Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Principles

Well, I haven't updated this blog in a while...in fact, the last time I did, I also posted a sacrament talk! So...this is my sacrament talk from this past Sunday. Enjoy and share, if you feel so inclined! :)

Good morning, my spiritual siblings. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address you today. I was asked to speak on the topic of “How the principles of the Gospel have blessed me and my family.”

When I told my wife, she suggested I add one word: “How LIVING the principles of the Gospel has blessed me and my family.” I think that was a good suggestion, and being a wise-ish man, I decided to listen to my dear wife.

The nice thing about this topic is it’s super-broad. The challenging thing about this topic is . . . it’s super-broad. So, I’m going to go ahead and take some license to focus on one specific sub-topic regarding gospel principles that I feel inspired to comment on today.

First, let’s look at the obvious question: what is a principle? The Guide to the Scriptures defines a principle as a basic doctrine, truth or law. Living by correct principles helps us be happy, enjoy the companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost, and eventually return to live with Heavenly Father with eternal progression.

The next obvious question is, what are the principles of the Gospel? Well, there are many principles, but Article of Faith Number Four lists the FIRST principles and ordinances as:


First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Second, repentance,

Third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and

Fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.1

The first: FAITH — living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has definitely blessed me and my family. When you have faith in a perfect, loving, all-powerful Being who wants the very best for you, it helps you appreciate the good times and endure the bad. You know that each part of life can yield growth and joy, and that brings peace.

The second: REPENTANCE — without the opportunity to repent day by day — even moment by moment, sometimes — we’d be utterly and irretrievably lost. Everything would be hopeless, futile, and for nothing. But because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can repent and be forgiven — over and over again — by a loving, eternally patient, perfect Father. That also brings growth and joy and peace.

The third: BAPTISM — it’s an essential ordinance. It’s the first ACTION that sets us on the straight and narrow path to salvation and exaltation. To be legitimate, it must be performed appropriately by one having the true priesthood authority. Anything else is just getting wet.

The fourth: the gift of the HOLY GHOST — receiving the Holy Ghost is so critical, because He helps us so much throughout life. Indeed, He helps us endure to the end.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 11 verse 13, the Lord says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.”2

Today I want to focus on the Holy Ghost because I believe there’s a powerful connection between the Holy Ghost and my topic of principles, and how that connection has blessed my life and my family’s life.

As we established, a principle is a basic doctrine, truth or law, and we know that there are many principles that guide our journey of growth throughout mortality. But no doctrine, truth or law is of any use to us unless we can accurately identify it and understand it. Seeing things as they really are is a pre-requisite for gaining knowledge of principles. That requires discernment — and that’s where the Holy Ghost comes in.

The Holy Ghost has several key purposes in His mission, and one is to testify of truth. In other words, to give you the discernment you need to be able to identify truth.

You’re likely familiar with Moroni chapter 10, verse 5: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”3 That makes it quite clear that the Holy Ghost is the key to knowledge and discernment of what’s true. Indeed, it’s by a witness from the Holy Ghost that we receive a testimony of the restoration of the Gospel, or of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the reality of God, or any other doctrine, truth or law — any principle of the Gospel.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 8, verses 2 and 3 we read:


“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”4

That’s only a few words, but there’s a ton to unpack, there. First, note that the Holy Ghost communicates truth to you in your mind and your heart. You can discern what is real with your thoughts and your feelings. THAT is revelation. Personal revelation. But here’s the cool part: the spirit of revelation — that is, truth delivered by the Holy Ghost — is what enabled Moses to perform a really huge miracle! Knowledge is, indeed, power.

In Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that through the Holy Ghost, every member of the Church “has a right to the revelations that are expedient and necessary for his guidance individually…he has a right through his obedience, through his humility, to receive light and truth as it shall be revealed through the Spirit of Truth, and he who will hearken to that Spirit and seek for the gift of the Spirit in humility and faith shall not be deceived.”5

A key point embedded in that quote is the necessity of righteousness in the revelatory equation. We cannot expect to be blessed with the boundless knowledge of eternity if we are unwilling to keep the commandments. Sure, we all fail, and repent, repeatedly…but we must be willing to try, always doing our honest best. Then we qualify to receive the truths we seek.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Keep the commandments of God and you will have the wisdom to know and discern that which is evil.”6 So, there’s clearly a solid link between obedience and discernment.

President Smith also noted in Doctrines of Salvation, “The nearer we approach God, the better we endeavor to keep his commandments and the more we search to know His will as it has been revealed, the less likely it will be for us to be led astray by every wind of doctrine…we will be protected; and we will have the power to understand, to segregate truth from error; we will walk in the light, and we will not be deceived.”7

He goes on to say, regarding the mysteries of the kingdom, that “these truths cannot be understood except by the law of the gospel on which the reception of this knowledge is based. It was for the same reason that the Lord told Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

Now, I had always taken “see the Kingdom of God” to mean, “arrive at that location” — like “seeing” the Grand Canyon. But “see” here actually means to “truly comprehend,” …like when you say, “don’t you SEE what I mean by this?” So, it is only through trying to live the Gospel that we can really see truth.

Bringing this back around to the topic, I believe that striving to live the principles of the gospel as a family has blessed me and my family, by blessing us individually — and in our home generally — with the presence of the Holy Ghost, which in turn has helped us have the personal revelation and discernment necessary to navigate these relentlessly twisted times. There is a war on truth, a battle for souls that much like the War in Heaven is centered around the power of influence. Discernment is key to survival in this war, and maintaining close proximity with the Holy Ghost is the only way to be able to cling to truth and avoid being deceived.

So, study your scriptures with purpose, pray with real intent, and repent as needed to keep the Holy Ghost near. Serve others…and do the things that you know feel good inside because they’re good things. It’s up to each of us.

In his book, Act in Doctrine, Elder David A. Bednar says, “We cannot expect the Church as an organization to teach or tell us all the things we need to know and do to become devoted disciples. The ultimate responsibility for developing spiritual strength and stamina rests upon each and every member of the Church.”

That means we need to make the effort to discover truth. The first step is to prepare ourselves by keeping the commandments and repenting as needed. Then, we seek. You will quickly learn that there’s no shortage of information out there…the trick is to find what’s true. To find truth, you need to look in the right places. Doctrine and Covenants section 109 verse 7 says, “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.”10 And after you’ve searched, pondered, and prayed, the Holy Ghost can confirm the truth to you.

Now, it just wouldn’t be one my talks if I didn’t include a relevant quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell. He taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”11 

I testify that He wants you to have the peace, joy, and personal growth that comes from learning those secrets of the universe. I encourage each of you to take a personal inventory and examine ways you can strive to live the principles that will invite the Holy Ghost to be your constant companion and bringer of truth, so you will have the discernment required in these perilous times. You’ll be blessed with the spiritual preparation that repels fear and invites peace.

Living the principles of the Gospel has blessed me and my family in countless ways over the years. I can’t even begin to list off the many examples…I only know that without the principles of the Gospel, we’d be lost, weak, deceived, desperate, aimless, broken, and afraid. The principles of the Gospel give us hope, joy, peace, and a certainty about our eternal future that would be impossible by any other means.

Because of the witness of truth from the Holy Ghost, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church restored to the earth. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, that we’re led by a true prophet, and that through the ordinances of the temple we can live together as families, forever. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


1 Articles of Faith 1:4

2 D&C 11:13

3 Moroni 10:5

4 D&C 8:2-3

5 Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith

6 A Principle with a Promise, Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1983

7 Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith

8 Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith

9 Act in Doctrine, David A. Bednar

10 D&C 109:7

11 Meek and Lowly, Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Speeches, October 1986


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 job...one 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. So...here'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 we...in the true Church of Jesus Christ to do what we can to deliver any we can from the poverty... (italics are Elder Holland's; bold is mine.)
Hmm...nothing there about making sure we don't give to beggars.

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

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

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

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




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

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

The Prophet Joseph said:

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's Up With Utah Mormons?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Will Power

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

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

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

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

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


My Family

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

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