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Friday, July 21, 2017

Even All This Can Ye Do If Ye Will

So I kind of took a little bit of a hiatus from writing here because a) I realized that I was only writing my answers to the futurist for the sake of having something to write (not ideal) and b) I have been VERY busy with a few things that have taken up too much of my time to sit down and focus on posting something worth writing (not just for the sake of posting).

But I have found something in the Book of Mormon that got me thinking about the limits we impose on ourselves and what can truly have and do if we are simply willing to have/do it.

The verse is Alma 33:23.  It says this. "And now, my bretheren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith.  And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.  And then, may God grant unto you that your burdens may be made light, through the joy of his Son.  And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen."

Almost the same thing is said in Alma 41:8. "Now the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved."

One more quote to lead into how I want to approach this idea.  It's by Cecil B. Demille. "We are too inclined to think of law as something merely restrictive... something hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception... God does not contradict himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free. We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."

This may come off as a little blunt to some, but the thought of "Oh that's just the way I am" is a cop-out.  Even from a non religious point of view, the concept of entropy in the second law of thermodynamics shows us that anything that is not in a constant state of change will eventually decrease in energy, become stagnant, useless and die.  In order for something to become something else, often something better, or at least constantly giving off energy or influencing something else in some way, change must be a constant.   This applies to people as well.

The beauty of that principle's application to us is that God has given us the ability to choose to change, to initiate the process on our own.  The irony of that gift, however, is that we may also use it to diminish the quality of the gift itself.  Yes, we actually have the ability to choose to render ourselves unable to choose as weird as that sounds.  Satan knows that and he exploits that truth at every chance he gets.  Just look at the porn addict, the alcoholic, the gamer who never sees daylight, the chain smoker, the drug dealer.  They have, as Cecil B. Demille said, 'broken [them]selves' against the commandments of God, against their own agency.

The great part about Alma 33:23 and Alma 41:8 is that they clearly show us that we have every ability to choose whatever we want.  And because of Jesus Christ, we can even choose to break out of addictions and things that limit our ability to choose.  We can do "all this... if [we] will".

I like how Elder Holland said it: “You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. It is another Satanic falsehood to believe that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change”―and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend―indeed, you had better spend―the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah.”

That's true!  Often it takes the course of action recommended by President Russell M. Nelson "reach[ing] up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air", but that actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. What happens when you hit a racquetball off a wall with very little force?  It drops to the floor, possibly bounces a few inches off the ground a few times and then just rolls away.  What happens when you hit it as hard as you possibly can?  It's going to respond by flying off the wall with a force proportional to how hard you hit it.  It's the same with this concept.  If you reach out for divine help as if you are drowning the heavens can respond with proportional timing and power.

It's also the same with the raw power of our own independent choices.  You can do almost anything you want to.  The only exception is in Alma 41:10, "...wickedness never was happiness." You cannot be truly happy in sin.

Do you want to have the constant urge to view pornography or do drugs or satisfy that constant superficial craving for whatever else just can't seem to get enough of?  You can do that.  Do you want to make your life the same every day and never change anything you do?  You can do that, too.  Do you want to constantly improve yourself and become the very best version of yourself?  You can do that as well.  The variable in the matter is your willingness.

I've seen a good number of piano students come to my home and insist that they want to become talented pianists, that they really want to push and work hard and master the instrument.  Only one has ever had the drive to prove it and they unfortunately had to move away.  I don't know if they found another teacher willing to push them like my wife and I are.  Every other student here has come up against some kind of barrier to which they responded something to the effect of, "Oh wait a minute! I didn't realize it would be that hard! Maybe I can't do this."  Usually I try to re-emphasize [paraphrasing], "I told you this would be hard, that piano is the most difficult instrument to master. I told you I would ask you to do things that I guarantee you didn't think you could do, that would push you to your limits and past them. But I also told you that you will be able to anyways if only you are willing to keep trying."  None of them believed me except that one student and she proved me right.

If you really want to do it, if you can truly say, like Elder Holland suggested, "I'll change", and mean it, then you can do it.  You just can.

I am reminded of Green Lantern.  I'm more of a Marvel fan than DC, but I still loved that movie.  For those who are not familiar with it, the Green Lantern Corps in DC comics is an army of intergalactic protectors who wield the green light of will power.  Their rings enable them to turn their very will into reality, using hard light constructs to create literally anything. The only limit to their power is the strength of their will and their imagination.  The same applies to us, conceptually.  The only limit to your changing for the better is your own will power.  Not even God or satan can stop you or force you to act against your own will.  Satan isn't allowed to and God won't.  In fact, if anything, God seeks to enhance your ability to choose, He just respects your desires enough to wait until you show Him you want Him to do so and following His commandments, as He has said, is the key to unlocking that.

Coming from me - especially having Aspergers, making me particularly prone to repetitive and addictive patterns - this is saying a lot.  It may even make me look like a walking contradiction to those who know me, but if there's anything I have faith in when it comes to change, it's that Jesus Christ is the key to it.  I have experienced that kind of change, perhaps on a smaller scale than I would like, but those changing experiences have had a powerful enough effect to motivate me to just keep trying. His atoning sacrifice was made so that we can keep our agency and escape the negative consequences of it if we will, because of Him.

One last point, from a slightly different angle to hopefully really make this hit home.  I have noticed an attitude that permeates our modern world that has merit in certain situations and from a certain perspective, but all in all, of itself is not healthy.  It is the attitude that it's okay that we're not perfect.  Now to anyone with a sound understanding of doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hold on a minute before you think "umm.. no way.. you've got it all wrong."  I am well aware that the purpose of life is to progress from one evil temptation to the next but getting better at rejecting them in favor of the Godly in life.  I am aware that our imperfection was an inevitable, unavoidable part of God's plan, so in one sense, because of Christ's atonement, it's okay for now that we are not perfect.  But what is the point of seeking everything Godly?  It's to make us perfect, eventually, right?  Yes, yes, I know, the key word there is eventually.

But think about this.  Would the Book of Mormon and God's prophets today tell us to not procrastinate the day of our repentance if there were not a point where "eventually" wasn't good enough anymore?  Because I promise you that day will come and I do not plan on being one of those who based their repentance on "eventually".  I have heard many people look at spiritual giants among us with awe, think "wow, how did they become so good?" and then have their minds blown when they find out that many of them had some pretty hefty bad things they overcame or even still needed to overcome in their life.  The response I usually have heard from those people is "really?  You?  You struggle/struggled with that??  Well if you struggled with it and you are as amazing as you are, then I definitely have a chance to be amazingly spiritual and good, too."  And that's a fantastic motivator.  I see nothing wrong with that kind of thinking if used to get from one level of faithful obedience to the next.  But there's a line that's too dangerous to get close to when going down that road.  What if I were to rephrase it like this: "It's so comforting that [so and so] has those weaknesses. Now I don't feel so bad."  Umm... wait a minute.  That directly contradicts what Elder Maxwell said: "The moment of gravest danger is when there is so little light that darkness seems normal!"

As good as it is to find motivation in seeing how even the greatest spiritual giants overcame some of the most heart wrenching difficulties, finding comfort in our own weaknesses because "oh well they struggled with it too so I don't have to worry so much" is, indeed "the moment of gravest danger."  Yes, they struggled with it, but what resulted from that struggle?  They overcame it!  They did not procrastinate.  They could do it because they will.  Honestly, it seems kind of stupid to say "it makes me feel better knowing that they have problems."  It's ridiculous and almost comical, really.  Don't find long lasting comfort in weakness, your own or someone else's.  Use it as a temporary motivator.  Become better not because someone else was imperfect first or as well, but because you willed yourself to do it, to use the power of Jesus' Atonement and choose better, just because it's your will.

"All this can ye do if ye will" and re-emphasized by Elder Holland "...
change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah."

So the question remains for us all, will we?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Overcoming Pornography - 5 Virtues That Will Help You Beat It

I left a review on the Porn Harms page on facebook in March 2017 that said "Don't listen to all the naysayers who dismiss the dangers of pornography. They're the ones who are too afraid to admit they are addicted to it and that it's ruining their lives. This agency is helping to save people's lives and repair torn families. I have seen first hand the damage pornography does to marriages and families. It rewires the brain to completely ignore feelings of love, empathy, respect and trust.
Thanks NCOSE for all the hard work you do."

Of course I expected people to comment with things like "Oh, it's not as bad as you're making it out to be" or "Stop trying to tell people how to live."

On the contrary, to my surprise, I had people saying things like "k tell me first move", "I like it too... I need to stop" and "I watch it almost everyday... [Please] I want to stop this what can i do"

I have struggled myself with this plague off and on for over 15 years and I know exactly what works and what doesn't when it comes to overcoming that kind of addiction.  Below I have explained 6 different virtues that will help you overcome it.

1. Accountability.  As Neal A. Maxwell said, "Ever wonder why the sensual scene so often features flashing but fading lights? Or why all the reinforcing glitz? Or why all the loudness masquerading as music? Because, fearful of the dawn, evil cannot stand the steady scrutiny of bright truth, nor can it endure the quiet reflections of soul-searching!"  If you want bad behavior or sinful habits out of your life, expose it.  I guarantee you there are few things that will make you overcome the impulse to indulge in pornography more than making it known.  No matter how hyper-sexualized society has become, people in general usually look down on those who they label "perverts".

This doesn't mean you have to spew out on facebook something like "I am addicted to pornography and I watch it every day!"  Embarrasing, much?  However, do find someone (or more than one if you can) who you love and trust and ask them to be a "confession board" for you.  It needs to be someone who can appreciate and support you in your recovery and will treat your addiction seriously enough to help talk you out of consuming pornography when the urge strikes.  Whoever you choose, they must be firm enough in their resolve to help you that they will never say or do anything that even accidentally makes you think you can indulge or that it's "not as bad as you think."  You should feel guilty about it!  But guilt is not shame.  Shame is based on "I am bad."  Guilt is based on "I did something bad."  The worth of your soul is based on your eternal identity as a child of God, not on what you have done.  Make sure your "confession board" person is aware of that and is firm enough to be clear that consuming pornography in any form and to any degree is wrong, but loving enough to make it clear that you can make better choices, you can beat it and you can train your brain to think differently.  When you've found that person (or people), be relentless and even painfully open and honest about the details of your addiction, it's frequency, when your weak times of the day are, what your triggers are, etc. Only use your computer in public places if don't live alone so others can see what you are doing if you are afraid to start with verbal accountability.  Get to that point by making it harder for yourself to "get away with it."  But do find someone who you can talk to.  I promise you will not be able to beat the addiction without help from someone else.

2. Honesty.  Speaking of being open and honest.  You need to be willing to not mince words, sugar coat or in any way attempt to "sneak" around direct, detailed acknowledgement of the nature of your addiction.  I understand how scary that can be.  It's hard to say things like "The first thing I impulsively think of and the first place my eyes go when I see a woman is her breasts/vagina" or "I often fantasize about what it would be like to touch her/him in [private place] or have them [sexual act] to me" or "I saw a person in tight jeans today and all of the sudden I had a powerful urge to [insert response here]."  When you say things like that to your "confession board" person it's going to make you feel awkward and probably dirty or sleezy.  That's okay!  It should make you feel like that!  Godly sorrow - meaning guilt, not shame - is an effective catalyst for change.  You also need to clearly and precisely talk about what you use as rationalizations.  Perhaps you think "So many people do it, what's the difference with just one more person does it?" or "It's a bikini. It's not like their naked" or "It's just a pose, they have all their clothes on.  They're just comfortable in their own body" or "It's just art.  It's meant to focus on the beauty of the body" or "Wow they're hot!  I'll just search for their name and focus on the pictures with clothes on. I just want to see how truly beautiful they are or how their reached their goal weight."

Stop it.  Stop it now.  You're lying to yourself.  These rationalizations and all others are lies.  If you are truly honest with yourself, you know that the mind of an addict will look desperately, even subconsciously, for reasons that look innocent enough to justify "just one search" or "just one click".  The health, weight loss, fitness, clothing, sports, entertainment, food, and even mental health industries use, more often then not, devious means to sneak little "hints" of sexual ideas into everything they sell.  I saw an advertisement the other day on facebook from Screenrant that said something like "Photos the cast of Harry Potter never wanted to get out" with a picture of Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) facing her boyfriend, both of them in swimsuits having an intimate moment.  Wow are those people ever sly.  Using social drama to put crap like that out there.  And that's not the only means they'll use.

Pay attention to your thought patterns and be ridiculously honest about them.

3. Vigilance.  The process of over coming sexual addictions take time and keeping your guard up for the many triggers that I'm sure you know so easily get to you.  As you work harder at it, you may find yourself staying further away from whatever it is your addiction involves and feeling like "you got this.  You're good now.  You've beat it."  Whether you're talking about pornography or masturbation or something worse, you cannot let your guard down like that.  Just because you've stopped your addiction for a time doesn't mean those connections you formed in your brain by indulging for all that time will go away that fast.  You can't just detox from pornography.  It's not something you can just "clean out of your body."  You can't just unsee what you have seen.  Your subconscious remembers everything.  All your subconscious needs is the smallest of triggers when your guard is down and, slam! You're on your way back into the addiction. Our minds as humans are easily programmed but very hard to reprogram.  We are naturally creatures of habit.

My addiction started when I was... 7? 8? 9?  Somewhere in there.  Some cousins of mine were over for a family reunion and they had parked their trailer out in the front of our house.  I was curious one day about the trailer and went to explore it with permission because I had never traveled with one before.  Glamour Magazine was in the trailer and while there were no naked women in there or any suggestive poses, etc. The swimsuits, some of them, didn't leave much to the imagination.  My initial response was "This is bad! These women need more clothes on!" and said something to that effect to my cousin.  All he said back was "Oh it's just swimsuits.  It's not that bad."  That was all it took.  I was scared to talk about it with my parents and it kept festering in my mind for years until I found myself fully immersed in an addiction to pornography and masturbation.  You. can. not. be. too. careful. This doesn't mean you can never go to a mall again or walk by a magazine rack in a store.  It just means you need to be on guard everywhere you go and, as mentioned above, stay completely accountable about every detail.  You will probably notice quickly how often you find yourself thinking "Dang! These triggers are coming up way more often than I thought.  This is the 5th time today where I've be triggered/indulged and it's not even 5 o'clock!".  Vigilance will help that decrease and the person you use as a "confession board" will notice the decrease as well as you improve.

4.  Patience.  Speaking of improving, remember what I said about connections in the brain?  It's true.  I've been a pianist for more than 20 years.  I know what it takes to form and strengthen new connections in the brain and replace bad ones with good ones.  It takes years of repetition of a good habit to permanently break strong negative impulses.  It will be difficult at first.  I can almost guarantee you will have relapses.  You will slip.  You will come to points where you are just so sure that you've got it kicked and then fall back into it one random day when you least expect it.  Things like that are typical in addiction recovery.  If that doesn't happen to you that way, great!  Fantastic!  Well done!  But please, do not make the mistake of abstaining for months or even years at a time and use that fact to think "I did it!  I beat it!  I'm done!"  Maybe you are one of those kinds of people who I have heard actually did kick it cold turkey and never went back.  If so, I commend you profusely for this extraordinary achievement.  But please don't count on it.  This kind of thing is HARD.  REALLY HARD to break out of.

I know better than anyone else I know personally that you can go 5 years or more without it and still have just one time where the situation is just right for the devil to work, to tease you with something so subtle that he convinces you that you are "still in control", that "you already beat this, you're fine."  The next thing you know you can't believe you've fallen right back into your old habits.  You need to couple vigilance with patience.  I promise you will have days where you yell and scream at yourself, maybe even throw or break something and say "THAT'S IT!!  I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN! EVER!!! I'm so sick of feeling dirty and sleazy!" and then break down and cry and cry and cry.  And then you'll find yourself sometime afterwards doing it again.  And get how horrible that feels.  It hurts like nothing else you've ever felt before.  Words do not do it justice.  You don't feel worthy to live.  Perhaps you may get suicidal.  I really have been there.  I've been to that horrible, dark, seemingly endless and inescapable abyss.  I know how hard it is to beat something like this.  But patience and faith in yourself and vigilance and accountability and honesty will get you a long ways.  But as my next point illustrates it won't get you all the way there.  You'll need just one more thing.

5. Faith.  Specifically, faith in Jesus Christ.  You need Him.  He already overcame all the temptations, guilt, hurt, shame, weakness and sin you have or ever will commit.  He has done so flawlessly.  He knows what you need to beat it.  He knows that you're efforts and even the help of those around you, who He puts in your path, will only get you so far.  The boost you need to permanently conquer sexual addiction, heal from it and heal those you hurt in your addiction as well can only come by the enabling power of His grace, made available to you because of His atoning sacrifice, His payment for your soul.  Even if you are not religious or an atheist or agnostic or whatever you are, I promise you from my own personal experience, the only thing that will bring you to conquer your problem forever is turning to Jesus Christ, having faith in Him sufficient to follow Him and center your life on Him.

He knows your needs better than anyone else.  Whatever it was that sparked your addiction, a bad breakup with a boyfriend/girlfriend, the pain of divorce, pressure from friends of family, bullying, abuse of any kind at home, stress with work or home responsibilities or whatever else, He understands that perfectly.  He knows how to break that cycle to heal the hurt and harmful effects of it all, both in your heart and cognitively.  No one can transform you like He can.  I know I said earlier that sexual addiction is really hard to beat, but if you are looking for the easiest way out of it, Jesus Christ, The Son of God, is the easiest and the only way out no matter what anyone else tells you.  Just because it's the easiest way out doesn't mean it's just easy, period.  Christ asks us to repent and the pain that sometimes accompanies that is far better than suffering in the chains of addiction.  Repentance comes from the Greek "metanoia", which, literally translated, means "to think differently after" signifying a change of mind and heart, a permanently new and ever improving view of ourselves, God and the world.  It's still hard, but centering your life on Him is better than waiting until the pain of the problem gets worse than the pain of the solution.


Before I wrap this up, I'd also recommend utilizing the LDS Addiction Recovery Program.

I've said it probably a hundred times before and I'll say it again.  If there's one thing you can do for yourself that will help in these 5 ways and even help you to come up with more ways to help you beat this or any other kind of addiction, it is this: Stop asking "How good do I have to be?" and start asking "How good can I be?"  In the moments where I was backed up to my wall of faith - staring my weaknesses and sins in the face as they mercilessly, attractively and viciously taunt me - and I actually came out victorious, that is the attitude that made all the difference for me, especially when I do it with faith in Christ.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Easter - The Bunny or the Beloved Son?

What's the most celebrated holiday?  Christmas, right?  Well, not in all parts of the world or in all cultures, of course, but generally speaking.  Everyone sees or catches in some way the Spirit of Christmas that time of year, or, more accurately the Spirit of Christ.  It's a wonderful time of year that often brings out the best in people.

But there's another holiday that gets much less attention than it should.  I believe it should get as much, if not more attention, than Christmas.  That holiday is Easter.

Why is there not more hype about it?  This is something that has bothered me more every year.  It's the day the full force of His Atonement became complete, the day we were all granted eventual immortality, and it's His real birthday (And don't go there, yes it is.  You seriously don't believe that shepherds would be out feeding their sheep on green grass in the middle of winter do you?).  I have asked my wife every year if I can please keep some of the Christmas decorations up until April for that reason and the last few years she has been gracious enough to let me keep the mini tree up on our piano as well as (this year) our nativities.  This year we are also putting up (permanently) next to our front door a framed copy of The Living Christ alongside The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

For satan to have things his way, what a better way to distract from the supernal wonder of the Resurrected Lord than to give plenty of distractions to draw people's attention away from Him?  I'm not saying the Easter bunny is a bad thing.  I just think that if we take an honest look at where our focus is and where we are putting our families and children's focus the result will be a realization that we are not centering our families and homes on Him enough.

How would you feel if you had given all your heart and soul to provide someone the most sacred and everlasting gift that could be offered and they brushed it aside or split their attention between it and something totally irrelevant?  The answer to this question I believe can be illustrated by something President Nelson wrote in his book Accomplishing the Impossible, "Many years ago, two colleagues of mine-a nurse and her doctor husband-asked me why I lived the way I did.  I answered, 'Because I know the Book of Mormon is true.'  I let them borrow a copy of the book, inviting them to read it.  A week later they returned my book with a polite 'thanks a lot.' I responded, 'What do you mean, thanks  a lot? That's a totally inappropriate response for one who has read this book.  You didn't read it, did you?  Please take it back and read it; then I would like my book back.'"  The result from his experience with was two people returning the book with tear filled eyes, saying "We know it's true! We'd like to know more."

This is how I feel when Jesus Christ and/or His atoning sacrifice for us, including His victory over death, is brushed aside or given a few brief moments of thought followed by an "okay, moving on now." It's so saddening.  As Tad R. Callister said, "One does not speak lightly of the Atonement or casually express appreciation.  It is the most sacred and sublime event in eternity.  It deserves our most intense thoughts, our most profound feelings, and our noblest deeds.  One speaks of it in reverential tones; one contemplates it in awe; one learns of it in solemnity.  This event stands alone, now and throughout eternity."

How can we possibly claim to be true Christians if we're taking the greatest and most miraculous of all the achievements in human history - the conquering of death, sin, weakness, etc. - while in any degree allowing ourselves to get distracted from the One who beat them for us?  The answer is simple.  You can't.

A true disciple of Christ will view Him and His example, sufferings, death and resurrection as a reason to center Easter - and, really, your whole life, heart and soul - on Him.

As the hymn says:
"He is risen! He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days' prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory."

It reminds of the beginning of the first Harry Potter book when Vernon was met by wizards out in broad daylight and was even told by one of them "Don't be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today!  Rejoice for You-Know-Who has gone at last!  Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!"

When I see Easter "decorations" all over the stores and public areas based on a bunny and eggs (which doesn't even make sense, since bunnies don't lay eggs), I feel disappointed at how successful the devil is at keeping people's attention away from Christ during a time of year where our attention should be on Him more than ever.  I think it would be awesome if it was a hunt for an empty tomb and folded sheets instead of for eggs.  We have plenty of Christmas pageants and nativities done for kids during Christmas time, so why not more portrayal the scene at the cross and 3 days later of Mary Magdalene at the Garden Tomb being greeted by the risen Lord?

I know He lives today.  I know His life, His example, His church, His gospel, and most importantly His atoning sacrifice for us are just as efficacious today as they always been.  I have seen and heard things throughout my life that don't leave any room for doubt about Him.  I know for certain He has personally stood with me, helped me, wept for me and sent angels from both sides of the veil to lift, strengthen, correct and console me in my weakness and my burdens.  He is real.  He is our perfect, glorified, immortal Redeemer and Son of God.  I know this from my own personal experience and you can too if you but follow Him by striving to live how He did and following the counsel of His prophets today.

My testimony of Him echoes that of modern prophets, certifying "the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice."  I stand with them in their declaration that "none other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth."

The Prince of Peace lives!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 10 - Finale

For the finale of my 10 part Songs of the Righteous series I want try and take something that seems overused and make it exciting again.  I know that often times we as mortals tend to get bored when something is heavily repeated, but careful observation of the scriptures will show that when the Lord wants us to pay particular attention to something He repeats it several times.  Well, I don't know of any gospel truth repeated more often than the reality of our eternal identity as children of God.  This time I'm not taking the song from the hymn book but from the Primary Children's Song book because there is a fourth verse that I feel needs to be included that isn't in the regular hymn book.  Besides, I think many of the songs in the Primary Children's Song book teach gospel principles much more simply and beautifully than many of the hymns.

"I am a child of God, and he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

"Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way
Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.

I am a child of God, and so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words before it grows too late.

I am a child of God. Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will, I'll live with him once more.

I am a child of God. His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine if I can but endure."

To be totally candid, I don't see a need to expound much on this hymn so my comments here will be brief.  One of the beauty's of simple doctrines is that they don't need much explanation.  All of humanity is one big family with a Heavenly Father and Mother and the fact that they are the most loving and powerful beings in the all the universe says more about our potential and our purpose than can be adequately expressed in mortal language.  It's no wonder this song can say things like "His promises are sure" and "rich blessings are in store".

I love Him and am forever thankful to Him for His Perfect Son, Jesus Christ and the chance I have because of Him to "live with Him someday".  I know this is true and I testify of it in the Holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 9

Second to last Song of the Righteous is hymn 293, Each Life That Touches Ours for Good 

"Each life that touches ours for good reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above thru words and deeds of those who love.

What greater gift dost thou bestow, what greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

When such a friend from us departs, we hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory, bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim devotion to the Savior's name,
Who bless our days with peace and love, we praise thy goodness, Lord, above."

I know this hymn is usually meant for funerals (not always the happiest of occasions), but the message has a wonderful reminder for all of us.

Today (3-26-2017) in Sunday School the subject matter was missionary work and there were several examples given of people who's efforts to share the gospel might have seemed relatively fruitless at the time.  One was of Samuel Smith, the prophet Joseph Smith's brother.  On his mission he found Phineas Young who accepted the gospel and Phineas' brother, Brigham, read the same Book of Mormon that Samuel gave to Phineas.  As is well known, Brigham became the President of the Lord's church and lead the saints to establish Zion in the Western U.S.  I might be wrong, but if I recall correctly, Samuel felt that his efforts didn't amount to much at first because Phineas was the only person received the truth from his efforts.  You can read more detail about that story here.

Another example of this is Abinadi in the Book of Mormon.  He taught the gospel to a people who didn't care about it and had nothing but contempt for the word of the Lord as he (Abinadi) was tied up and interrogated by a wicked king and threatened with death.  One, just one, of the the kings corrupt priests, Alma, felt the truth of Abinadi's words and escaped the kings soldiers when they pursued him for speaking out in favor Abinadi.  He wrote down what he heard, repented, became the prophet of the Lord's church and was the means of fulfilling the Lord's promise to Nephi that the sacred records of his people would be preserved and come forth in our day as the Book of Mormon.  So really, partially because of Abinadi's efforts, we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ today.

These are just two examples of countless more of how one life can touch even millions of others for good.

I'm sure this story has been told in many Christian congregations throughout the world, but it's worth repeating here.  During World War II, a statue of Jesus Christ in a German town had been destroyed by bombing.  After the war was over, the people of the town where the statue resided found the pieces among the rubble and were saddened with the destruction of this great symbol of their faith.  Some skilled men were able to restore most of the statue, but the hands were so badly damaged that they could not be repair.  So the towns people decided they would simply leave the hands off the statue and ad an inscription as the bottom that read "You are my hands."
This story is quite the effective reminder of how much good we can do for others by simply living a Christ-like life.  Sometimes when I'm picking up groceries or running errands at our street corner and I see a miserable looking cashier I use a line I heard in college to help snap them out of it and hopefully brighten their day.  Pointing downward, I say "excuse me Ma'am/Sir, you dropped your smile!"  They usually take a split second to catch on to what I did but the smile they always respond with gives me opportunity to say something like "There ya go!  There's always something to be happy about!"

I have been the thankful recipient of an encouraging favor or remark on countless occasions as well and while you sometimes may not think it is worth much, I can tell you that with the kinds of things that go on in the lives of my wife and I, small things like that often make all the difference between the rest of my day going rotten or getting better.

I also love the mention of "hallowed memor[ies]" in verse 3 of this hymn.  It goes along very well with 2 Nephi 9:14 where it mentions the righteous having "a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" at the resurrection.  As I mentioned in another blog post, "I love having even the smallest reminders of His love for us.  I'm not as good as I want to be at keeping those memories fresh, but when they are there, even only if for a small moment, I'm home."

The last verse has a message that is very personal and particularly meaningful to me because of how often I feel like a loner spiritually. "For worthy friends whose lives proclaim devotion to the Savior's name, Who bless our days with peace and love, we praise thy goodness, Lord, above."  When I find someone who's experiences are as deeply spiritual and wonderful or, conversely, devastating, it serves as a relief and a breath of fresh air for me because I don't feel a need to 'sugar coat' or socially 'tip-toe' with anything I say because those friends lives "proclaim [the same] devotion to the Savior's name" as I feel in my heart and I know they'll understand what I mean no matter what I say.

I will forever be thankful for those many people who served as both a "balm of Gilead" for me in rough times and a pleasant reminder or enhancement of truth, goodness and love during days of peace.  And, of course, when it comes to the most important life that touches all for good, God be thanked for the matchless gift of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 8

Song of the Righteous #8 goes along very well with President Packer's statement about hymns in part 1, "If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  It is hymn 272, Oh Say, What is Truth?

"Oh say, what is truth? ’Tis the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when the proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth? ’Tis the brightest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies, or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
’Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp when with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last, and its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.

Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, for the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore."

This hymn is correct when it says that truth is "the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce."  You see, truth does not change to align with cultural, social, political, or economic fluctuations.   It does not bend to accommodate fads or whims of special interest groups.  It cannot be diluted by public opinion and is not in the eye of the beholder.  To be honest, I don't understand why anyone would even see any value in truth if it was.  We mortals always crave something and someone that is forever reliable, completely honest, always perfectly and infinitely fair and loving, flawlessly just and merciful and in all ways imaginable immune to any shadow of wavering or temptation to be anything else.  So it's just irrational that anyone would want truth to become subject to our ever changing, unsteady, unreliable, often self interested desires.

So where do we find the truth?  What did the Lord Jesus Christ say? "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  So one of His names is Truth.  So, as Jack R. Christianson pointed out, when Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:38, "What is truth?" What's he really asking?  Who. Are. You?  You want to know truth?  Come to know the Master.  He is the truth, the very embodiment of it.

Well does this hymn recommend that we "go search in the depth where it glittering lies, or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies."  If there is truth, we need to find it.  For only it will guide us to what we truly want, peace in this life and eternal life and love in the world to come.  There was a video I watched on youtube just yesterday where a returned LDS missionary said "When Nephi talks about how he pondered the things of the gospel ... I think ... if I just read the scriptures [as opposed to studying them], there's not really a lot to ponder about... I believe it was President Eyring who said 'If we become casual in our study of the scriptures we will become casual in our prayers.  We may not cease to pray but our prayers will become more repetitive, lacking real intent, our hearts cannot be drawn to a God we do not know, and the scriptures and words of living prophets help us to know Him.'"

It is so important to know the truth, to know Him, that He took on the infinite weight of all things evil and overcame it so that we could.  "The most knowledgeable farmer with a horse and a plow is no match for an equally proficient farmer with a high tech tractor at his command.  The mathematician with a slide rule is no challenge to his colleague with a high speed computer.  A Galileo with a handheld telescope will never discover the universe like a Galileo with the most advanced telescope at his disposal.  The Lord must expect much more of us in gospel scholarship than he did of previous generations, because we have so much more at our disposal.” (The Infinite Atonement, pg. 21)  

We have so much more access to truth than anyone else ever did in the history of the world that to not seek it like "horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed [Elder Holland, New Era, October 1980]" to obtain it is not only is not only a dismal and selfish waste, but a direct antithesis to our purpose on earth, to prepare to meet and become like our Father in Heaven, which means therefore to become, ourselves, embodiments of truth.  We can't do that if we don't continually make the truth a part of who we are, our very nature.

I think that, quite possibly, many in the world today view the concept of absolute truth as unfeeling, discordant, cold, sterile, or lifeless.  If they'd look closer at the Embodiment of Truth (the Savior), what did He say about His purpose?  "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."  Absolute truth, if adhered to, results in that "abundant life".  As Parley P. Pratt said of the conduit by which all truth flows to us, "The gift of the Holy Ghost... quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use.  It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature.  It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity.  It develops beauty of person, form and features.  It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feelings.  It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man.  It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves.  In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being."

I'd hardly call that sterile, cold or unfeeling.

To be honest, the fact that truth is so universal and unchanging should be an ultimate comfort to us.  As the last verse reminds us, "Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, for the limits of time it steps o’er. Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, Eternal, unchanged, evermore."  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 7

Now in the last few "Song[s] of the Righteous", hymn 7 on the list is #240, Know This, That Every Soul is Free.

"Know this, that ev'ry soul is free to choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is giv'n: that God will force no man to heav'n.

He'll call, persuade, direct aright, and bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind, but never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men; take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well the beasts may think of heav'n or hell.

May we no more our pow'rs abuse, but ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve His grace and seek his perfect love."

Though this one is relatively short, it is packed with wonderful messages about the second of two forces that make God's plan possible.  The first is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the next is our Agency, our ability to choose.

This concept goes all the way back to the reason I began blogging in the first place.  I gave a talk on agency in church, I think... 4? 5 years ago? Preparing my comments changed my perspective completely on the importance of agency in relation to the Atonement of Christ and helped me want to be like Christ enough that preparing that talk wasn't enough.  I had to do more.  Since I can't give a talk in sacrament meeting whenever I want, I thought I would just write about my thoughts elsewhere and just share them with the world.  Doing so has been such a huge help to me and I hope to my readers.

The most profound thing to me about agency is that it is the gift that will either damn us or, because of Christ, save us.  Not even God in all His mighty power can intervene with that.  As the hymns says "God will force no man to heav[e]n."  Instead He "call[s out to us], persuade[s us], and direct[s us] aright, ... bless[es us] with wisdom, love and light."  In other words, He follows the very word He gave us in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-43, to lead by "persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge,"

Choice is part of what makes us children of God.  He entrusted us with the same ability that makes Him God, the power to choose.  Of course, the reason it makes Him God is because He uses that ability perfectly, but, it's value is still incalculable.  "Freedom and reason make us men; take these away, what are we then? Mere animals..."  We humans are the race of God and in order for us to become like Him (note that "become" is a verb) we must choose so and coupled with the Savior's power, granted us because of His atonement, we can!

But only if we learn to use it perfectly, like He does. "May we no more our pow[e]rs abuse, but ways of truth a goodness choose."  Citing Cecil B. De Mille, "[God] did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules.  He made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free.  We cannot break the Ten Commandments.  We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."

Do you know why God called Christ His "Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"?  Well, of course there are many reasons why, but one of them for sure is that He was totally obedient to His Father.  There is a part of the missionary manual Preach My Gospel where a story is told by one missionary of a man who had "hemmed and hawed" about baptism, delaying it as much as possible for fear of what everyone else would think of him.  Eventually the missionaries read the account of the Savior's visit to the Americas as the resurrected Lord in 3 Nephi, where the Father uses that phrase, "well pleased".  According the the manual, conversation was as follows. "...he looked up at me and said 'Heavenly Father was really proud of His Son, wasn't He?' 'Yes,' I said. [The man] looked back at his book again and stared at the open pages as if in deep thought.  Finally he said, 'I would want Heavenly Father to be proud of me too.  I wonder how He would introduce me.  I guess, if I ... well, if I want Him to be proud of me then I had better do what He wants me to do.' 'Yes, I think that would be important,' I replied. 'Well', [the man] continued. 'I think I've been worrying too much about what everybody else thinks and not enough about what God thinks.'  After a brief pause [the man] nodded and with a determined look said, 'I think I had better be baptized.'"

No wonder the hymn ends with "Our God is pleased when we improve His grace and seek his perfect love."  He is pleased when we use our agency correctly because it brings us closer to the happiness that He enjoys.  Using agency the way God asks us to is the best way to happiness, no matter what anyone else says.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 6

Coming in at number 6 of 10 is Hymn 220, Lord I Would Follow Thee:

Savior, may I learn to love thee, walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee--Lord I would follow Thee

Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see.
Who am I to judge another? Lord I would follow Thee

I would be my brother's keeper; I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother's keeper--Lord I would follow Thee

Savior, may I love my brother as I know thou lovest me,
Find in thee my strength, my beacon, for thy servant I would be.
Savior, may I love my brother--Lord I would follow Thee.

The first verse of this is an excellent reminder of what it means to love.  For my more frequent readers, sorry if I refer to Tad Callister's words too much, but his point that charity is the quintessence of Godhood makes this verse even more wonderful.  The crowning spiritual gift, as well as the culmination of all spiritual gifts, is Charity, the pure love of Christ.  If we truly love, we will live as the embodiment of all that is love did.  We will live as Christ did and act towards others the way He acted towards others, "paus[ing] to help and lift another, [and through Him] finding strength beyond [our] own."  When we live our love Him, loving others and living in love for others will naturally follow.

That also means acknowledging how dependent we are on Him and hopefully letting that fact permanently distract us from any comparison to how we are doing relative to others or how far ahead or behind we think they are from us.  As Jack R. Christianson said, "I'll leave final judgement to ... Christ. ... He's the Judge.  You and I need to quit judging each other and ourselves.  And, you see, if you care about pleasing the Father you don't have to worry about ever carrying the burden of being a judge, unless you're a Bishop or a Stake President or a General Authority or a Mission President.  They're the only judges there are with ordained authority to judge people, you don't have to do it!  Isn't that a relief?  You never have to judge anybody else.  I mean, as in, whether they're going to make it [to heaven] or not.  You still have to judge their character if you're going to date [th]em."  There's another article that talks more about this here if you're interested.

Now the message of the next verse can be taken one of two ways.  Either one in excess is unhealthy and unChristlike.  On the one hand you have those who take the concept of being their brothers keeper as an invitation to take charge of every decision they make, giving every effort to dictate how wrong or right they think people are and what they should be doing at every turn.  Their claim is that they do it out of love, always misusing the idea of "I will not help you one inch to hell."

On the other side of it, you have those who think being our brother's keeper means that we are to be there to help someone at their every beck and call, even if what they want isn't what they need.  Indeed we should be willing to put our more trivial pursuits on hold to lift another.  For priesthood holders in the LDS church, this also means always staying worthy and willing to provide a priesthood blessing whenever the request comes.  However, this does not mean we go as far as giving requested "help" if it means enabling something dangerous or otherwise harmful to... well... anyone.  Situations like that are times where "I will not help you one inch to hell" is more of a loving stance than a rude and mean one.  Kindly offering a better alternative to their request that actually will help them is the more loving option in those situations.  Being our brothers keeper, I believe, simply means keeping the Savior's best interest for them at heart.  Notice how I did not say their best interest, but rather the Savior's.  His will for us is always the best thing to pursue, even and especially if it doesn't match the desires of our hearts.

The easiest way to let the message of this hymn truly sink in to our hearts and become a part of our nature, I think is to consider the message the Lord gave us in 3 Nephi 27, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;" as well as chapter 12, verse 48 where He commands us to be perfect.  More about that here.

The more we are like Him, the easier it becomes to follow Him and vice versa.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 5

At least one sacrament hymn had to be in the list, so for Song of the Righteous number 5, #185, Reverently and Meekly Now.

Rev'rently and meekly now let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one; Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain, Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree I have ransomed even thee.

In this bread now blest for thee, emblem of my body see;
In this water or this wine, emblem of my blood divine.
Oh, remember what was done that the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary I have suffered death for thee.

Bid thine heart all strife to cease; With thy brethren be at peace.
Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e[v]en forgiven now by me.
In the solemn faith of prayer cast upon me all thy care,
And my Spirit's grace shall be like a fountain unto thee.

At the throne I intercede; For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend, with a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore, prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me, that thy Savior I may be.

Aside from the New Testament and the Savior's personal ministry among the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, I don't know of many places where we have large concentrations of the His words to us as a whole in this manner.  Hymns where the idea is that the Savior Himself is speaking to us are something to which I believe we should pay special attention.

As encouraged in the sacrament prayer, this one starts out by setting the tone for us to "always remember Him."  There are so many times where I know my choices would be very different I would simply remember that I will be contributing to His pain in Gethsemane and making myself more a part of that awful scene if I make what I know deep down is the wrong choice.  As W Cleon Skousen noted, "The [capillaries] of His [blood]stream couldn’t even contain [His blood] and it spilled out into the sweat glands and poured out on His skin as ... great drops of blood."  Only Christ could have done it and He only could have done it if motivated by His perfect, infinite love for us.

Jack R. Christianson once referred to a few of the words of "This is the Christ" as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "How many drops of blood were shed for me?", and responded "far, far too many".  The same goes for me and I echo brother Christianson further when he expressed how sick and tired he was of being a part of that scene.  I hate it.  I want to be, as my dad has paraphrased Nephi's sentiments about sin, "scared spit-less" of being a part of that any more.  I want to be better at remembering what He did and letting that knowledge and His love determine my desires and choices instead of the loud, rude, immature screaming demands of the flesh.

After reminding us to put Him first, He reiterates His second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  "Bid thine heart all strife to cease; With thy brethren be at peace. Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e[v]en forgiven now by me." There was a letter written, I know not by whom, meant to sound like it was coming directly from Heavenly Father.  A part of it says "My child, be a peacemaker.  It breaks my heart to see so many of my children fighting.  If they could only see what I have hoped, planned and wished for them, but you, you faithful child, are my hope.  It is through you that my work must proceed.  You haven't much time.  There is so much to be done.  I beg you to get started, accomplish the mission I gave you before you left me.  I'll help you.  I'm always nearer to you than you might suspect.  I'm never too busy or too far away to come to you."

The beautiful end to the hymn is a reminder of His constant and close relationship and love for each of us, followed up by Him urgently begging us ("imploring") to stay "constant to Him" so that His sacrifice for us may take full effect and that "[our] Savior [He] may be".

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 4

Song of the Righteous number 4 is hymn 145, Prayer is the Souls Sincere Desire.

"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh, The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye when none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air,
His watchword at the gates of death; He enters heav'n with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice, returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice and cry, "Behold, he prays!"

The Saints in prayer appear as one in word and deed and mind,
While with the Father and the Son their fellowship they find.

Nor prayer is made on earth alone: The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus at the Father's throne for sinners intercedes.

O thou by whom we come to God, The Life, the Truth, the Way!
The path of prayer thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray."

I don't know if this seems selfish or not, but part of the reason I picked this hymn is because I need help building my faith and testimony of prayer.  Usually, when I write about something I end up learning more about it and Heavenly Father uses the opportunity to show me something I'm missing or just ignoring, even if I don't know I am.  I may end up taking the verses here a bit out of order looking for an answer to my own prayer for Him to help me with this particular shortcoming in me.

One thing I can say for sure is that I whole-heartedly agree with verse 4 calling it "the Christian's native air."  Even though I lack ability to recognize answers to my prayers as easily as I want to or even know what to pray for or if I'm even praying for the right thing, I at least know my knee-jerk reaction to go to God in prayer when I find myself at a loss for answers or peace is a good thing.

It's the same thing I'm sure with verse five's calling prayer "the contrite sinner's voice".  For those aren't familiar with my older entries here, I have Asperger's Syndrome, which for me includes a sort of social "dyslexia".  I so often lack the ability to tactfully and respectfully express how I feel or what I think to others that I inadvertently come off to people as the opposite of what I'm trying to.  Many times when I'm trying to amend something I've done or even trying to get it right the first time, I accidentally say something that actually makes it worse.

I have special gift in this area as well, however.  The instant I know I've done something wrong - which I usually find out pretty fast - I immediately feel bad about it want that much more to make it right.  I hate when I mess up.   I hate it.  I want so badly to become like Christ, meek, gentle, good, speaking with persuasion rather than compulsion and all that other good stuff in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42.  I'm just not nearly as good as I want to be or often think I should be.  Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by something that I fear or feel hurt about that I go off like a bomb, feeling completely unable process anything going on around me without spewing out what I feel without filter.  I hate when that happens because I'm not a Jekyll and Hyde type of person.  I'm aware of when I'm making a mistake and I want to correct it quickly.  The same applies to when my sin is just between my wife and I or God and I.  But I guarantee you I'll never stop trying to overcome.  That's for absolute certain.

Something I also find comforting about this hymn is that it portrays the most subtle and personal, even non-audible expressions as a form of prayer, from random expressions from "infant lips", a sigh, a tear, an upward glance even!  This shows how truly in tune and intimately involved God is in every little detail of our lives.

Then there's something in verse 6 that I never noticed before, even in the standard works, though now that I think about it's everywhere in them.  The power of prayer to unify us.  I had never thought of prayer as a principle of unity until now, but it's a really beautiful concept though.  I guess I always keep my private prayers so detailed that the and more focused that the concept of unifying with others in prayer isn't something I have paid as much attention to as maybe I should be.  At least that's one more thing I can work on to be more like Christ.  Come to think of it, He taught the principle of unity in prayer by His example in 3 Nephi 17.

Verse 7 actually goes further in how great of an example of prayer Christ is by reminding us that Christ is constantly petitioning the Father for our sake.  Doctrine and Covenants 19 may just be the supreme example of this when He says, "Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."

His example is always the best thing for anyone to follow, especially in how to pray.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 3

Next in line at number 3 in my Songs of the Righteous is Hymn 113, Our Savior's Love

Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above it breaks thru clouds of strife.
Lighting our way, it leads us back into his sight,
Where we may stay to share eternal life.

The Spirit, voice of goodness, whispers to our hearts
A better choice than evil's anguished cries.
Loud may the sound of hope ring till all doubt departs,
And we are bound to him by loving ties.

Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray
In rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice.
Praises we sing. We love thy law; we will obey.
Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice.

Just yesterday, my wife and I watched Finding Dory on Netflix.  It's a great movie by the way.  As noted in an article quite a while ago, I find it very easy to notice gospel parallels in movies.  In that one, it shows when Dory was young how her parents helped her find her way back home when she was little if she got lost by always having a long path of seashells that she could follow back to their home.  God does a similar thing.  He leaves a path of little spiritual reminder "seashells" to help guide us back to him.

I wanted to point that out to parallel something in this hymn.  Contrast is often an effective teacher.  This becomes more apparent the more often and more deep our experiences are in this life.  Sometimes it's within our darkest moments that the light of Jesus Christ pierces the darkness, often in even the smallest ways and even when that is the case, it still feels like enough to pull us through and "break thru [our] clouds of strife".  I am confident that that is because the love and light of the Lord is so intense and powerful and beautiful that it doesn't take much of it to last us a while.  For me, even the mere memory of my deepest experiences like that lifts me again and often helps me feel like he's leaving much larger and more beautiful "seashells" along my path, bursting with his "perfect light."

Interestingly enough, the fact that Dory ends up having her memory improve little by little throughout the movie (don't worry, that doesn't spoil anything) ties in very well with the second verse.  Even though the veil has been drawn over our mortal minds, our spirits still have a perfect memory of everything about life with our Heavenly Father before we were born.  Dory's flashes of memories from her childhood remind me of the little flashes from the Holy Ghost we get sometimes of "Oh yea, this feels familiar!" which also kind of goes along with the second verse of "Oh My Father", hymn 292, which I may write about in a later part in this series,

"For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere."

Memories of that love reignite in us a sense that, really, we belong with our Father in Heaven when all is said and done. So it's not an exaggeration or a merely symbolic statement when it says "we are bound to him by loving ties."  Love literally makes the world go 'round.  The elements of the universe operate solely by and in response to the love of God.  His love for all of His creation is why the earth, the solar system, wind, water, magnetism and radiation, the human body and brain all work the way they do.  It is an eternal agreement of love, faith and respect.  It's those ties of love that keep us bound to Him if we elect to keep them strong on our end.

Whether we remain or regain our state of belonging to Him is totally up to us.  Of course, the reason it's even possible to grow to be like Him and His Son, our Redeemer, and remain His is brought to our attention in the last verse of hymn ,

"Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray in rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice."

The highest form of love is sacrifice and I've spent a significant portion of my life working to increase my understanding of and faith in that principle.  Some things I've sacrificed I've seen as more of an investment than "giving up" something I love for something else, because of the love I have for what I'm investing in, whether it's a person or something else.  But I'm still trying to get to the point where the following statement is a more accurate reflection of my mind and heart: "If you have nothing but God, you have more than if you had everything but God."

Clearly, Christ saw us as an investment for which giving His all - every last bit of His vast, Godly sized reservoir of love - was completely worth it.  He wants us all back that much.  And what a better way to respond to such love than that way the last verse of this hymn concludes, "Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 2

The second Song of the Righteous I want to analyze immediately follows the first, Hymn 86, How Great Thou Art.

1. O Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the *worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!

2. When thru the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze


3. And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin


4. When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

*Authors original words are works and mighty.

The first thing thing that comes to mind when I reflect on the mood of this song is what Truman Madsen said (back in the 1980's) about the prophet Joseph Smith:

"Even in the days that he was in Vermont - Vermont, where even today there is little pollution and where the sky at night is clear and the milkyway is milky - he would look up at night and marvel at the symmetry and the beauty and the order of the heavens.  And something in him said, as has happened to sensitive souls from he beginning, 'something lies behind that. There must be a majestic creator to account for that majestic creation."

It is always a healthy thing for us to think of ourselves as a part of something greater, even staggeringly so, than ourselves.  What a glorious thought!  "I am a part of something so grand, so great, so vast and good and glorious, that I'm going to need a lot of time to understand it all."  What a way to realize there's really no good reason for us to ever be bored.

A while ago when my wife and I were playing Minecraft together, we had been working really hard on some projects on her server when she said something like "This is so awesome and so satisfying to see how much we've accomplished here and this is just a game!  How much greater and more wonderful and joyous and satisfying must it be for Heavenly Father when He creates things in real life that are greater and grander than we can possibly imagine!  How amazing will it be when we are able to participate in that kind of creation!"  She was overcome with joy at the thought.

So should we be!  The best thing, I think, about this hymn is it's focus on what He did so that we have a chance to get to that point.  Sending His Son Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Perfector so that we can reach that level and become clean and pure as He is, as loving and glorious and mighty and powerful as He!  The infinite sacrifice the Lord made for us should be at least what it was for B. H. Roberts as He studied it, "By deeper delving into the subject, my intellect also gives its full and complete assent to the soundness of the philosophy and the absolute necessity for the atonement of Jesus Christ."  Tad Callister writes of this, "...such intense study of the Atonement proved to be both a mind-expanding and soul-stretching experience.  The intellectual and spiritual blended in wonderful harmony."

I know the world looks dismal at best to the average human mind and heart, but there really are amazing things coming if we are ready when they come.  The last verse of this song reaffirms such. "When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

I have had experiences that have shown me the magnitude of God's love for us in ways that would have blown my brain straight out of my head (figuratively speaking of course) had I had them 10 years ago.  He has such amazing things in store for all of us if we just pay more attention to the Holy Ghost and making our dealings with others a matter of "persuasion, ...long-suffering, ...gentleness and meekness... love unfeigned; kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile." (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42)

Believe me, I know how hard it can be to maintain a positive attitude amid one heavy blow after another.  That's been the story of my life ever since my marriage to my beautiful, amazing wife, Lorraine.  She has learned to do it way better than me because she wasn't raised in the little Mormon bubble in Western Colorado and what she has been through, even just the small stories, has given people nightmares just listening to them.  Some of those stories will be included in the book she is writing.  But her experience has been invaluable to me and even though I'm a hard shell to crack, I feel like I'm able to do things (and not do things) I never could before and even see more good in all of it because of her example.  There is so much good and higher purpose to see out there, even in the middle of our darkest moments.

This hymn is a good reminder of that for me.  Let's all shout, both literally and in the way we live, "My God How Great Thou Art!"

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 1

Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."

The power of good music in the last few days, especially hymns, has been a balm of Gilead for me through stressful moments.  The peace I have felt and the calm reassurance of the love and power of God in my life, brought to me through them by the Holy Ghost, is the driving force behind my next several entries.  I will doing an in depth look at a number of LDS hymns and attempting to give a Holy Ghost guided presentation of the spirit, message and power of each of them.

As President Boyd K. Packer said: "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  So hopefully, these analyses will serve as both and instructive and sanctifying force for my readers.

Without further delay...

Hymn 85 - How Firm a Foundation

(Play the music from here if you are not familiar with the tune)

"How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord Is laid for your faith in His excellent word
What more can he say than to you he hath said Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled

In every condition - in sickness, in health, In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea - As thy days may demand so thy succor shall be

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove My sov'reign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn, Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be born.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

There are just a few hymns where it's as if the Savior Himself is speaking right to us.  This is one of them and I'm not sure I can imagine a better hymn to parallel Isaiah 54:2.  I'm surprised this one isn't in the that little scripture reference section in the bottom right corner of the text in the hymn book.  It's so encouraging: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

Consecrating our afflictions for our gain - "laying [our] 'stones' with faith colors", etc. - is one of the most reassuring and empowering doctrines of the Father.  This is sometimes a difficult concept for many to understand.  Something else that helps to clarify such a doctrine is where I was actually studying today (Feb 20th, 2017) in my scriptures, 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi says in verse 11 "there must needs be an opposition in all thing" and in verses 14 and 16 "...for there is a God, and he hath created all things ... both things to act and thing to be acted upon ... it must needs be that there was an opposition; ... the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.  Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the [good and bad]."

The test of life is to basically see whether we will say, by how we choose to live, "Yes, I'm sure I support Heavenly Father's plan for me.  I'm stand by what I chose before I was born here on earth, to side with Jesus Christ, to have faith in and use His atoning sacrifice to the fullest extent intended." over and over and over until each test of our commitment is either passed or, if failed, hopefully repented of in the end.

Each time we indicate faith in Christ by responding to opposition and trial with optimism and faith and obedience, we choose to "act" instead of being "acted upon" by those trials. When that happens, the Lord promises us, in this hymn, that He "will be with [us], [our] troubles to bless, and sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" meaning that He will make it so that our acting will result in such trials become a purifying and elevating experience rather than something that "acted upon" us and pulled us down.  His grace makes it all possible.  Our faith activates it.

"As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be" adds an additional source of comfort and encouragement from the Lord as well.  He always gives us exactly what we need in the exact moment we need it.  Whatever necessity is required through out each day, whether it be temporal or spiritual or both, the Lord promises us that He will succor (run to our aid) exactly as the laws of justice and mercy require or "as [our] days may demand."

Something else I love about this hymn is when He says "I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."  In metal work, dross is the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal as a result of oxidation.  Basically garbage that is completely useless and will only make the finished product look bad.  In symbolism, the Lord is basically saying that anything that we didn't need to go through for our own salvation - like effects of the fall put upon us by others sins or weaknesses - will be like dross.  All of those effects on us will be consumed so that all that is left is purity and holiness - "thy gold to refine".  More generally speaking, that was the whole purpose of the atonement of Christ in the first place, the reverse all the effects of the fall.

In the end, this glorious hymns exits with a short anthemic response of allegiance to our Savior: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes; That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!

Why would we want to?  He promises us in this hymn that He'll be there as often as we reach for Him.