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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

It Could Happen to You

In the last 12 years I have seen and experienced things most people either only dream of and want more than anything or swear on their life (or at least hope) that it will never happen to them.

I have been in both of those situations myself, never thinking something will happen but wanting it and never believing something will happen, being sure that it won't.  Then I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was married for 8 years as of June 12th this year and much of what I never thought would happen did, for better and for worse.

I can't go into as much detail on the positive side because of the sacred nature of many of my experiences, especially in my marriage, so I'll save what I can say about that for later in this entry and this will be more than a list or a matter of 'look what I've been through'.  I just want to use this one to illustrate from my experience why we should never think "oh that will never happen to me in this life."  Believe me, whatever it is, it can, it can definitely happen to you.

For a brief recap, I grew up in a small 'podunk USA' town in western Colorado.  I had a relatively wonderful childhood, went to church every week, had loving parents who did everything they could to provide me with positive experiences and help me learn from the negative ones.  I had plenty of opportunities to build my faith, make good friends, achieve big things, travel, learn, etc.  Before September 2006 (when I got to Canada for the first time) I never had any idea what kinds of things my heart would or could feel as a result of what would happen to me.  I grew up in a good Christian bubble of a community where everyone was generally nice to everyone else, nothing ever changed much and I was mostly protected from more serious life problems like a life altering accident, terminal illness or extensive criminal activity.  So when I started to see the world the way it really was outside of that life, it shocked me.  I've been living a life very very far outside of that one for the last 12 years and if there's one thing I've learned more than anything else, it might be that you can never say that "that one thing" will never happen to you.

I've seen some of the people who I grew up around who's faith seemed rock solid all but abandon their faith (or for some, completely abandon it). I've felt the heartache of family making harrowing choices and/or turning to lifestyles that will only bring them misery forever if they don't repent.  I've had friends and family die of suicide and cancer, felt the agony of the effects of addiction, in myself and others, seen people I love suffer in indescribably ways at the hands of experts, professionals and even clergy.  I've been stabbed by the hurt of total betrayal, depression, and anxiety in ways that cannot be adequately described by human tongue.  I've seen missionaries who we love like family go home and revert to old unrighteous and impure standards, go inactive or even completely abandon their the church, even after they've so adamantly determined "Oh I'll go never let that happen to me", and then it happens.  I've known what it's like to feel trapped in a mental, spiritual and emotional hell, to be oppressed by people and circumstances out of my control and so complex and complicated that no one else could possibly understand.  I have watched my wife suffer a fate worse than death for years now and most of the time there's not a thing I can do about it.

All of this and more were things I was certain would never happen to me and what a horrible prideful attitude that was.  If I had the chance to go back and talk to my younger self I'd say "How dare you be so arrogant as to assume that you and loves ones are so impervious and 'protected' from hardship that such unimaginable trials could never happen to you?  You have no idea.  You think living the gospel gives you some taboo against that kind of thing?  You've got a huge shock coming.  Righteous living isn't supposed to prevent suffering.  It's supposed give you the spiritual power to go through that suffering like Jesus would." It's like the Ancient One said in Dr. Strange, "We never loose our demons. We only learn to live above them."

Eventually Satan will be cast into outer darkness with the rest of his followers, but the spirits of the children of God, including Satan, can never be destroyed.  Those of us in the three Kingdoms of Glory will simply be living out of his reach forever.

Since I don't want to make this only about all the bad things that could happen I'll include a link to this article I wrote in April 2015 to point out that some pretty amazing things can happen to you as well that you never thought possible.

Every time I catch up with an old friend these days I find out something that would normally be shocking, whether great and wonderful or dismal, and then realize 'That's right, the devil's hard at work.'  Don't get me wrong.  I don't think I've ever exactly been callous towards things like that or "used to it".  I don't look at anyone's deeply personal experiences for good or bad and think 'Oh I've read all that before.  It's nothing new. No big deal.'  I still empathize and have that feeling of "Oh wow! That is amazing and awesome!" or "Whoa that sucks. I feel awful for them. That's horrible."  I just don't allow myself to get the point where I think "Okay this goes too far, I never thought in a million years that that would ever happen to them."  Because believe me, if there's anything I've learned in the last 12 years about probability and circumstance, it's that I should NEVER assume that it can't get worse... or better!

Besides, the whole purpose of eternal progression is to always be stretched beyond our limits. As Elder Richard G. Scott said, "To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Gender and Sex

*edited since publishing*

I suppose it was only a matter of time until I wrote about this.  It would be ridiculous of me to not notice just how far gone society has become in regards to the perceptions of a very loud minority of people who believe that gender and sex are purely subjective matters, I feel a great need to address this issue.

Before I even try to get into any kind of semantics or expression of opinion, I want to start by reminding my readers of a part of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" that I'm sure I have mentioned before:

"ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life."

The first and, I think, most obvious point that I need to make here is the very clear, definitive nature of how gender is approached by God and His prophets.  There are two genders, male and female.  This is not something that was dreamed up as a social or religious construct by mankind.  It was designated by God and made a biological and divine certainty, never meant to be subject to tampering, blurring of natural gender based attractions (yes, natural attractions) or experimentation outside of divine decree or biological "programming", if you will.  Anyone who gets offended because they are not referred to by their "preferred pronoun" or when others do not recognize them as whatever strange sub/quazi/whatever gender they say they are does not understand the truth.  To pretend or attempt to create a reality where gender or sexual attraction is either fluid, subjective or even non-existent is damnable by divine law and, as science has proven, certain to result in a number of harrowing consequences.  These can range from - but are certainly not limited to - depression, diseases (both sexually transmitted and otherwise) or significant mental instability on the medical side to addiction, broken relationships and homes and possession on the spiritual side and even complete loss of ability to discern truth from error and the relevant from the irrelevant on both sides.

Now I realize this is a pretty heavy way to start.  I know the level of extreme conflict and diametrically opposing views in society regarding this kind of thing and that what I say in this article (and have said) will by no means be popular in the general public eye, but I'm not looking to be popular.  I'm trying help people understand the truth.  My attempt to do so here is not an automatic condemnation of anyone or dilution of their worth as a child of God for their beliefs or lifestyle.  I simply see a great need to provide yet another source of understanding in a world so insanely messed up by lies presented as truths.

Many in today's world end up insisting that because the world is changing, we ought to change too.  And in one way they're right, just not in the way many of them mean. The popular thing to do is increasingly lean towards condoning of homosexual behaviors, trying to decide on our own what gender we are (or in extreme cases, even what species we are), or completely throwing all traditional and biological traits of male and female into a convoluted melting pot and trying to pick them out at random.  But again, I'm not trying to sound popular.  I'm here to tell the truth, and what is, to some, the unpleasant and heart-rending truth is that no matter how hard anyone tries to make aspects of sex and gender a purely subjective thing, they will only end up miserable and forever at odds with the laws of nature, God and the universe if they don't align their lives with nature and God.

I'm not trying to imply that there aren't some areas when women can't do a manly thing or that men can't do a womanly thing.  One of the last things I am is sexist.  I enjoy the occasional chick-flick and if there's anyone who instilled in me and showed the value of hard physical labor in my life, it was my mom.  Evan Lysacek deserved that gold medal in figure skating and I think it makes a woman way more attractive when they like "end the world/save the world" movies (one area where my wife and I have exactly the same interests). ;)

The problem comes when people try to entirely deny their nature and do something stupid like this.  For someone to deny their God given identity as a human being or their gender or their age or anything else that occurs by both divine and biological design is not only insane, it defies of eternal laws of justice and mercy and those who choose to live and die that way will only be miserable forever.  We do not get to decide what truth is or make our will reality just because we "feel like it".  We only get to choose whether or not to believe truth when we see it and whether we will change to make our lives reflect truth.  I can just as easily make myself a 50 year old, Japanese woman with a PhD in philosophy and a dog's snout by saying so as I can snap my fingers and turn the entire universe into jelly beans.  I can't do either, I shouldn't try to do either and if I did try, no matter how much I believed I had done it, nothing in the entire multiverse/cosmos can make either of those things a reality.  As Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "The thing about the truth is that it exists outside of belief. Even if nobody believes it, that thing is still true"  The same is true about lies.  Even if every single person in existence were to believe a lie, it still remains a lie.

You are either born a male, with male traits, parts and dominantly male inclinations, or you are born female with female traits, parts and dominantly female inclinations.  Labeling either as the other, both or neither doesn't make it so and claiming that someone has "decided" they are the other gender or another age or species or something else like that also doesn't make it so.  I'm not talking about things like occupations, names or other things that are just as easily thought of a one gender or the other, like a real estate agent, banker or scholar, or names like Cody or Lauren.  I'm referring to the big stuff.  Men are naturally sexually, emotionally, socially and spiritually attracted to women and vice versa.  There are just certain things that men are generally meant to be more inclined towards, like physical strength and defense of the weak, predominantly male things and that's okay.  Those are meant to feel like masculine things.  There are just certain things that women are meant to be generally more inclined towards, like aesthetics or ballet and that's okay.  Those are meant to be feel like feminine things.  Identifying any of those as I did as masculine or feminine is not sexist.  It's truth.  It's nature.  It's good.  It promotes balance in marriage and in families.

Going back to the earlier cited Family Proclamation, "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."  Again, there's the balance thing.

Just one thing before I wrap up.  I understand that in rare circumstances, there are people who end up with both a penis and breasts or some other mixup of sexual organs.  In these cases, my understanding of God's laws are that the proper way to approach this is with considerable prayer, consulting scripture, ecclesiastical and professional counselling and careful conversation between parent and child. Then, if cleared through proper ecclesiastical authority, decisions can be made to correct any birth defects of that nature.  The same thing applies in the cases of those who struggle with same sex or bisexual attraction but in the way of emotional or mental adjustments.

Ok, there.  Got that out.

Moving on, something I want to end with here is a combination of encouragement and a statement of warning.  I promise you on my own life and soul, that the nature of gender, sex, and the family as defined by God and taught to us by His Prophets is the best way to happiness.  Stick with a chaste heterosexual lifestyle.  Stick with your biological and divinely appointed gender.  Stick with traditional marriage and relationships and rely on and use the atonement of Jesus Christ through personal difficulties relating to confusion in these matters. Align your life with divine law. These are the best hope you have of eternal life joy.   The Family Proclamation affirms what happens if we don't: "WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

There's enough confusion out there and I know it can be hard to navigate through it all.  Satan is good at using people's emotions to cloud their judgement.  Don't let him trap you the same way he has trapped millions of others.  If you are male, be a man, or if you are female, be a woman!  Embrace your respectively testosterone or estrogen fueled impulses, within divinely prescribed limits of course.  Obviously self control is a good thing.  But don't be afraid of your gender!  Become the son or daughter of God you were designed to be.  It will bring you eternal joy.  I promise.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The God That Doesn't Change

I wasn't sure how to begin this at first. I know what I'm going to talk about is sensitive subject matter, but it needs to be addressed. It's about the way people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints respond to something new, like something said in a conference talk or a new church policy.

Before I really get into it, please understand that nothing I say about this is under the assumption that those who have become inactive or who have left the church all together are any less loved by God or that their moral values are all of the sudden automatically somehow flawed. I understand that there are many different histories and unique circumstances behind each individual who decides to disassociate themselves from the church in any degree. There is at least one person I my own family who currently (July 2017) falls in this category (which can and hopefully will change) and they are one of the hardest working, caring, family oriented people I know.

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So, here we go. I remember when I served my two year mission for the Lord after each amazing experience. The boost I felt for my faith left me thinking "I am seriously never going less active or leaving this church. If this amazing faith boost and love I feel is just a taste of what God has in store in the eternities, there is no way I'll ever let anything drive me away from this. I'm never going to slacken in my prayers, scripture studies and missionary efforts. I'm only going to become more active for the rest of my life."  Thankfully, I married a woman who's faith is much stronger than mine and therefore we've been able to take turns strengthening each other when one of us has a questions. I've been able to stay true to my intentions from my mission. I have seen those, however who have made themselves and the Lord the same promises and then find themselves going a completely different direction when their faith is severely challenged.

For the record, I of all people am certainly no stranger to severe tests of faith, from circumstances in my personal life caused by me and by outside sources or something a church member or leader has said or done, among other things.  I have faced tests of my faith that left me questioning what, to me, seemed like a fundamental part of my faith. Perseverance, study, prayers, doing things that invited the Spirit and trying to stay humble pulled me through them all. Answers and clarity came in every struggle when I least expected them but in a way that left me thinking, "Well that just... makes total sense. I never thought of it like that before." I'd feel the Spirit confirm the answer and I'd know it was for sure the Spirit and not just my feeling because a) it would explain to me why the thinking that caused my doubt was flawed or lacking context and b) it totally matched the perspective of God's prophets AND the teachings of the Savior.

This is where I touch on the one thing I can't help but wonder if people might forget most frequently when they are certain that the answer they've received from the Holy Ghost is to leave the church (whether in activity or on paper as well). That one thing is that answers from God through the Holy Ghost don't contradict God's prophets.  As Preach My Gospel points out, "truth is a knowledge of things as they really are, were and will be.  It does not change with conditions or time. Truth is the same in every age and culture."

Each and every Latter-day Saint hopefully comes to the point where they first received a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the LDS church is Christ's church and contains His gospel and His authority.  That truth does not change.  Some things that we may hear from General Authorities years after our conversion may sound strange of inconsistent to us, but that's exactly the key.  It sounds that way to us, but that does not mean that what we are hearing from them is the problem.  The problem is us.

Not all who distance or completely separate themselves from the church fall into either of the following categories, but I have found that most people I have observed who have done this do so for one of two reasons.  The first one is when policies or statements are made by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that the individual believes are inconsistent with the teachings and character of Jesus Christ Himself.  The other is when the individual comes to believe that certain standards of living, i.e. commandments, within the church are too high or just unnecessary.

In both instances, the concept that the truthfulness of God's church cannot change, even if it contradicts our understanding of the gospel, can serve as a compensatory answer or solution to those two areas of concern.

Here's how.

1. When it comes to policies and statements made by the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a few things about truth's unchanging nature can eliminate concerns for the appearance of contradictions.  One can be found in the way the Lord engineered the restoration of the gospel in the first place.

I cannot, for the life of me, seem to find the original source of this, but I read once about an allegory that explains why the Lord waited more than 1000 years to restore the gospel in it's fullness.  It describes in great detail the preparations mankind went through, in the long, dark night of the loss of the purity and fullness of the gospel, renaissance and reformation, the discovery and colonization of America and finally the establishment of religious freedom in America leading up to Joseph Smith's prophetic mission.  It then compares all that to the process of a plane landing.  Everything has to be just right.  Communication with the ground, air speed, altitude, proper balance of throttle and steering, etc. is all absolutely essential to have in check.  You can't just press on a brake pedal and have everything come safely to a stop with an airplane.  Relating this to the restoration of the gospel, can you imagine what would have happened if the doctrine against infant baptism would have been revealed and preached when the principle of being "born in sin" was accepted by Christianity as a whole in the first few hundred years A.D.?  It likely would have been condemned as vehemently as the Godhead being three separate persons just before the year 400, and if someone had claimed that God had commanded mankind to stop drinking coffee and tea in the 17th or 18th centuries, they would have been made the laughing stock of all civilized nations.  If the revocation of the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood had happened just prior to the civil rights movement, it likely would have not been received nearly as well as it was roughly 20 years later.

The Lord needed "land the plane" safely, causing cultural changes one little painstaking, tedious detail at a time to make sure the minds of mankind were being sufficiently prepared for the "plane" to land - i.e. the gospel to be restored - without the "aircraft" meeting proverbial bombs, destroying it upon landing.  Each of those changes had to be in presented with special consideration of the cultural "temperature" of each time period and in a way that He knew would be received at least well enough that it could eventually spread throughout the world and stay alive permanently.

So why do I mention this?  Because He has directed prophets to implement the truth and guide His church through changes that make us more perfect as quickly as He dares without overwhelming the world and especially members of His church (i.e. crashing the plane).

The second way that truth's unchanging nature can eliminate concerns for the appearance of contradictions is by reminding us of the following.  Does truth change?  No.  Mankind changes, but certainly not God and not truth.  Whether it be blacks receiving the priesthood, restrictions on baptism of children with homosexual "parents" or anything else that has caused no minor stir in society, each of these changes was not implemented because God was changing or because His prophets were misguided at some point before those changes or when they were made.  It did not signify a change of gospel principles.  It happened because the Lord's timing is perfect.  He knows when to inspire the next big change the world needs, even it many people don't understand it.  He knows how to land the plane.  Let Him.  Don't jump out.  There's no need to be scared of all that.  He has promised us that He would never let His prophets lead us astray and that the fullness of the gospel would never be taken again from the earth, never become tainted again.  Like I said earlier, I have faced tests of my faith that left me questioning what, to me, seemed like a fundamental part of my faith.  But I always came to understand that it was not prophet's mortal weakness that was the problem, it was my flawed perspective and failure to remember (or even to trust) that God will not allow His prophets to lead us astray.

2. In the context of people who believe gospel standards are too demanding, or have exceptions that make it okay for them to disobey commandments, the first thing that comes to mind is a quote from Elder Christofferson, "A God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a God who does not exist. A world without God, the living God who establishes moral laws to govern and perfect His children, is also a world without ultimate truth or justice."

I am reminded of the story of the Bishop who had a woman in his office for a temple recommend interview.   When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee.  She said, “Now, Bishop, you’re not going to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?”  To which he replied, “Sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord.”

To be perfectly honest, it should actually be a comfort to us that the Lord's standards are so high and will only get higher.  The proverbial guardrails that are the commandments of God are not, as Cecil B. Demille said so well, "a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules.  [God] made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free.  We cannot break ... Commandments.  We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."  Eventually it's the world is going to get so complicated and so adamantly opposed to anything that challenges moral relativism that those who refuse to live the gospel will end up in a hyper frenzy of confusion, pain and bondage to the impulses of the natural man and hung by the marionette strings of Satan himself.  Trust me, I know from experience.  They are a protection, not a problem.  You do not want to wait until the pain of the problem for disobedience becomes worse than the pain of the solution, repentance.  I've said this so many times I think it's becoming my own personal "mantra", but you shouldn't be asking "How good do I have to be?", but rather, "How good can I be?" or "How far away from the edge can I get?"  For more on this subject, read this.

Principles of the gospel do not change based on individual circumstances.  The way they are applied - different from when or whether they are applied, which should not be up for debate - may change depending on the person, but, as I cited earlier from Preach My Gospel, "[Truth] does not change with conditions or time. [It] is the same in every age and culture", and I'll add, for every person and circumstance.  Before marriage, the law of chastity is applied by abstaining from all sexual behavior, literature and media and from impure thoughts.  Within marriage, it is applied by keeping sexual behavior and intimate words and thoughts between husband and wife with unwavering loyalty.  The same idea goes for all gospel principles.  At first the Word of Wisdom means no consumption of coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol or harmful drugs.  As we come to understand it better, however, we realize that there is a lot more we need to be avoiding (and not avoiding) than just those things to truly be living in a way that matches the spiritual purpose for that particular commandment.

Eventually, all cultural, social or personal conduct that is not directly inspired of the Holy Ghost, no matter how good it is in the moment, will have to be discarded if we want to become what God intended us to be and to live eternally with our families in His presence.

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If you are someone who has decided to leave the church or become less active for any of the reasons above, my intent with this isn't to try to prove you wrong or prove myself right.  It is simply to pose ideas that you may have forgotten or in which you have lost confidence and testify to you that they are true.  Whatever you choose to do with my testimony is up to you.  I love you and I encourage you to consider that even though you have heard and been through things that you thought warranted being away from the gospel and/or the church or leaving it completely, I promise you that God's prophets are still leading His church in the right direction.  Not all of it will make sense to us right away.  Sometimes we'll hear or see things that seem to contradict our moral compass, but please know that it is always worth it to trust that God will not let His prophets lead us astray, that His truth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Sometimes it can seem like the road from questioning to doubt to disbelief to hurt to understanding to healing and back to faith is much longer than it should be, but at least one promise I know is safe to trust is the one in Preach My Gospel where it says "All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ."  And I promise you if you live it the way His prophets have counselled us to, if you continually work to align yourself and your life with their counsel, that promise will happen for you.  I guarantee it.

To those who are currently struggling with doubts but haven't made a definite decision on how to respond yet, please don't give up.  I can't go into tons of detail here, but if there's anyone who understand the frustration of not having prayers answered for years and struggling for a really long time with questions or hurt or doubt, it's me.  But I can also tell you that continuing the good fight and keeping your heart and life in alignment with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as much as you possibly can will win through.  I testify with all the energy of my heart and soul that it will.  If you need to talk about it and ask for perspective, feel free to click the link to my facebook page above and message me (in english, for those of you who read it other languages).  I love questions as long as they are in honest inquiry.

To all.  I testify that Jesus Christ still leads His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I testify that following and sustaining the prophet will never lead you wrong.

God doesn't change.  A change in church policy or how the truth is implemented doesn't mean the truth has changed, that His church isn't true anymore or that His prophets are misleading us.  It means that we need to change.

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!
#princeofpeace

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.

*Chorus
"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.