Sunday, March 29, 2009


The law of the fast is a wonderful law given of the Lord to His people in all dispensations of time.

In particular, it was reinstituted by commandment with the restoration of the Gospel in this dispensation.

There are 118 separate references to fasting in the scriptures (that's not instances of the word, that's separate discussions of the topic). Seems pretty important, I think.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to fast once a month, usually on the first Sunday of the month, and whenever they feel their faith could use an extra boost. A typical fast consists of abstaining from food and beverages for a period of time, usually enough to skip two consecutive meals.

I used to like to do 24-hour fasts - I found it to be a more spiritual experience to make my body subject to my spirit for that long. But these days I've been less disciplined. I'd like to get back to doing 24-hour fasts.

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
"The law of the fast has three great purposes.
First, it provides assistance to the needy through
the contribution of fast offerings, consisting of the
value of meals from which we abstain. Second, a
fast is beneficial to us physically. Third, it is to
increase humility and spirituality on the part
of each individual."

Let me explain those a little.

When we fast, we also give a fast offering - that is, we donate to the Church an amount that approximates what we would've spent on the food we didn't eat. It's the convenient equivalent of actually giving our food to the needy and going without ourselves. The money donated stays at the local level and is distributed to the needy in our area by the Bishop of the ward and the Stake Presidency.

Second, periodic fasting has been shown to be a good way to cleanse and rejuvenate the body.

And lastly, it is a great way to put mind over matter - to subject the body to the spirit and exert your will over the physical. It is like training for resisting temptation. And the brief deprivation can help you feel closer to the Lord. The minor suffering involved helps you learn to be more humble. And it helps you to count your blessings. It teaches self-mastery and it strengthens you - builds character and self discipline. And our Savior set the example by fasting Himself.

But fasting is not just "going without food and water." It must be combined with sincere prayer. It must have a conscious purpose.

Sometimes, a ward or a stake may be called upon to fast for a mutual purpose, such as for the well being of a member who was in an accident, or for rain in times of drought. Doing this helps focus the resolve of the group by making a sacrifice together for the benefit of another as we diligently pray for the same outcome. It's a kind of a group faith effort.

When I fast, I always begin with a prayer in which I establish the purpose and officially begin the fast. I often will have a dual purpose - something with which I need help in my own life, and a prayer for another. I also will mentally set an end point for the fast, so that I have a goal to work toward.

Then I refrain from eating and drinking until the appointed time, and before breaking my fast I will once again pray, thanking Heavenly Father for helping me through it, and revisiting the purposes for which I had fasted, offering up my prayers for those things.

I am grateful for the inspired guidance we receive from our Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know that by keeping the commandments and following the example of Jesus Christ, I can be happier and healthier and be able to do more good in the world, and feel closer to my Father in Heaven.

I testify of that the principle of fasting is an important component of discipleship.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


We interrupt this blog to bring you this cute family photo.

March 2009

I sure love my family SO much, and I am so thankful that I will get to spend eternity with them, because Jean and I were sealed in the temple and Seth was born in the covenant.

The Church exists to support and strengthen the family. This is why I am so happy to be a member.

Draper Temple Dedication

My wife and I had the opportunity this evening to attend the dedication of the Draper, Utah temple. We weren't at the actual temple site, we were in our stake center. They broadcast the dedication session to all the stake centers in Utah. Each of the stake center buildings was considered, for the duration of the session, an extension of the temple itself.

So, yesterday our ward had the assignment of cleaning the stake center, being sure to make it as clean as possible so that it could be a sacred location for the dedication tonight.

The dedication was very nice. It's always great to hear from the general authorities, especially our beloved prophet, Thomas S. Monson. The talks were very inspiring, and the music beautiful.

Of course, tears came to my eyes a couple times, especially singing "The Spirit of God" - probably my favorite hymn.

The Draper temple is a beautiful building. I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to attend the open house: take the tour of the temple and see all the rooms. So nice. A great spirit there, indeed.

I really want to start attending the temple more often, and I really need to continue working on my genealogy so I can do the temple work for more of my own ancestors.

Anyway, this is not one of my more informational posts . . . just a chance to reflect on the sweet feelings of attending the temple dedication this evening.

For more detailed information on the temple, please see my earlier posts here and here.

Draper Utah Temple

Monday, March 16, 2009

Letting It Roll Off Your Back

For about 180 years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has endured persecution in one form or another - from the Governor of Missouri issuing an "extermination order" (legalizing the murder of the Saints from 1838 to 1976) - to people in modern times picketing outside temple open houses to the publication of attack literature that continues today.

It's nothing new.

Recently, with the controversy over California's Proposition 8 (the one that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman), Latter-day Saints became a target because of their support for the measure. Of course, the measure was supported by a broad coalition of Catholics, Evangelicals, and other faiths - as well as sweeping the "black vote" - but those in opposition found it easiest to pick on the minority religion.

Again - nothing new.

The latest poke at the "Mormons" came last night in an episode of some TV show on cable, where the producers decided it would be fun to reproduce some of our sacred temple ordinances - events that faithful members do not flaunt or talk about in detail outside the temple - in order to keep those things sacred (a concept apparently foreign to some).

Once more - this is really nothing new.

There will always be opposition, always be detractors, always be those who are willing to attack us, or trample on the things we hold sacred. But they will never be able to stop the work of the Lord.

What really matters is that we know what we know, and we will not lower our standards to get involved in a mud-slinging match.

In time, these trivial matters will be forgotten, so there's really no point in getting all riled up about it. There will always be some feelings of indignation when things that matter to us are disrespected, but the Christlike thing to do is to turn the other cheek to the smiters.

In this press release, the Church puts it all in perspective and takes the higher ground. What a great example of longsuffering and class.

Meanwhile, rather than watching a TV drama made in Hollywood to learn about the LDS temple, you could check out this brief video.

An interesting side-note on that video: there is a man interviewed (the guy in the Lutheran priest attire) named Krister Stendahl. I looked him up on Wikipedia and found this interesting tidbit:

Stendahl is credited with creating Stendahl's three rules of religious understanding, which he presented in a 1985 press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in response to vocal opposition to the building of a temple there by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His rules are as follows:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

I thought that was a great set of rules! This was a man with an open mind who is to be commended for taking the high road.

I hope more people will follow that advice and come see for themselves.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Articles of Faith - essential principles

What are the Articles of Faith? They are 13 statements about what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe.

The Articles succinctly lay out the main beliefs of the Church, and form a great primer to the basics of our doctrine.

The Articles of Faith can be found in a set of LDS "standard works" - the set of scriptures that includes the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. If you visit a Latter-day Saint home, you may find the Articles of Faith framed and mounted on a wall.

They are as follows:
1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul — We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
-Joseph Smith

Today I had the pleasure of watching and hearing my sweet three and a half year old boy recite the 13th Article of Faith in Primary at Church (with help from his mommy, of course).

I bear my testimony that these principles found in the Articles of Faith are indeed true. These are the foundations of my religion, and my life is focused and centered on these truths. Understanding these truths brings happiness and peace.

I encourage you to study them and pray about them yourself.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Opposition: A Necessary Evil

First off, I'm sorry I missed last week. I've been pretty consistent for the past couple months, putting up a new post each Sunday. But last weekend I was in Oregon at a professional fiction writers' workshop and didn't manage to post, as I was traveling that day. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

The subject of "why bad things happen" came up twice in the past week with two different people I know. It was basically framed as a semi-rhetorical question by the people with whom I was speaking: "How can God exist, all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, yet allow bad things to happen to good people, to allow awful things to happen to children, to allow suffering and misery and war and pain and death and loss to exist in the world? How can it be?" The question was used as an explanation for why those particular individuals cannot bring themselves to believe in God.

The seemingly irreconcilable paradox has left many people, including these people I know, to draw the only conclusion that seems logical to them: that there is no God, or at least not one who cares.

I'm here to set the record straight on this topic - to point out the fallacy that keeps these good people locked into a state of faithlessness. I will provide an explanation that transcends the skepticism of these folks. I don't fault these good people who have lost their faith over this issue - it can be a tough one to get your head around, and it is born out of a good heart that has love and compassion for people and difficulty understanding how it all can work this way.

Hopefully my words can help put it all in perspective and describe how there is no other way that life could function. Hopefully I can explain that without the misery, there could be no joy. That without the freedom to do evil, we could do no good. That the purpose of life, and the whole Plan of Salvation would be frustrated and come to naught - if not for opposition.

Let's start at the beginning . . .

Whether you believe in God or not, it cannot be disputed that human beings have what we call “agency.” Agency is freedom of choice – the ability to decide for yourself how to think, feel, believe, and act. This is a gift from God from before we ever came to earth, and it is immutable – no matter what your circumstance, you always have your agency – He will never take it away from you. Before the earth was created, when Satan rebelled and was cast out, he wanted to take away man’s agency – to force everyone to follow his plan. This is the very definition of evil – to try to take away man’s agency (addictions, for example). Thus, we will always have it, no matter what. Even if bound with chains and thrown into a dungeon, your liberty taken away – you still have the freedom to choose how you will deal with the situation – how you will think and feel and behave. All humans have agency, and God will never take that away – it is an eternal principle.

For an excellent study of the power of agency, see Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book in which he relates his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps during the holocaust, and how he observed different people using their agency in different ways, for better or worse, despite the awful conditions. A very interesting (and short) read.

Using their agency, people have the freedom to choose to do good. They can choose to be kind and charitable or to be cruel and selfish. They can choose to repent of their wrongdoing, or to continue in the ways of sin. Making these choices is how we progress in this life – how we approach our tests and prove ourselves, how we decide where and how we want to spend eternity.

Along with agency, there is the principle of opposition. We could never choose good over evil if there was no evil. We could never know joy and happiness if there was no sadness or misery. We could never learn and grow if we couldn’t make a choice between good and bad. And if we never chose bad, we’d never learn the value of choosing good, and we’d never be able to learn how to humble ourselves, repent, and avail ourselves of the Atonement - receiving grace, mercy and forgiveness. Likewise, if nobody else chose wrong, never hurt us or offended us, we would never have the chance to learn how to be Christlike – to forgive others. How can we learn to be like our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ if we never have an opportunity to act like them?

Thus, without evil and sin and pain and victims and suffering, our life on earth would be pointless. We could never improve ourselves, never come closer to God, and never experience real joy. It would be like walking around with a lobotomy – we’d feel nothing, but we wouldn’t care. Life would simply be a period of time during which your body functioned, then it would end when your body ceased to function, and there would be no exaltation afterwards.

Eternal Perspective
When you combine the eternal principle of agency with the necessity of opposition, you get the world in which we live: filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But rest assured: when the righteous suffer, when the innocent are hurt, God has promised that they will receive recompense beyond our imaginations. God is just and fair and kind and loving. He is perfect, and He loves all of His children. The rewards that await the good are far beyond anything available in this life. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin referred to this as the principle of compensation:

"While it may not come at the time we desire,
the faithful will know that every tear today will
eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears
of rejoicing and gratitude."

Every experience we have, and the way in which we choose to deal with it, has a consequence in this life and in the next. One must maintain an eternal perspective to remain patient and peaceful in the face of adversity, and when considering the fates of others.

Is it hard for we mere mortals to keep an eternal perspective in mind? Is it a struggle to put everything in the context of a reality that is beyond our own comprehension? Sure it is. That’s one of the challenges of mortality. It takes a tremendous amount of faith.

But it can certainly be done. I know of parents who have lost their children, but maintained their faith. I have myself been through very painful times, but maintained my faith – and came out all the better and all the stronger for it. It’s why we’re here.

President James E. Faust gave a wonderful talk on this subject in 2004. It's hard to pull a single quote from it, as the whole thing is so good. Read it here.

I feel somehow that I have failed to do justice to this topic tonight. I will probably need to amend this with a quote that I want to find - but it is really late and I must go to sleep. Hopefully this will at least provide some food for thought.

My Family

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

Nikon FX-Format