet).

Gratitude in Adversity – Giving Thanks in ALL Things

Although Thanksgiving is over, and the turkey has moved to “leftover” status, it’s still appropriate to speak of gratitude – which is certainly not a “leftover.” The Thanksgiving holiday is timed nicely, as it leads in perfectly to the Christmas season, in which our focus SHOULD be a feeling of deep personal gratitude and thanksgiving for the birth of Jesus Christ.

Alma 34:38 states that we should “live in thanksgiving daily,” – and that means not just on the fourth Thursday in November.

And living in thanksgiving daily means being grateful even on bad days – which leads me to my angle on the topic of gratitude: gratitude in adversity.

One of the first hymns I ever learned in the LDS church, back in 1993, was “Count Your Blessings.”
WHEN UPON LIFE’S BILLOWS YOU ARE TEMPEST TOSSED,
WHEN YOU ARE DISCOURAGED THINKING ALL IS LOST,
COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS...
Gratitude in adversity. It’s not just a good idea – it will actually help you through that adversity and turn the adversity into a blessing. Hopefully my message today will explain how and why.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “[Gratitude] is a quality I have found in every happy person I know. It is a quality that instantly makes a person more likable and more at peace. Where there is an abundance of this virtue, there is happiness. Where there is an absence of this virtue, there is often sadness, resentment, and futility. … Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable.”

Elder Wirthlin also said: “One thing I can tell you with certainty is this: You cannot predict happiness by the amount of money, fame, or power a person has. External conditions do not necessarily make a person happy. The Brethren who have had assignments in poorer countries report that despite the abject poverty, the people are very happy. The fact is that the external things so valued by the world are often the cause of a great deal of misery in the world. Those who live in thanksgiving daily, however, are usually among the world’s happiest people. And they make others happy as well. … Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent.”

D&C 78:19 says, “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.”

That word “ALL” means “ALL.” Receiving ALL things with thankfulness means even being glad of heart when things go badly. In the simplest of examples, it means smiling and wondering what you can learn from this – when you stub your toe. Imagine having your heart in such a place that you could do that!

President James E. Faust said, “The Lord has said, ‘And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.’ It is clear to me from this scripture that to ‘thank the Lord thy God in all things’ is more than a social courtesy; it is a binding commandment.”

Again, ALL THINGS. Not just the stuff we like. When I give thanks for my meals, I don’t just mean the meat and potatoes, I am also thankful for the vegetables. (Though I am especially thankful for the gravy.)

Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Prophet Joseph is reported to have said at one time that one of the greatest sins for which the Latter-day Saints would be guilty would be the sin of ingratitude. I presume most of us have not thought of that as a serious sin. There’s a great tendency for us in our prayers — in our pleadings with the Lord — to ask for additional blessings. Sometimes I feel we need to devote more of our prayers to expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving for blessings already received. Of course we need the daily blessings of the Lord. But if we sin in the matter of prayer, I think it is in our lack of the expressions of thanksgiving for daily blessings. President Brigham Young uttered very much the same warning as the Prophet Joseph — that this would be one of our great sins as Latter-day Saints. I do not think this is because we’re less grateful than other people — but we have so much more to be grateful for.”

Again, that does include our adversity. You need only listen to the words of the pioneer hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” for a moving example of gratitude in adversity.

Elder David B. Haight said, “It’s so easy in life for us to receive blessings, many of them almost uncounted, and have things happen in our lives that can help change our lives, improve our lives, and bring the Spirit into our lives. But we sometimes take them for granted. How grateful we should be for the blessings that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings into our hearts and souls. I would remind all of you that if we’re ever going to show gratitude properly to our Heavenly Father, we should do it with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength — because it was He who gave us life and breath.”

And that means at all times and in all places – all circumstances, good or bad. Even if we can’t figure out how something can be for our benefit at the time, we can at least be grateful to be alive and to know that one day we WILL understand how the bad situation in question will benefit us. I know that many times I’ve not seen until much later how a hardship was a blessing in disguise. (Just one of the tricky things about being mortal and subject to that pesky phenomenon called “TIME.”)

President Brigham Young said, “The worst fear that I have about this
people is that they will get rich [and] forget God. … This people will
stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and
be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth.”


Sometimes we just need to be taken down a peg for our own good, lest we forget God, glorying in our own strength, getting prideful because of our bounteous blessings. We can be grateful for our challenges because, if we approach them properly – with gratitude instead of resentment - they help keep us humble and prevent us from having a “Nephite pride cycle.”

Elder David A. Bednar said, “Let me recommend that periodically
you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude.
Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate
appreciation with all the energy of our hearts.”


This is something we can try, even in hard times, when we very much want to ask for stuff in our prayers. In fact, that may be the best time to try that kind of prayer.

Mosiah 26:39 says that we are commanded of God to “pray without ceasing” and to “give thanks in all things.” And this was said at time when the church members were “suffering all manner of afflictions.”

I think this is very significant. It reminds me of a thought I had recently: that I'm thankful when I don't get the things I want, because it means there's something even better waiting for me, and gives me an opportunity to learn patience, perspective, and humility.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks put it, “The revelations… show that we should even give thanks for our afflictions because they turn our hearts to God and give us opportunities to prepare for what God would have us become … When we give thanks in all things, we see hardships and adversities in the context of the purpose of life. We are sent here to be tested. There must be opposition in all things. We are meant to learn and grow through that opposition, through meeting our challenges, and through teaching others to do the same.”

Making a conscious effort to remember this can really make a difference in our day to day lives.
When things don’t go as we had hoped, we must remember that it’s an opportunity to grow – to become more patient, to become more resourceful, to become more humble, to develop determination, resilience, and even new talents. If life were too easy, we’d become complacent. Unchallenged, we’d become spiritually flabby. (For some reason, the folks on that spaceship in the movie WALL-E come to mind. If you haven’t seen it, you won’t get the reference, but that’s okay.) The point is, as muscles need resistance to be strengthened, souls need opposition to be perfected. (Yep, I made that up myself!)

Hebrews 12:6 states that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Makes more sense when you look at it in this context.

D&C 98:3
states that even our afflictions shall work together for our good. Is this not a grand key to happiness in this life? You never need to worry if you just realize that every part of life is for our good, if only we would stand back and realize it, and be grateful for the experience, and recognize the positive in all things, even if it seems impossible to do so in our limited mortal perspective.

President Henry B. Eyring said, “The disciple who accepts a trial
as an invitation to grow and therefore qualify for eternal life can
find peace in the midst of the struggle.”



In other words, if you are grateful for hardship, you’ll have peace. It’s a perfect recipe for making it through the difficulties of life.

It’s no wonder that back in 54 B.C., the Roman orator Cicero claimed gratitude is “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

We must have gratitude for all aspects of life.

Tough experiences are a great educational opportunity. We rarely look at it that way at the time of the trial, but later we look back and realize we gained something invaluable from the experience – something we likely could not have learned any other way. Keeping an eternal perspective is key.

I went through some very difficult times in the 90s. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I went through some stuff that very nearly broke me. But now I am grateful for it, because it taught me so much, made me a stronger person, a more humble person, a less judgmental person, and drew me closer to God. I wouldn’t trade the misery I went through for an easier path - if it would mean losing those lessons.

Never beat yourself up when things go badly for you. Don’t think that it’s because you aren’t worthy of the blessings you desire. No one is exempt from adversity, not even the General Authorities. And look at what the Savior went through – and He was perfect.

Heavenly Father has a specific plan for you, and He can see the big picture that you can’t. All you can do is pray, be grateful, try your very best, be patient and diligent, and strive to learn something from the difficulties you face. And always remember that He loves you and wants what is best for you. If you are doing your best to be faithful and keep the commandments, then anything that befalls you is for your benefit and should be seen in that context.

It’s easier said than done, but a grateful heart will keep you happy in any situation.

President Faust said, “Let us not presume that because the way is at times difficult and challenging, our Heavenly Father is not mindful of us … may each of us follow the Lord’s comforting counsel: ‘Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.’”

In a great talk called “Come What May, and Love It,” from the October 2008 General Conference, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it.”

Loving adversity may seem an odd goal, but it’s a sure way to never be truly unhappy in this life. Sure, we may feel disappointment from time to time, but if we maintain our perspective, the sadness will never last long – the darkness will inevitably be dispelled by the light that comes from choosing a Christ-like attitude.

Strange how we can take for granted our blessings and focus on the adversity. We must learn to view the obvious blessings and the hardships as things to be thankful for.

I am so thankful for my wife and son, for the rest of my family and extended family, for a home and a job and food and clothing and cars that run.

I am thankful for having the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the Holy Temple, for being sealed to my family forever, and for holding the priesthood of God. I am thankful for my calling – to be able to help build up His kingdom.

I am thankful for the scriptures, for a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, for good leaders in the Church, for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I’m thankful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its cleansing and saving power.

I am thankful for the Ensign magazine, for good books, and beautiful music. I am thankful for the mountains and all the beauty of the Earth.

I am thankful for my talents, for a healthy body and mind, and for the many opportunities that I have. I am thankful to live in this great land, the United States of America, and to be alive at this great time in history.

I am thankful for good friends, for my safety, for my faith and knowledge of the glorious eternal future, and for a million other things.

And I owe them all, and so much more, to God.

But to that list of obvious blessings I add that I am thankful for adversity.

I’m thankful that I don’t always get what I want, or don’t always get what I want when I want it. Just think how spoiled I would be! How incapable of handling any kind of disappointment I would be if I were not so well-practiced at it!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul wrote,
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of
God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”


It takes great strength and faith to give thanks in all things. But doing so will make you stronger and more faithful.

Keeping a sense of humor, counting your blessings, and reaching out to help and serve others are great ways to enhance your ability to be grateful in adversity.

And I testify that being thankful in all things will bring you great and lasting joy, as all of life’s lemons are turned into lemonade by this shift in attitude to one of gratitude.

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Temporary Hiatus

Well, something's gotta give.

Just got back from 18 days in Oregon and while we were gone, we sold our house, so we're now packing and looking for a new home, and have SO much on our plates.

So . . . rather than NOT post tonight, and the next few Sundays, and feel GUILTY for not meeting the goal of posting each Sunday, I am giving myself permission to NOT post. :)

I will therefore be on hiatus for a few weeks while we move and get resettled.

In the meantime, please take the time to catch up on posts you haven't read, dating back a year now. There's some good stuff there to keep you busy, uplifted, and edified.

And, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO POST COMMENTS to the blog posts you read. :)

I'll be back.

-Michael

Sunday, July 5, 2009

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Well, I started this blog one year ago this week, on 7/7/2008.

Right now, I'm traveling, and don't have time to post (for the next three weeks), but will get back to it at the end of July.

If you read this blog - thanks. I hope it serves you well. If you haven't read my earlier posts, now may be a good time to get caught up on a year's worth of posts (44 of them, actually).

See you in a few weeks.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Two Topics

A brief, linkless post tonight - really just some stray thoughts on two topics relevant to some lessons in church today.

First, for Sunday School, we have been attending a special Marriage & Family Relations course (taught by my friend Ryan). Today we talked about unity in marriage. My wife and I were asked to prepare, in advance, some lists of complementary attributes of each other, and answer a couple of related questions. Each of us came up with a short list of our own strengths, and a long list of qualities of the other person.

One of the most important attributes, I think, is that neither of us stays angry for very long at all - we're both very quick to forgive and don't hold grudges. This is critical. There may be only twice in over seven years together that we've gone to bed with a issue unresolved. Usually, a spat doesn't last more than a few minutes, and is never really very intense at all. I really believe this willingness to forgive - to see the other's point of view and put one's self aside, to truly FORGIVE and be selfless - is key to a lasting, healthy, HAPPY marriage.

The other topic was something from our Elders Quorum lesson, which was about the priesthood. It was mentioned that the priesthood is often referred to in military terms - we are an "army," we "battle the forces of evil," or we are "enlisted" until this great war is over. We are soldiers, we go on missions, we put on the full armor of God. These are indeed apt metaphors.

It seems to me that people are generally conflict-averse. Nobody really likes to fight. Everybody hates war. And I think that's why we, as a society, often live in a state of denial regarding conflict. (Case in point: Iran has been at war with the U.S. since 1979, killing many U.S. soldiers and civilians through various attacks - the taking of hostages, bombings of military and civilian targets, and proxy war-mongering through terror cells. They have done nothing to hide their feelings and intentions - in fact they state outright that they desire our destruction. Yet so many in America still fail to acknowledge the reality of this war.)

Likewise, another war rages in the world - one that many fail to acknowledge. It's a war that started before any human was ever born. I speak of the Great War in Heaven, in which we all fought on the same side, and after "Round One" of which, one third of the host of heaven were expelled. It continues today, right here, right now - every day, and for every person on Earth.

We are indeed soldiers, enlisted in that war. The original War in Heaven was more a war of words, ideas, and influence. The same is largely true today, only there has been a physical component added to it. But the spoils remain the same: it's a battle for the souls of men.

When you enlist in the Army, you're trained and provided with some tools - weapons. Soldiers in this Great War are trained in families, brought up with correct principles, taught to know right from wrong, and to choose the right. The priesthood is the tool we (men) are equipped with to fight this war. It's like some kind of uber-machine gun that can do anything from heal a loved one's headache to move mountains. Unlike fighting fire with fire, the priesthood fights hate with love, selfishness with service, and darkness and evil with light and righteousness. And it's more powerful, when wielded worthily, than any opposing force.

The work of God will not be stopped. Love and light and good will prevail. Let us always remember that the enemy never rests, and we cannot afford to, either. We ARE all enlisted until the conflict is over.

And happy are we.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunny Skies

My message tonight is short and sweet.

It's based on a message from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, found in the June 2009 Ensign magazine. He talks about "Prayer and the Blue Horizon," a discussion of prayer in the familiar terms of flying an airplane (Pres. Uchtdorf often uses aviation analogies, as he used to be an airline pilot for a living).

I've flown quite a lot myself, from the time I was very young. I've been on eight flights in the last eight months. One thing I always appreciated was the fact that even when it's gloomy and rainy on the ground, you soon realize that it's only that way beneath the clouds. When the aircraft takes you up above the bank of rain clouds, it's ALWAYS a beautiful sunny day, no matter what (as long as it's daytime, of course).

President Uchtdorf uses this as an analogy to the way prayer can lift you up above the storms of life.

He says:

"In the same way that aerodynamic lift can transport us above the outer storms of the world, I know that the principles of spiritual lift can take us above the inner storms of life.

And I know something else. Although it was a breathtaking experience to break through the clouds and fly to the bright blue horizon, that is nothing compared to the wonders of what we all can experience as we lift up our hearts in humble and earnest prayer.

Prayer helps us transcend the stormy times."


I testify that this is true.

I would also like to link this message into Father's Day (which is today). In my patriarchal blessing it states that I am to lead my family in family prayer. It is often said in the Church that it is the father's place to "Preside, Provide, and Protect" (the three P's).

It is indeed the father's place to be the one who makes sure that family prayer happens daily. It's his responsibility to ensure this vital part of family life is a regular part of family life. He is to do so with patience and love, and - if needed - creativity. In my family, it's pretty easy: we only have one child, he is a very good boy, and it is part of our normal bedtime routine to have family prayer. We don't do so well in the mornings, because I leave for work before anyone is awake most of the time. We usually only get a morning family prayer on Sundays.

I know that it can be a lot harder in other families, with multiple children to wrangle and organize, but I know it can be done - else the Lord wouldn't have commanded it.

Linking this to President Uchtdorf's message: we, as fathers, are like pilots. We each are at the helm of our airliner (family) and lead the way to our common destination (the Celestial Kingdom). We are each responsible for the safety and well-being of all of our passengers (wife and children), and it's up to us to make sure we can fly above the clouds (engage in meaningful, regular family prayer).

I know that if we strive our best to do this, we will all enjoy the flight more and also enjoy a safe landing at our final destination.

Happy Father's Day, all!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Sacrament Talk

Today, my wife and I were both assigned to speak in Sacrament. I've decided to post a transcript of my talk here:



Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. I’m grateful for my wife’s testimony – there’s really nothing more precious than sharing your core beliefs with your eternal companion and your children. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says in the introductory video to the temple open house – and I paraphrase – “I cannot imagine heaven without my wife, and my children.” So true it is. And that’s relevant to the subject of my talk today – you’ll learn why in a few minutes.

I was asked to choose a talk from our most recent General Conference of the Church upon which to speak. I chose to speak on “The Church Statistical Report, 2008,” as presented by Brook P. Hales, Secretary to the First Presidency.

He begins by saying, “Brothers and sisters, the First Presidency has issued the following report concerning the growth and activity of the Church as of December 31, 2008.”

He then goes on to list some significant numbers, including:

Total Church Membership: 13,508,509

Just to put that in some perspective; only California, Texas, New York, and Florida have a population of more than 13 million people. So if all the world’s members were a U.S. state, we’d be the fifth largest state. And 13 million is nearly TWICE the population of present-day Israel.
Brother Hales then gave us another number:

Converts Baptized: 265,593

That, by the way, is just over FIVE convert baptisms for each full-time missionary currently in the field.

I think those are absolutely magnificent numbers! And better yet, they’re not just numbers – each of those 265,953 represents a unique SOUL. A son or daughter of God who, after searching and wondering, reading and praying, found the true church AND did what was necessary to be baptized and become a member. I think that’s awesome.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told Joseph Smith to remember that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;” and that “if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”

Now, perhaps none of us, individually, brought any of those 265,953 souls unto God (though perhaps some of us did) – but certainly no ONE of us brought ALL 265,953 souls unto God. Nevertheless, we, as a Church – as members of this great Holy organization – each may have played some part in that – whether by supporting a missionary, encouraging a friend, paying tithing, praying for the missionaries and the missionary work itself, or just being a good example to others and good representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps you referred an investigator to the full-time missionaries, or maybe a seed you helped plant in someone’s heart, years ago, finally blossomed and resulted in that person’s baptism during the last year.

You may never know how you touch and change the lives of others.

But even if you can’t directly trace any of those 265,953 baptisms back to yourself, those “many souls” are certainly reason for we as members of the Lord’s true church to rejoice!

Now, the Bishopric will be relieved to know that I didn’t really choose to give my WHOLE talk on the Statistical Report. It was more of a lead-in to the talk I chose to speak about, which is Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk, onOur Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children.”

In it, Elder Cook describes some things that can be beneficial to those investigating the Church, and some things that are hindrances to their progress. I’d like to focus on some of those items today, and consider how we, as members, can work to make the conversion process smoother and more accessible for those who wish to learn the truth of the Gospel and act upon it.

In other words, how we can be missionaries.

Elder Cook says,

“Because of the uplifting doctrine of the Restoration, members rejoice in the gospel and find joy and satisfaction in the Church. We are viewed favorably when we live the teachings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When members don’t live the teachings, it can be a stumbling block to those who do not belong to the Church.”

This is of course a reference to Alma 4:10 in which the Nephite church members had waxed proud, and in their prosperity began to persecute others.

An example of Church members not living the Gospel having an ill effect on an investigator can be found in my own conversion story.

I was introduced to the teachings of the Church by a woman I was dating who was a very inactive member – who no longer lived any of the Church’s teachings and who was not outwardly recognizable as a member. Nevertheless, she gave me a Book of Mormon, and the first thing I read was Joseph Smith’s testimony of the First Vision (found in the Pearl of Great Price).
Right when I read it, I knew it was true – because the Holy Ghost witnessed it to me, directly, spirit-to-spirit, with an amazing power. And that knowledge has only grown stronger in me over the years, bolstered by a thorough study of doctrine, careful reading of the scriptures, regular prayer, striving to keep the commandments, and undeniable personal experiences.

Since I immediately knew that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, it followed logically that the Book of Mormon was true. So I was able to read it the very first time without skepticism, knowing that what I was reading was an inspired translation of actual ancient records.

I nearly finished the Book of Mormon in 1993, but unfortunately, I allowed my life circumstances to get in the way, and I put it aside until 1996, when I finished reading it, called the missionaries, took the discussions, and got baptized.

Now, I take full responsibility for my own choices, namely for letting three years slip by before acting on the testimony I’d gained. But if that member who’d introduced me to the Gospel had actually been living it during those years, I’m certain I would’ve been baptized sooner.

A contrasting example is found in the fact that the place where I was living at the time I took the missionary discussions was not a good environment – in fact, I never would’ve asked the missionaries to enter that home because of the things that were going on there. So, I took the discussions at a member home – some nice folks I’d met while attending church. Those folks made me feel welcome in their peaceful, family- and Gospel-centered home, and they showed me genuine friendship.

That’s one way that we, as members, can help with the conversion of investigators – by offering our homes as places of refuge for those who need a safe, clean place to meet with the missionaries and see an example of what a “celestial” home can be like.

Another area Elder Cook cites as a potential stumbling-block for people investigating the teachings of the Church is that of a proliferation throughout Christendom of doctrines that are false, yet so oft-repeated through the ages that they become commonly understood to be the truth, even though they are definitely NOT true. Such repetition of false doctrines over the ages, combined with a general agreement among other churches on certain incorrect teachings, can make some of the doctrinal truths found in the Lord’s true Church a little harder to swallow when finally heard for the first time.

Elder Cook put it thusly:

“My principal concern is for the honorable people on the earth who are open to religious faith but have been discouraged or confused by incorrect doctrine. For instance, with respect to the doctrine that revelation still exists, some very good people have been confident that the Church could not be true because they have been taught, and therefore believe, that the heavens are closed and there will be no additional revelation, no scripture, and no pronouncements from heaven. Let me emphasize that this widely held belief is not scriptural, but it is a stumbling block to some.”

And there are many other examples of such doctrines. But I believe that anyone who is open to the truth, and honestly and humbly seeking it, will (just as I did) find the doctrines of the true Church to be like “coming home.” Things will finally make sense.

Elder Cook also talked about another incorrect teaching found outside the Church. He said,

“For many of these people who are open to religious faith, one issue has been particularly troubling. They have had a difficult time reconciling the correct doctrine that we have a loving Father in Heaven and the incorrect doctrine that most of mankind would be doomed to eternal hell. … At the time Joseph Smith received revelations and organized the Church, the vast majority of churches taught that the Savior’s Atonement would not bring about the salvation of most of mankind. The common precept was that a few would be saved and the overwhelming majority would be doomed to endless tortures of the most awful and unspeakable intensity. The marvelous doctrine revealed to the Prophet Joseph unveiled to us a plan of salvation that is applicable to all mankind, including those who do not hear of Christ in this life, children who die before the age of accountability, and those who have no understanding.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that is GOOD NEWS! It’s fantastic news. Considering there are some Christians who believe that only 144,000 people will get to return to our Heavenly Father, it is very welcome news that in fact the invitation is open to ALL of His children; and as many as repent, receive all the appropriate ordinances by those with authority, and endure to the end – will receive that great blessing of returning to live with our Father in Heaven.

Another area that can be a hindrance for those who are learning about the Church is the abundance of opposition aimed at the Church, much of it from other Christian churches. But despite how outspoken others may be against us, we are counseled in the Church, as Jesus counseled his followers, to “turn the other cheek to the smiters,” and to not sink into contending with others.

Elder Cook said,

“…notwithstanding the significance of our doctrinal differences with other faiths, our attitude toward other churches has been to refrain from criticism. They do much good. They bless mankind. Many help their members learn of the Savior and His teachings.

A reporter for the Washington Post visited one of our Church meetings in Nigeria. The reporter interviewed one new member and told of his conversion. The reporter states:
‘[He] said . . . he jumped off a city bus and walked into the [LDS Church building]. . . . He immediately liked what he heard inside [the chapel], especially that no one preached that people of other faiths were going to hell.’ This echoes the feeling of numerous converts to the Church since its organization.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley said,

“I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. … We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we may not agree.”

Now, we may not receive that respect from members of other churches all the time – and the kind of aggressive “anti-Mormonism” that prevails among some may make it harder for converts to progress, since they must deal with a lot of misinformation that is thrust at them.

But the fact that the Church is so tolerant of others, and does not go around protesting other faiths, but instead reaches out in love to all, counteracts those attacks in a powerful way. To me, it really shows that Christ is the head of this Church.

Elder Cook’s talk, for me, really struck the missionary chord in my heart. It was a great reminder that EVERYONE – all souls who come to Earth – are welcome to “come unto Him” and partake of that sweet fruit of the Gospel – and that it is up to US who already have it, to share with those who don’t. Or, at the very least, to enable others to partake through our own examples, prayers, and efforts to keep the commandments.

President Hinckley also said:

“Now, my brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.

We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.”

I believe that if you have a strong testimony, you want to share it with your fellow brothers and sisters in the world. Of course, sharing it is often thwarted by our own fears and shortcomings. That’s why, I believe, we need to focus on our testimonies – work on making them so strong, so powerful, that they cannot be held back by those weaknesses. Those of us who are so blessed as to have the Gospel in our lives have an obligation to share it with others.

I joined the Church too late to go on a mission - a fact I regret. I’m consoled by the fact that I will have the opportunity to serve a mission (or missions) with my wife one day. And right now, I’m in a missionary calling, as a Ward Missionary. And even without a calling, we all have the opportunity to be missionaries.

President David O. McKay said that every member is a missionary.

The "Threefold Mission of the Church" is “Preaching the Gospel,” “Redeeming the Dead,” and “Perfecting the Saints.” My patriarchal blessing states that I will have a role in all three, and to prepare myself for it. It says I don’t need to be called on a far away mission to preach the Gospel – that there are people in my own neighborhood who are without the Gospel, and I can share it with them. I’ve never forgotten that, even if I do a generally poor job of acting on it. For the last decade and a half, my missionary focus has been largely on my own family, since I’m the only member in my family.

I’m so driven to bring the Gospel to my family because I know that it is true and I know that it is SO good. Have you ever come across something SO great, so wonderful, so fulfilling, that you just HAD to tell others about it – so they could share in that joy and find out for themselves how great it is? It's natural that if you've found something awesome that you would want the people you love to also be able to partake of it.

Father Lehi, the first prophet of the Book of Mormon and progenitor of the Nephite civilization, experienced a dream – or a vision – that spoke of that very feeling: tasting something spectacular and desiring to share it with his family. In his dream, he saw a tree, “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy”:

“And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”

Not only is sharing the Gospel something that one wants to do, it is also something that we are commanded to do throughout the scriptures. Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep” (and in case anyone missed it the first time, he said it three times in a row). And he wasn't talking about animal husbandry.

There are many ways to be a missionary besides an official call. As a home teacher, you can help folks return to church activity and the blessing of the Gospel by being their friend and providing them with Gospel messages when you visit. Or, more informally, you can reach out to people you know, give someone a Book of Mormon and invite them to church, or just be a good friend to people around you. Your example alone can go a long way. Sometimes people may just be interested to know more about your church when they see the clean, honest and upright way you live and how happy you are.

There are many opportunities to share your faith and your testimony with people. You just have to stay attuned to those opportunities, and then TAKE them when they occur.

It’s up to us, those who have the Gospel, to be instruments in the Lord’s hands in bringing it to the people of the Earth.

President Hinckley has said:

“The little stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands as seen in Daniel’s vision is rolling forth to fill the whole earth. No force under the heavens can stop it if we will walk in righteousness and be faithful and true. The Almighty Himself is at our head. Our Savior, who is our Redeemer, the Great Jehovah, the mighty Messiah, has promised: ‘I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.’

‘Therefore,’ said He, ‘fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. …

‘Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.’”

I find that very comforting - perhaps something we should remember as we prepare to do something missionary-oriented.

Brothers and sisters, the Gospel changes lives, now and eternally. Last year, it changed the lives of 265,593 people – people who learned the truth of their existence, gained the joy of repentance and forgiveness, and discovered that they really CAN have the thing that everyone naturally, inherently desires in their heart – the opportunity to be with their families forever. (I told you I’d eventually connect that Elder Holland quote at the start of my talk – the one about not being able to imagine heaven without his wife and children.)

The Lord said, For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.How many of this year’s quarter million converts will YOU have a hand in helping into the Kingdom of God? The Lord has said in this dispensation – to us – that the field is white aleady to harvest.

May I suggest that you “start small” – focus on ONE person, or one family. And then look for ways to make a difference, and pray for help in receiving promptings and acting on them.

I testify that missionary work – sharing this glorious and wonderful gospel with those who are seeking truth – is the manner in which we participate in the Lord’s work and glory. It is THE great cause in which every Latter-day Saint should be anxiously engaged in one way or another. Heaven Father offers the Gospel to all of His children – but it’s up to us to deliver it.

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


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Women: Daughters of God

I'm grateful for a wonderful wife, Jean, who is an awesome mother to our three year old son, Seth. She makes me a better person - always has, always will. I appreciate her companionship, her friendship, her love and support. I am thankful that she respects me, trust me, believes in me, and stands by my side. I love her straightforward nature, her kindness, her great example of charity, and how quick she is to forgive when I (frequently) give her opportunities to do so. She is more patient than she gives herself credit for. She is talented and thoughtful and makes me laugh and smile every day. I love the fact that she loves Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and honors and respects the Priesthood. I am glad we are on the same path together, in terms of our spiritual goals and progression. I am so happy that we are sealed together for time and eternity.

Women hold a special place of honor and respect not only in my heart, but throughout the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We men of the priesthood know that we're not worth much without our women beside us. In fact, it's doctrinal.

Women of the Church belong to the world's largest women's organization, with millions of members worldwide: The Relief Society.

Additionally, women in the Church fulfill many vital roles. From lds.org:
“Every willing member of the Church has many opportunities to render service, share talents, and gain new skills. Every week, women preach, teach, and lead in the Church on local and worldwide levels . . .

In addition, women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belong to and lead the Relief Society, an organization of several million women worldwide. Women also lead the Church’s Young Women organization and the Primary, an organization for teaching children. The leaders of these organizations meet regularly in executive councils to help make decisions that affect the worldwide Church. These organizations also exist on the local level, with women participating in council meetings to discuss and direct the work of the Church in local units.

A woman—the president of the Relief Society in each congregation—has a special role in working with the congregational leader, or bishop, to meet the needs of members who may struggle financially or who may face other special challenges in their lives.

[Women] also perform a vital work in nurturing and teaching in the home.”
Women, therefore have an equal but different role than men - in the Church and in families. In particular, women do not hold the priesthood. Again, I quote from lds.org:
“The priesthood—the authority of God to perform ordinances and act in His name—is conferred only on worthy male members of the Church. Men who hold the priesthood have no advantage over women in qualifying for salvation or eternal life through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
I was going to quote from this talk by President Gordon B. Hinckley,
but having read it through I find it too hard to pull out a single
quote from such a great discourse on honoring the women in our lives.
Instead, I simply invite you to take five minutes and read it.
(Go check it out, then come on back and finish reading this blog post!)



Let it never be said that women hold a secondary place in the Church.

Certainly, men and women are different, with varied strengths and weaknesses in many areas - we are all diverse indeed. But as stated in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve emphasized the equality of men and women in things of the spirit: "Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness-in all these things men and women stand in the position of... equality before the Lord.

I will quote extensively now from a talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that “the world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 475). I believe that. The first time the Lord acknowledged Himself to be the Christ, it was to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He taught her about living water and proclaimed, simply, “I … am he” (John 4:26). And it was Martha to whom He proclaimed: “I am the resurrection, and the life. … And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

Then, during His greatest agony as He hung on the cross, the Savior reached out to one person—His mother—when in that terrible but glorious moment He asked John the Beloved to care for her as though she were his own (see John 19:26–27).

Of this you may be certain: The Lord especially loves righteous women—women who are not only faithful but filled with faith, women who are optimistic and cheerful because they know who they are and where they are going, women who are striving to live and serve as women of God.

There are those who suggest that males are favored of the Lord because they are ordained to hold the priesthood. Anyone who believes this does not understand the great plan of happiness. The premortal and mortal natures of men and women were specified by God Himself, and it is simply not within His character to diminish the roles and responsibilities of any of His children.

As President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained, “The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 59; or “Magnifying Our Callings in the Priesthood,” Improvement Era, June 1970, 66). All of us, men and women alike, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and are entitled to personal revelation. We may all take upon us the Lord’s name, become sons and daughters of Christ, partake of the ordinances of the temple from which we emerge endowed with power, receive the fulness of the gospel, and achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. These spiritual blessings are available to men and women alike, according to their faithfulness and their effort to receive them.”

I would also add to that list at the beginning of the quote, that it was to a woman who the resurrected Christ first appeared.

I bear my personal testimony that women are wonderful - to be treated with love, honor and respect, held in the highest regard and esteem. They are not to be objectified, demeaned, belittled, or spoken down to. They are the equal of men. That does not mean (as is so often taught in the world) that they are the same. It's so obvious that men and women are different, it should go without saying. But Satan likes to try to confuse things. To be clear, men and women are equal but different. We have different strengths and weaknesses. Different roles. (For details, check out the Proclamation on the Family.)

I love my beautiful wife, and I am so grateful for her. I am so glad that she and I and Seth (and any other children we may have) will be together forever.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Father-son

I am so blessed to be the father of a truly wonderful little boy.

Seth - who will be four years old in August - has taught me so much about the relationship of our Father in Heaven with us, His children.

I think of how much I love my boy, and am reminded that Heavenly Father loves us even more. I think of how I want to protect my son and watch over him, but that I also want him to learn and do things for himself. I'm certain that Father in Heaven feels the same way about me. I see how sweet and forgiving my son is, and I am reminded of the true nature of our spirits, and what a great example that is to me. I consider how loving and sensitive Seth is, and it makes me realize how far I've fallen from that perfect innocence of extreme youth - and how I must do my best to be more like that sweet little guy - to have the faith, trust, and love of a child.

I think of how much Father loved His perfect Son. I try to comprehend how difficult it had to be to watch Jesus suffer and die for us - the rest of His children. How excruciating it had to have been to make that sacrifice. How much love both the Father and the Son have for us - it is incalculable and amazing.

I am reminded of the hymn, "I Stand All Amazed."

As my wife and I raise Seth, I frequently gain new understandings and glimpses into how our Father in Heaven thinks and feels - I come closer to Him and better understand who He is.

Being a father is such an awesome blessing, especially when I have such an angel of a son. I am grateful for my relationship with my son, and for the insight into divinity that fatherhood gives me.

I testify that our Father loves us, knows us, cares about us, and is actively engaged in our lives. His feelings for each of His children are as profound as our own feelings for our children. He wants YOU to stay in contact with Him, to follow His instructions, keep His commandments, and to be HAPPY. That is why He has given us the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Come unto Him.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."

All you have to do is open the door.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Articles of Faith

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a number of core beliefs and doctrines that are listed in a document called The Articles of Faith (link).

This list is not an exhaustive list of our beliefs, but it's a great place to start. It answers a lot of the basic questions, though you may find it also raises a few. If you have any, please ask! I'll be glad to create future blog posts on those topics.

Sorry, but I have to keep this one short tonight - I'm tired and want to get a good night's sleep to start the week. (After all, getting adequate rest is a part of treating your body right.)

Have a great week!

Callings, Revisited

I posted just week before last about callings.

A couple of days later, I was released from my calling (working with the 14-15 year old boys). Then three days ago I received a new calling: I am now a ward missionary.

It will be my job to do what I talked about in LAST week's blog post: share the gospel in my own neighborhood.

I guess I must be in tune with the Spirit, or something! :)

That's all for now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sharing the Gospel

The "Threefold Mission of the Church" is:
My patriarchal blessing states that I will have a role in all three, and to prepare myself for it.

The first of those, Preaching the Gospel, or "Missionary Work," is the topic of this week's post.

Have you ever come across something SO great, so wonderful, so fulfilling, that you just HAD to tell others about it - so they could share in that joy and find out for themselves how great it is? It's natural that if you've found something awesome that you would want the people you love to also be able to partake of it.

Lehi, the first prophet of the Book of Mormon and progenitor of the Nephite civilization, experienced a dream - or a vision - that spoke of that very feeling: tasting something spectacular and desiring to share it with his family. In his dream, he saw a tree, "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy":
"And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit."
The whole story is found in 1 Nephi 8. It's a good read - check it out. It's one of the oft-referenced stories in the Book of Mormon.

Not only is sharing the Gospel something that one wants to do, it is also something that we are commanded to do throughout the scriptures. Jesus told Peter to "Feed my sheep" (and in case anyone missed it the first time, he said it three times in a row!). And he wasn't talking about giving grain to the livestock.

There are many ways to be a missionary. You can, of course, submit your papers (at the appropriate age), receive a call from the Prophet, and serve a full-time proselyting mission for the Church. Or you can get called as a missionary at the ward level, serving in your local community. As a home teacher, you can help folks return to church activity and the blessing of the Gospel by being their friend and providing them with Gospel messages when you visit. Or, more informally, you can reach out to people you know, give someone a Book of Mormon and invite them to church, or just be a good friend to people around you. Your example alone can go a long way. Sometimes people may just be interested to know more about your church when they see the clean, honest and upright way you live and how happy you are.

There are many opportunities to share your faith and your testimony with people. You just have to stay attuned to those opportunities, and then TAKE them when they occur.

When I joined the Church, I was 25. It was too late for me to serve a full-time mission for the Church. However, I will be able to serve a "couples" mission with my dear wife when we are older (retirement age), and in the meantime, I have this blog (and any of the aforementioned opportunities).

I testify that missionary work - sharing this glorious and wonderful gospel with those who are seeking truth - is a great cause in which every Latter-day Saint should be anxiously engaged in one way or another. It changes lives.

It is my hope that I can do some good through the missionary work of this blog.


My Family

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

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