Tuesday, December 29, 2015

There's Always Someone Who Understands

With some understanding of how cliche some people may think the phrase "trials are a part of life" is, it has taken new meaning for me this year.  This one is aimed to those who either don't think "that one thing" could ever happen to you or, on the other hand, those that think "no one understands what I'm going through right now".

In 2015 I have seen so many things happen, in my life and the lives of people who I love and am close to, that I was surprisingly naive enough to think "whoa! I never thought that would happen to me/them!"  Most of them were big shockers to me and many of them are things I'm still struggling to process, endure, heal from or change.  From an LDS perspective, I imagine there are many of us who see some people and think "Wow, they are so wonderful! I bet they are just so blessed all the time and are so good. They all look so happy and do so much good for the world and the Lord."  While I'm sure there are those out there who have very long periods like that, I highly doubt that there are many, especially those who appear most faithful to God, that don't struggle with some pretty intense difficulties.

In one case, there is a certain individual who is one of the most incredible spiritual giants I've ever known; someone who works so hard, studies the scriptures so diligently, serves so effectively, is so close to the Spirit, is so forgiving and helpful and selfless that anyone else might take one look at them and think that few things ever go wrong in their life because how much they must be blessed for their Christ-centered life.  If you were to talk to them, though, you'd find out the incredibly intense opposition they are under at work, the unbelievable difficulties they face at home, the willful negligence they experience at church because of old grudges, false rumors and more, but they don't show it because they are strong enough that, through the lens of casual observation, everyone else has no idea what is really going on in their life.

In another case, there's my wife.  I wrote her life story as she dictated it to me.  She had asked a number of other people (I think 6 or more but I could be wrong) to write it as well and they had nightmares after starting what is now chapter 6.  They couldn't do it.  When I heard this and was asked to write it, I knew I'd have to make it a matter of prayer and direction from God if I was to do it and be okay afterwards.  I could spend, at minimum, 10,000 words just getting started on the difficulties she has faced and overcome.  Her book is 36 chapters long!  She goes to church every week and anywhere else she goes with a smile on her face, is pleasant to people, doesn't like calling attention to herself and selflessly serves, studies her scriptures, prays, faithfully pays tithing and fast offering, has the most pure heart I've ever seen in anyone, is a fabulous cook... I could go on for a long time.  I know there are a few people who live near us who have known her since she was a child and yet are totally and completely oblivious to the kind of person she really is and the kind of things she goes through.

There are also those in my extended family whom I have grown closer to (even if not geographically) since I got married who are struggling with things I scarcely imagined would ever happen to a family where our last name is pretty synonymous with faith in and dedication to Christ, His gospel and His church.  Some of them have immediate family members who either hate the church, are struggling with same gender attraction, have had total loss of interest in religion, harbor deep grudges against their own immediate family or struggle with intense Word of Wisdom issues to name just a few problems.  Most of these things I heard about just this year.

However, since this blog is titled, "Good things now and to come", here is the positive spin on all of this.  Because you just never know how much difficulty someone is truly facing, there is always someone who understands what you are going through.  Having trouble understanding the scriptures?  I know another who is struggling with that and I've struggled myself with it.  Has someone in your family been affected by cancer?  Me to.  Have you lost a child?  I know someone who understands that.  Are you having intense struggles with finances, abuse, disability, addiction, homelessness, a crisis of faith or major health problems?  Trust me, there are many who understand, including myself, in many of those categories.  You are not alone.  No matter how good someone else's life may look, believe me, they have their own set of struggles and are fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Everyone has their own individual, tailored set of trials, joys, setbacks and successes.  No one is exempt, no matter how good or bad things look.

No matter what you are going through, there is always someone who understands.  There is always hope, there is always love, there is always a way out.  Even if you don't actually know anyone who you can talk to on this planet for help, our all knowing, all loving, all wise Savior Jesus Christ has sunk beneath it all, so he can help us according to our needs in a way that seamlessly fits our unique personality and circumstances if we are willing to open our minds to see it.

I have been reading The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister recently and there are some life changing perspectives in that book.  In one section he addresses a question asked by some, "As significant as the Savior's suffering seemed, was it tempered by the fact that he possessed godly attributes? ... did superhuman powers give him an edge over his mortal counterparts?"  The answer he gave is such a beautiful evidence of His [Jesus'] love, understanding, total and complete in every way, of human plight, both the sum of it as well as and especially of each individual malady from any and all sources.  "He took upon him infinite suffering, but chose to defend with only mortal faculties, with but one exception - his godhood was summoned to hold off unconsciousness and death ... that would otherwise overpower a mere mortal when he reached his threshold of pain.  For the Savior, however, there would be no such relief.  His divinity would be called upon, not to immunize him from pain, but to enlarge the receptacle that would hold it." He used His Godhood not to lessen the pain or escape from it, but to enable Himself to - in complete, divine awareness of it all - suffer "according to the flesh [mortality], that he may know according to the flesh [from a mortal perspective] how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12, Book of Mormon).  As Elder Callister put it, He simply brought a "bigger cup" to hold the bitter drink.

His sacrifice for all of us was one of love.  Not even His apostles could know - even from being around Him as much as they were, watching Him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, raise the dead, forgive sins, provide divine power to His followers and more - what was really going on inside, the kinds of temptations He faced, the inner struggles He faced.  How could they?  He never showed the least sign of weakness to anyone, for He possessed none.  He was so consumed in His mission to show infinite love, provide us with His example and pay the price for our eternal salvation from sin, weakness and all types of death that no one in our weakened mortal condition can comprehend Him in all His glory unless we are changed, of our own will, by Him.  He appeared as and was the ultimate example of obedience and the way to have the greatest possible joy and happiness and yet He faced, radiantly and head on, more than any of us.  It takes deep to comprehend deep and He knows it all.

So the next time you feel overloaded or, on the other end, see someone who appears to always be happy and never have any major problems, remember that (1) they are fighting battles you know nothing about (2) there are plenty of people who really do understand your hurt, even if from a different perspective, and that (3) the Son of God sunk below it all, so you are NEVER truly or completely alone.

Happiness is never out of reach.  There is always a way out, thanks to the Son of God, our loving Brother, Savior and Redeemer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Sometimes as I'm considering a subject to write about, something that can, perhaps, do good for a lot of people, I get stuck because I'm either at a loss for an idea or just don't know how to translate it from the amoeba of thought and feeling in my mind and heart to the english language.  Because of this, whenever I see or hear a quote that says exactly what I'm trying to say I latch on to it for dear life and use it every time I want to communicate that thought or feeling again.  Sometimes this drives my wife nuts because she's hears about it for while after I find them, so I try to limit how much I re-iterate those quotes in conversation, but that's I hold on to them, so I don't make as much of a fool or myself or get frustrated when trying to get an idea across.

That being said, I wanted to relax a bit with this post and just share some of the many quotes I have collected over the years that have made the biggest difference to me:

"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him."
 -Darryl Scott

"If you find yourself in a place where you have to choose between right and wrong, then you are in the wrong place, Put yourself in a place where you can choose between good and better."
 -Michelle Wu

"Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient.  They are obedient because they know certain expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God... We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see."
-Boyd K Packer

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
-Aldous Huxley

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."
-Bill Cosby

"There's no such thing as spiritual cruise control."
-Jamie Woodring

"The most penetrating of assurances, the one power, even beyond sight, that can burn doubt out of us, and make it, as it were, impossible for us to disbelieve, it the Holy Ghost."
-Truman G. Madsen

"Regarding ones testimony, remember, that which one willingly shares he keeps, while that which he selfishly keeps he looses."
-Pres. Thomas S. Monson

"We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer."
-J Reuben Clark Jr.

"There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness."
-Josh Billings

"The gift of the Holy Ghost comes after one repents and becomes worthy... The Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth and impresses upon the soul the reality of God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ so deeply that no earthly power or authority can separate him from that knowledge."
-Pres. James E. Faust

"He who finds pain in virtue and pleasure in vice is still a novice at both."

"The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light.  Each will have to be guided by the light within himself."
-Elder Heber C. Kimball

"If you aren't being persecuted, you'd better repent."
-Elder Russel M. Nelson

"There is no public morality without private virtue"
-Elder Eran A. Call

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”  -Ambrose Redmoon.

"If you want to be average, practice until you get it right.  If you want to be great, practice until you never get it wrong."
-Jon Schmidt [at least he's the first person from whom I ever heard that one]

"There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness―and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so."
-Pres. Thomas S. Monson

"In the memorable battle of Bunker Hill, the 17th of June 1775, there [my father and grandfather] stood side by side and fought with about 13 Americans against 3000 of the British for about two hours. When the enemy, after firing Charleston and wending around under the smoke, had nearly surrounded that wing of their own army, they saw but a small gap to retreat through, which was then continually plowing ground with balls from the shipping. But while they were going out, my grandfather saw one of our men wounded and crawling away on his hands and knees.  In the meantime a British soldier ran him through with a bayonet. Being filled with indignation at such rank breach of the laws of all civilized nations he immediately stopped, and amid scenes of death and carnage, loaded his gun and shot that man down before he left the ground and then obtained a safe retreat.  I speak of this to let my posterity know that our ancestors were clothed with that steady unshaken determination in time of the most imminent dangers that are incident to human life."
-Zera Pulsipher

"May we have a commitment to our Heavenly Father that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. We should not need to experience difficulties for us to remember Him, and we should not be driven to humility before giving Him our faith and trust."
  -Pres Thomas S Monson

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."
  -Vince Lombardi

“...there is more individuality in those who are more holy.”
-Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“[the gospel] burned in my bones like fire pent up. Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad in the world what the Lord was doing in the latter-days.”
-President Brigham Young

“To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done.”
-Richard G. Scott

"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!"
-Neal A. Maxwell

“...God does not save us “just as we are,” first, because “just as we are” we are unclean, and “no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man [of Holiness].” … God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become. Truly He loves us, and because He loves us, He neither compels nor abandons us. Rather He helps and guides us. Indeed, the real manifestation of God’s love is His commandments.”
-Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“Every part of these buildings, [temples,] and all that goes on inside them reflect the love of the Savior for us and our love for Him.  I felt that one day, high in [the Salt Lake] temple.  I was in one of the towers in a place few people would have been since the building was dedicated in a small room that has rarely, if ever been used. I saw exquisite pioneer era woodwork.  I remember the sense of awe that came over me when I imagined the workmen who had so carefully carved and finished the detailed mouldings.  They toiled away without power tools in a place where, for the most part, only the Lord they loved and heavenly beings would look upon it.  They did it not for man or for recognition but for Him, for His house.  They knew, as I do, that He lives and that He has asked His people to gather and to be worthy to build Him a house that He might direct them, bless them and their families.”
-Elder Henry B. Eyring

“Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice ‘and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance’ [Alma 34:15].… But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation―as wonderful as it is―does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.… Throughout our lives, God’s grace bestows temporal blessings and spiritual gifts that magnify our abilities and enrich our lives. His grace refines us. His grace helps us become our best selves.”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. Enduring to the end requires total commitment to the Savior."
-Elder Kevin Pearson

"The service that counts most is usually recognized by God alone."
 -Elder Michael T. Ringwood

“Personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”
  -Elder Neal A. Maxwell

"Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity."
  -Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Search the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets every day, every day, every day! It’s the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we are spiritually lost.”
  -Kevin W. Pearson

"[The Lord] did not intent either of the sexes to adopt the other's traits but, rather, that men should look and act like men and that women should look and act like women.  When these differences are ignored, an unwholesome relationship develops, which if not checked, can lead to reprehensible, tragic sin of homosexuality.  In other words, we have a responsibility as priesthood bearers to be examples of true manhood."
  -Bishop Victor L. Brown

“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough.  Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.”
       -[then] Elder Henry B. Eyring

"[Pornography] will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs--whatever they may be!" (I cannot adequately emphasize how true I know this one to be)
      -Thomas S. Monson

"Differences between us are meant to be celebrated, not calculated."
       -Steven Sharp Nelson

“Beauty besets [Christ] in every direction.  So it is with the Atonement.  Regardless of our vantage point, it is glorious to behold.  Every principle underlying it, every consequence flowing from it rewards our intellect, animates our emotions, and enlivens our spirit.  It is a doctrine for all seasons.”
       -Tad R. Callister

“He who had created worlds without number was about to enter a quiet secluded garden, a humble plot of ground in his vast cosmic universe.  There was no fanfare, no pressing throng to witness the most profound event his creations would ever know.  This was a moment so sacred, so sublime, that no human eye could fully pierce, no human mind could fully comprehend its transcending importance.”
       -Tad R. Callister

“If there is any imagery upon which I would focus as I close, it is two scriptures from the Book of Mormon.  The one in which we are reminded that Jesus himself is the gatekeeper and that 'he employeth no servant there.' … I will tell you... out of the conviction of my soul … what I think the major reason is [why he 'employeth no servant there'], as contained in another Book of Mormon scripture which says he waits for you 'with open arms.' That imagery is too powerful to brush aside. … It is imagery that should work itself into the very center core of one's mind – a rendezvous impending, a moment in time and space, the likes of which there is none other.  And that rendezvous is a reality.  I certify that to you.  He does wait for us with open arm, because his love is perfect.”
       -Neal A. Maxwell

Lastly one of the few times where I can say pretty much exactly what I mean.

"We need to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't true because the LDS Church is true, but rather that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS Church] is true because the gospel of Jesus Christ it teaches is true and because He is true.  It is His church.  The church is not the end, it is only a part of the means to an end.  It is the only church in which we can find Christ's teachings in their purity and fullness.  There need be no doubt about that for it is His church and He will not allow the prophets He calls to misdirect it to mislead it's members.  It's not about a bureaucracy or a system of checks and balances.  The Savior dictates how His church works for the benefit of mankind, offering access to His atonement for us, and it is done, period.  The purpose of the church is simply to provide His gospel as the only true guide to the ultimate end goal, which is to be both redeemed and exalted by Jesus Christ, to become like Him."
      -W. Paul Pulsipher

Friday, December 4, 2015

What Do The Things You Are Focused On Say About You?

Since this year isn't over quite yet, I couldn't look up the most popular google search for 2015 worldwide, but in 2014 it was Robbin Williams.  Others in the top ten included Ebola, Ice Bucket Challenge and ISIS.  To be perfectly honest, this is actually quite comforting to me.  This may seem strange to some, especially my regular readers, considering my entry about what types of things we should be comfortable with, but hear me out.

Of course, Robbin Williams death was a really sad thing to all who loved him around the world, there was tons of controversy about the Ice Bucket Challenge and ISIS -- well that's just never a pleasant subject.  But the fact that these were among the most searched things on the planet says something about humanity in general.  To me, it says that if you look at the entirety of the world population, at humanity as a whole, we care about each other and seek for each other's well being and safety.  I think it shows the overwhelming, innate desire that God put in each of us to care for each other, to make sure we are all safe and happy as much as possible.

From a Latter-Day Saint perspective, this matches the Plan of Salvation perfectly.  The Book of Mormon so effectively reminds us that "men are that they might have joy", that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,... righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad."

But going back to my main train of thought, based, at least, on the most frequent concerns of people worldwide as reflected by google (among other sources as well), God's plan is going forward well.  People are, at the core and as a whole, focused on finding happiness, the very thing God intended us to be, even if they don't know exactly how to find it.  Latter-day scripture emphasizes this point further: "For there are many yet on the earth ... are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it"

But let's get down to brass tacks now.  The world at large is still focused on happiness, but where are you or I or those closest to us focused?  The Lord tells us that "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he."  Yes, we will all be distracted from moment to moment and from day to day, but is the general direction we are heading leading us away from or toward the ultimate happiness the Lord has in store for us?

W Network is great this time of year because they have a ton of Christmas specials on that focus people's attention to things the Savior taught, like integrity, honesty, combating fear and hurt with faith and hope, etc.  As a kid I was, understandably so at that age, focused a lot on getting "stuff" for Christmas.  My mom had to actually either give us money and say this is for you to go and buy something for [enter sibling's name here] for Christmas or even go out and buy something from them for us to give to them and say "this is from you to them, so go wrap it up yourself and put that it's from you and put it under the tree" just to get us to even think about what we could give to others.  It's not something I'm proud of, but it says a lot about what really mattered to me as a kid.

Well, my perspective has drastically changed since then and the things that make me happy now are much different from back then.  I try so hard every year to think of something I can get or do for my wife without her knowing so the look on her face on Christmas day can be so happy I'll never forget for the rest of eternity.  However, she's very creative with her questions to me and she ends up finding out about most things she gets, if not all of them, every year.  There's still one thing I have planned for this year that she doesn't know about yet so I hope it stays that way.  But either way, my priorities are so different from how they used to be that I feel much better about what my focus says about me know compared to, heck, even as recently as 5 years ago.

It's nowhere even close to what I want it to be and I have so much to improve on that sometimes I wonder if my future self, say 10 years from now, would look at me and just shake his head in shame, but I know for a fact that I'm on the right track, that where I want to be, the kind of person I'm trying to turn into now is nowhere near as petty and selfish as were my aspirations 10 years ago.

I think it's healthy to give, minimum, a good 10 to 30 minutes a day just reflecting on what our priorities are saying about, or doing some kind of self evaluation.  Would you rather spend your Sundays doing something with some kind of commercial emphasis or give every effort to strengthen your relationship with our Father in Heaven?  Would you have the courage to turn down a business transaction on the Sabbath or kindly encourage a random stranger to stop smoking?  Is social media or the scriptures more appealing to you personally?  Do other's successes (especially when it would have been your success) bring you joy or envy?  Are you likely to use expletives (profane or not) when angry or frustrated?  You can find questions like these at the end of chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel and they are a fabulous way to get a good idea of what needs improvement.

Please don't get depressed because of this.  My purpose here isn't to in any way do a rewrite of Alma 5.  Rather, it is just to make us think about both ends of the spectrum, where we are doing right and where we can improve.  What do the things you are focused on say about you?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

7 Ways To Have Your Scripture Studies Do More For You

"What do you think of your/the scriptures?"

Depending on who you ask that question, answers might vary from a plain and simple "I don't" to "they're really confusing" or "I struggle to understand them" to "I love them", "they mean everything to me" or "they're the key to my happiness".  The possible answers are endless because there is an endless variety of perspectives and personalities in this world.  I have heard so many different view points on the scriptures, what constitutes scripture, how high of a priority they should be in our lives, how they should be interpreted, etc. that I feel a desire to offer what help and perspective and I can to aid in people's understanding how to get more from the sacred records given to us by God.  Here are 7 things you can do have your scriptures studies help you.

1. Pray.  I'm not sure I can sufficiently emphasize how powerful and useful prayer can be or how undervalued and underused it is in general in society today, but it works.  I'm telling you it works.  I saw a meme on facebook a few days ago that said we should be making our prayers more specific, more detailed, more personal and more lengthy (within reason on that last one of course).  When this kind of prayer prefaces our scripture studies, miracles happen.  When we put our whole heart and soul into our prayers and speak with our Father in Heaven with intent to take seriously what the Holy Ghost would bring to our minds from the scriptures, we are endowed with the Savior's grace to understand more deeply and purely those things that God would have us do to have the highest possible level and depth of joy.

In depth, personal, detailed prayer opens the flood gates of heaven as we seek to "feast upon the words of Christ" and allows us, as we open our minds and hearts to the influence of the Holy Ghost, that "mighty change of heart" that Alma so lovingly invited us all to experience.  Once in a great while (which is not nearly often enough), I'll be praying and I'll get a little impression, just as I'm about to end a prayer, that says "are you sure that's all you want to say?" or "are you sure you're done?".  I'll think for a few seconds and realize "oh I guess there's more I need to get out."  So I'll keep going.  As I do so I become more aware of the Father's undivided attention to me as He listens and I feel my connection with Him as son to Father grow.  My mind becomes clearer and I feel a greater ability to discern what He is trying to communicate to me through the Holy Ghost.  I can promise you that as this kind of prayer becomes more a part of your life and your scriptures studies that the same thing will happen.  His love will be more obvious and your ability to understand the scriptures by the power of Holy Ghost will increase exponentially.  You will find yourself increasing in awareness and understanding, a true comprehension of the specifically tailored message God wishes to speak to you when your study your scriptures.

2. Make the scriptures a non-negotiable part of your day.  I cannot even begin to relate to the innumerable different circumstances that might make it difficult to make the scriptures a meaningful part of your day, but I know that the Son of God can and does perfectly.  When Nephi so emphatically invited us to "feast upon the words of Christ" he didn't say "unless work is just too time consuming" or "except if you have homework due tomorrow or if you're too tired or if it's too early".  You see, Satan doesn't need to get you to commit any heavy grievous sins to consider it a win for him.  All he needs to win is to make sure, now matter how minimal the success, that you are distracted in small degrees.  One day going without scripture study and he considers that a success.  Why is one day a success for him?  Because if he can convince you by any means to neglect one day of  not studying your scriptures, he'll likely be able to convince you to neglect two, and then three, and so forth.  No, I am not saying that missing one day renders you unworthy of God's love or unworthy of going to the temple.  What I am saying is that it only takes one day of neglecting your scriptures to get you started on a very dangerous path downward.

I remember a story of three truck drivers being told by... well... I don't remember which apostle it was, but that's not important.  The story goes like this.  Three truckers were being interviewed for a new job.  The first one walked into the boss's office and after a few minutes, the boss concluded the interview by asking "how close can you get a truck to the edge of a cliff without going over?"  The response was "I'd say probably 5 inches".  The boss said "Ok. Thank's for your time. I'll get back to you soon."  The next interview ended the same, with the second candidate bragging further "I can get 3 inches from the edge." Well the third man also experienced the same interview, but upon the final question he answered by saying "I like to stay as far away from the edge as I can." The boss replied with two simple words: "You're hired."

The point behind this story is to illustrate that staying as far away as possible from excuses that distance ourselves from the Lord, including negligence of scripture study, is the most likely path to happiness and safety.

3. Study the words of ancient and modern prophets.  Two words.  General Conference.  Elder Richard G. Scott so brilliantly reminded us how much of a miracle it is that we have accessibility to the scriptures that we do, "Who could have imagined not very many years ago that the full standard works and years of general conference messages would fit into your pocket? Just having them in your pocket will not protect you, but studying, pondering, and listening to them during quiet moments of each day will enhance communication through the Spirit."  That whole talk is chalked full of amazing insights on the value of the scriptures.  

Said the Lord "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same".  I know for certain that God will speak to your mind so that you can understand clearly how to reach the fullness of spiritual stature and happiness He has for you as your make all of the Lord's words a part of your studies as directed by the Spirit.  Heck, even books like The Continuous Atonement, The Infinite Atonement, Jesus the Christ, Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, Preach My Gospel, The Triumph of Zion and other publications by God's prophets today are good to study.  Never go without studying the standards works, mind you (especially the Book of Mormon), but we have such a variety of scripture today that there really is no excuse not to broaden our scriptural understanding by expanding our spiritual repertoire.

4. Treat your scriptures studies like you would your time in the temple.  I remember when I was serving as a full time missionary in London, Ontario and we had my companion and I and the Chinese Elders (district leader) living in our apartment.  I don't remember which of us it was that saw him, but as someone went into our walk-in closet they saw Elder Durtschi kneeling in prayer and said (after closing the door) something like "well that gives new meaning to 'when thou prayest, enter into thy closet...'".  My point in bringing this up is to emphasize that this was an excellent example of just how much his personal time with Heavenly Father meant to him.  It was critical enough to him to be completely apart from everyone and everything else when praying that he went to the greatest lengths possible to make it so.  When we study we should be giving it our undivided attention. Unplug completely from distractions and feel the power of the word of the Lord.

5. As much as possible, tune everything else in the world completely out.  Our personal and family scripture studies should be the same.  T.V.s, tablets, ipads, phones, computers, all other electronic devices (except those that must be used to study and only to study) should be off and all other distractions laid aside so that we can have the optimal environment for revelation and pure knowledge and peace from our Father in Heaven as we study His loving counsel to us.  I know kids, pets and more can be an unwavering source of difficulty when it comes to quiet, dedicated, focused time on the scriptures, but any time is better than none.  Any time with absolutely everything else in the world tuned out with just us and the scriptures is worth it.

6. Mark them or at least keep a study journal!  In the scriptures themselves, the Lord commands us: "For I command all men... that they shall write the words which I speak unto them".  There is no stipulation that says "but only if they are audible words."  When the Lord speaks to us through the Holy Ghost, He expects us to write down the impressions He gives us!  Write them in the side margins.  Perhaps, write them in a study journal, or type them.  Maybe put them in a personal journal.  But for goodness sake, write them down!  Why do you think all patriarchal blessings written down?  Why do you think prophets write revelations they receive?  I was told about a member of the Seventy had with Elder David A. Bednar where they were talking about Elder Bednar's study habits.  He talked about how many copies of the Book of Mormon he had been through, each with a different topic being marked.  The interviewer guessed he had probably hundreds of copies read through by now and said something like "I'd love to see some of the gems in those". Elder Bednar said, in essence, 'No way!  Those are my gems.  Find them on your own!"

I think that is just bang on!  It reminds me of a conversation between W. Cleon Skousen and his mission president, Elder Widtsoe.  Brother Skousen summarized it like this:

"I said, “Brother Widtsoe, can I ask you a question?” He said, “Oh, oh, yes.” For I knew I had awakened him from a reverie of meditation on something. He was a very famous scientist, by the way, brother Widtsoe. I said, “I wanted to just ask you about why the Atonement was necessary.” I said, “I accept the fact that it is but I just wondered why? I wondered what would happen, or what caused it, to have the Father require the Son to go through this.” And he said, “Elder Skousen, who asked you to ask me this question?”“Oh,” I said, “well, I, nobody. It’s my question. Nobody asked me to ask it.”He said, “I’m not asked that question very often. Do you really want to know why the Atonement was necessary?”And I said, “Well, if it’s alright.”“Yes,” he said, “it’s alright.  How badly do you want to know the answer?”And I said, “Well, I’ve – I’ve wanted to know it ever since I was a little boy.”“Alright,” he said, “You know, if people don’t ask questions, they can’t hear the answer. So, I’ll share the answer with you over a period of time.”“Oh,” I said, “I so appreciate that.” and I got out my pencil. I said, “If you’ll give me the verses and everything, I’ll write it right down here.”“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what to look for and I’ll tell you which standard work it’s in.” I said, “aren’t you going to give me the chapter and verse?”

He said, “I wouldn’t deprive you of the thrill of finding it.”

As is similarly implied there, those gems in Elder Bednars scriptures wouldn't mean the same to anyone else if he just shared them freely because the change of mind and heart, born of the struggle to find them and write them down cannot just be transferred to anyone else.  They have to be obtained by direct, first hand experience.  That's the way it is with any experience or knowledge.

7. Live what you learn.  No matter how wonderful or soul satisfying your scripture studies are you to, it still doesn't really mean anything unless it results in a change of heart and behavior.  I've read the Book of Mormon cover to cover probably more than 25 times now.  My mission copy looks like this:

None of that would ever make any difference for me, not one of those gems it took so many hours to find, would do me any good if I didn't go and apply all those little personalized inspirations from the Lord.  For those who know me, this will explain a lot, haha.  As the Lord Himself said: "I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth" and, I'm sure he would say, 'and liveth what he receiveth', "I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."

No matter how uplifting our studies are, of themselves, no one can justly expect to gain anything worthwhile from scripture studies, any lasting knowledge or greater understanding or peace from it, if they are not thankful for and living, to the best of their ability, the truth they already know.


I remember when an LDS member nearby here in... Brampton I think it was... rehearsed an experience to me where he was giving a ride to a muslim(?) man in his car.
The man saw a quad (if I remember right) sitting on the car floor and said to the owner something like "is that your holy book/scriptures?"
"Yes", he replied.
"Why do you just let them sit there on the ground?  Don't you think they deserve more respect?" And this coming from someone who isn't Christian to an active member of the LDS church.
To my recollection, he never did that again.

My Mission President also told me that he had made a decision years before that he would never ever set his scriptures on the ground as a sign of respect to the real value of the word of the Lord.  I never forgot that and I have made the same goal and gone further.  You can ask my wife and she'll validate this but I panic a little when either of us goes one day without getting a good study of the scriptures in.

They really do matter that much.  They should matter that much to everyone from every circumstance, every perspective and every walk of life.  The scriptures really can do that much for us if we really value and use God's word the way He intended it, so we could be happy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Christmas Has Not Become Commercialized. Society Has.

It's the one time of year the world seems to be a little more socially healthy, when people are a little more kind in general, a little more giving, patient and loving.  Christmas is awesome.  It's the best holiday of the year bar none.  Yet so many (especially this year it seems to me) convey an attitude of diminishing Christmas because it's "too soon" or even dreading it because of all the commercialism sparked by the holiday.  This makes no sense to me if you consider what Christmas really is.

Christmas is, in part, about, as Alma said in the Book of Mormon, being "humble... submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things... diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive."

Honestly, I'm not sure I could possibly care less about how much stores and the media are making business off the Christmas season.  That's their business and their prerogative.  That shouldn't be, though, a reason for everyone else to buy into it or even get all up in arms about the holiday just because they are "ruining" it for some.  Yes, sometimes it gets annoying how much others try to shift the focus of Christmas away from Christ and more towards "stuff", but honestly, the responsibility is ours and ours alone to decide where our focus is centered.  Not even God, in all His majesty, might and power, will ever force the human mind and heart to feel or think anything that the individual does not choose for themselves.  He invites, always beckoning us with love.  Christ was the epitome of that very principle in this world.  It is He whose birth we celebrate this season.

No matter what anyone else does to make Christmas some kind of business gimmick, competition or contest to see who can make the biggest buck, have the coolest Christmas light display, who gave the best gift, which store had the best sale, who's the best deal finder, what it's really about is the kind of person we can become because of Christ.  It's about coming to know the Master, the ultimate celebration of the Son of God, His eternal love, ministry, life, example, sacrifice and triumph over everything that could bring us down. 

I remember the year my brother put a lot of effort into one of the best gifts he ever got me.  It was the year I discovered Jon Schmidt's piano music.  Someone wanted to see if I could learn his song "All of Me" and I loved it!  My brother found this out and, since he had known about Jon Schmidt's music before I had ever heard of him, he knew I would love a chance to play more of it.  I remember that Christmas morning when I tore the wrapping paper off of the binder in which he put all the PDF's he printed from Jon's website.  I had never seen his picture so when I saw it I didn't recognize who he was.  It was when my brother said "read the front cover" that my heart may as well have skipped a beat and, I assume, my face lit up.  It was one of the few times where I was utterly speechless with excitement.  My dad actually said "speechless, for once!" (har har dad).  I was so overcome with joy in his thoughtfulness and my mom told me later that he said my reaction was one of the best Christmas gifts he ever received.

I speak of this because it wasn't so much the materialism of the what he had bought me (though to this day I still frequently enjoy playing out of that binder), what why he did.  He knew what would mean a lot to me.  He knew that piano is one of most pronounced gifts from God to me and that the value of more means to develop that gift would have eternal value to me.  I never doubted how much he cared about me as his brother, but after that it only solidified and strengthened my trust in his concern for my happiness.  That Christmas, for me, was a powerful reminder that putting someone else's happiness ahead of our own, the way the Savior did, is really the object of the Christmas season.  It's about making Christ and mirroring His life the core of the season.  I believe I have come a long way with that in my life, and I still have a long way to go as well, but when I have actually done it right, there is nothing except divine love from God to explain the resulting joy of that kind of selflessness.

Satan is so sly with his influence over the business world and the economy.  He has had thousands of years of practice at distracting the world with a plethora of things that, in and of themselves, are completely meaningless in the scope of the individual worth of souls and the core purpose of humanity and mortality.  But, as the prophet Joseph Smith said, "The devil has no power over us, only as we permit him".  It is our choice what we make of Christmas, no matter what anyone else says or does.

Thomas S. Monson put it, as he always does, so brilliantly said:

This flawless, infinitely loving and giving man, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, the force behind everything that is good in this world and in all the eternities to come, is where our focus should be.  We can ignore or at least not get so easily annoyed with those who elect to make their Christmas about materialism and comparison.  If you want to truly find joy in Christmas the way it was meant to be, make it that way yourself, no one else can rob that from you unless you let them.

To those who get annoyed by Christmas music, have elected to not celebrate because they don't like the commercialism identified with the season or for whatever other reason are anything but happy about Christmas, I extend the following invitation.  Get excited!  Be like Buddy the Elf!  Decorate! Give it another chance.  And another, and another, and another... because regardless of what others do or say about the Christmas season, it is for you what you make of it and it always deserves our utmost gratitude, joy and respect because of He who we celebrate during this time of year.

Spread the joy of Christ to the world by making Christmas what it was meant to be within your own heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Divide

"The gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants we have made inevitably cast us as combatants in the eternal contest between truth and error. There is no middle ground in that contest."
-Dallin H. Oaks
*the picture that used to be here was deleted from it's source. I cannot remember what it said*

And there hasn't been since the beginning.  Today, as predicted by ancient and modern prophets, the state of the world is getting both better and worse than ever before.  Those who seek to live and be like Christ and have faith in Him, whether they realize it or not, are becoming so much more distinct from those who don't that it's extremely difficult to find anyone who isn't sure where they stand on any matter that is even remotely controversial.  There is a divide that began before this life between all the children of God and that divide has never been bigger than it is today.  Honestly, the difference in Christ's true followers and those who are not, as far as I have observed, is as great as the difference between this:


and this:


Or maybe more accurately, as great as the difference between this:

neuron pathways (http://www.high-resolution-wallpapers.com/)
and this:

quasar (the largest known thing in the universe)
Yes, there is a divide among the children of God today.  I'm not talking about anything cultural, racial, social or anything like that although there are certainly radical divisions based on such today.  This divide I'm talking about is a spiritual one.  On one side are those who are truly conscious of truths that most of the public is either too afraid or too unwilling to recognize as reality because they are simply not ready for what is coming, be they members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not.  On the other side are those who, Latter-day Saint or not, have truly been paying attention - or are willing to believe those who are - to world wide social, economic, political and spiritual patterns predicted by ancient prophets and reinforced by modern prophets.  *Edit* Of course, I still hold to the truth that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only church that contains the fullness of the gospel of Christ, but being a member of it is just a small part of living that gospel. *End edit*

Most of the world is completely oblivious to it, or even how big it really is.  God is still working to bring as many as He can to the safe side with His Son Jesus Christ, but one truth every single human that has, does or will live on this earth must acknowledge at some point is that, as Neil A Maxwell said, "If in the end we do not choose Christ, it will not matter what we have chosen."  Even considering how hard it is now to come to His side when you aren't already there, if you are not on His side of the divide now, it's only going to get even harder to climb to that point the more you wait.  The longer we wait to join His ranks and separate ourselves as far as possible from Babylon (the world), the harder it will be.  The gap is only going to get wider, more pronounced for those who are paying attention and harder to see for those who's top priority isn't coming to know Him and be like Him.

So how do you know which side you're on?

I'll turn first to the scriptures for what the Savior says about this matter.  We know that those who are on His side are those who are sealed as His.  As King Benjamin puts it, "I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you His."  Said the Lord about those who do this: "They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized...who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true... they shall overcome all things... these are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people... who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all."  Doctrine and Covenants 76:51, 53, 60, 63, 66

Those are some pretty powerful words.  In the Bible, David also emphasized who these people are effectively when he said "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;..."

To me, the most simple description of someone who is on His side is someone who has, at the very core of their heart, a love for the Savior over and above all else, proven by action, a desire to do whatever He asks and a correct understanding of what that is.

I've said this before but it's worth mentioning it again.  A big change is coming to the world soon.  We don't have very long before the Lord comes to establish Zion and begin the final stages of gathering His faithful, those who have elected to turn to Him with their whole souls and be cleansed and perfected by His atoning blood.  Quoting Jack R. Christianson for the umpteenth time "Satan don't kick no dead dogs."  The path to Him, to eternal happiness, is not an easy one.  It is littered with struggles and temptations that would and will completely crush those in the world who are without Christ, but the change of heart Alma so lovingly invited us to experience in the Book of Mormon, if welcomed with open arms and a humble heart, will be the very thing over time that brings us that joy incomprehensible to us in our weakened mortal state.  A godly transformation of our very souls, accomplished by unapologetic and unwavering obedience to Christ, will put us everlastingly on His side of the divide.

Which side of the divide are you on?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Loving So Much It Hurts

Once in a while you meet someone who just loves everyone.  The kind of individual I'm talking about, however, appears to everyone else like they have severe emotional issues, is bitter, easily offended, too sensitive, uncaring, untactful, careless, etc.  Bear in mind that I am well aware that there are plenty of people who are straight up just like that.  That's just how they are in mind and heart.  But there are many in the world today who appear to be like that when, in reality, it's just a reflection of a heart so loving, so focused and consumed with the well being and happiness of humanity that they feel incapable of managing and displaying such deep feelings in a way that others perceive as such.

Whether by difficulty nearly impossible for others to comprehend, by witnessing such in the lives of others or by physical/mental/emotional conditions into which they were born or put by life, their hearts have been conditioned to love so strongly that it hurts much of the time.  They love for others so strongly, desire so emphatically for their happiness, mourn so intensely at their pain, rejoice so tremendously at their successes, worry so immensely when they make choices that hurt them, and pray so mightily for them in all areas of life that most of the time it's indescribably overwhelming.  The good in all of that makes it worth it for them, but as a result, those feelings come out in ways that look to others like something else entirely.

I love my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ and am eternally thankful for His influence in my life.  I am one of those people. No, this isn't a gripe session.  This isn't about how hard my life has been.  It's not to get people to say "Oh, poor you" or to induce a pity party.  I can't stand when people do that.  It's not just to rattle off a list of excuses for expressing ourselves ineffectively either.  My efforts in this entry are to discuss something that has been a poignant issue for many recently and, as I wrote here, will continue to become more unavoidable as time moves on: How much do we really trust in the Lord, His prophets and the way He operates His church and kingdom on this earth.

First I want to clarify, and reiterate for some who are frequent readers, a point I have often made when speaking generally about faith, church and religion.  So many today are so bent on doing what the church says to do, having faith in what the church teaches, being in good standing with the church, converting people to the church, missionaries getting lots of baptisms and more.  They are forgetting that, while none of these things are necessarily a bad thing, they are not the end goal life, but rather the means to an end.  Why does religion even matter in the first place?  Who cares if it's true and why should we care?  Because the whole purpose of our mortal existence is to become like our Father in Heaven and His Holy Son.  I recently read one persons facebook post that mentioned giving up so much and fighting so hard to be loyal to the LDS church and that he felt like, with recent events, he just could do it anymore.  My first thought was, why were you trying so hard to be loyal to the LDS church?  Mortal men act as stewards over God's church, so why would you ever want to pledge loyalty to that?  The reason we are baptised in the said church, make covenants (promises), repent/change, give up so much, work so hard and more is not to merely be in good standing with a church, but to be in good standing with Christ.  Committing to follow the words of prophets and join with His church is, to be sure, a indispensable part of showing commitment to Him, but is just that, a part.

I touched on this point to emphasize that trusting in the Lord, His prophets and the way He operates His church and kingdom is inclusive of everything we do in the church, not the other way around.

The reason I mentioned those of us who love and feel to the intensity that we do ties right into that. It hurts so much when I see people just throw their hands up in the air (proverbially or literally) and abandon the Lord's church because of "the church did this wrong" or "the church was being unfair when they said...".  This is utter nonsense and I worry about them.  The church didn't do anything wrong, prophets who act as stewards of it are simply obeying God's commands.  If someone has a problem with that they should take it up with Heavenly Father, not the church, for He, via His Son, is it's behind it all.  Someone referred to the church as the "LDS corporation."  Oh, the ignorance!  I have seen a few people, friends of mine, who I love, respect and admire - who have worked hard, sacrificed, exercised faith and built up their testimonies of Christ and His Kingdom - throw up their hands and just quit when something rocked their boat.  It hurts me to my core when I see them rob themselves of the riches of eternity by doing so.  I think I know better, after this last week and weekend, how Alma felt when he said, "And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto [the words of the prophets], and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;"

My wife and I LOVE talking to and working to help those in our ward (and investigators) who are recent converts, who, in our perception, are possibly the most ignored, the most burdened, conflicted and confused and do our best to be effective at it.  Honestly, I absolutely love it, for at least the following reasons.

1. Their problems and struggles are often so poignant that, in our love for them, our focus is instantly shifted from our problems to theirs when we really get to know them.  As weird as it may seem to some, I feel relieved and happier when this happens because there's just no feeling like the Holy Ghost helping someone else through you.  When Father in Heaven sees fit to inspire me with just the right words to get them back away from the edge of their moral or emotional cliff, no matter how small the effect, and I see the joy, relief and hope in their eyes... there's just nothing quite like it.

2. I don't know if this is exactly how it's going to be in the end, but I have always pictured us all in a lineup at an office door behind which sits our Lord and Savior as we wait for our final personal interview with Him to report on what we have become.  I REALLY DON'T WANT to be standing in that line (whether figuratively or otherwise) knowing I could have done more to contribute to their happiness and salvation. I love people.  I just do.  I love people enough that the thought of anyone being barred from the presence of God or eternal progression isn't something I can think about for more than a few seconds before pushing the thought out of my mind and giving all my mental energy to thinking of how I can help them avoid that terrifying possibility.

Dumbledore told Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that the reason he avoided Harry all year was to protect him.  He thought if he distanced himself from Harry, Voldemort would be less tempted to attack him.  He said he "cared too much" about Harry, after all Harry had been through, to do anything that he thought would cause Harry more pain.

It's the same with me.  Sometimes when I get really scared for someone's eternal well being because of choices they are making, it comes out - whether towards them or someone else - in ways that come off as really rude and insensitive.  I am well aware of this weakness in me, on occasion to the point where I'm just emotionally out of commission for a short time.

The good part to all this is as follows.  It goes right along with what I said earlier.  When Father in Heaven sees fit to inspire me with just the right words to get someone back away from the edge of their moral cliff and I see the joy, relief and hope in their eyes... there's just nothing quite like it.  The joy I find from that makes it all worth it.  I love people so much it often hurts, but that's why the Atonement of Christ is so glorious and beautiful.  As Ammon said "Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."

That is me in a nutshell.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

5 Truths About Christianity Most People Aren't Aware Of

Towards the beginning of September 2015, I wrote about Jesus being the single most ridiculed, slandered and misinterpreted individual who ever lived on this planet, though I may not have worded it that way.  In my recent conversations about Christianity as a whole I have heard many opinions that have brought me to honestly pity those, as plainly as I can put it, who just don't understand Christianity.  They are so riveted on their misunderstandings, as innocent (or not) as they are, that anything that challenges their ideas or disagrees with them is brushed under their proverbial rug.

Regardless of the reason for their misunderstandings, I hope to shed some light on what and who Christ really was all about.  Whether the elected response of the reader is to reinforce emotional or mental (or even physical) walls against these truths, wholeheartedly open their minds and hearts to it, or some where in the middle of those two, I hope that someone's life can be changed for the better through this, via greater understanding of the joy and grandeur of the life, purpose and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The reader should be aware that all these points come from the perspective of a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Christianity came from the Jews/Jesus was a Jew


Any belief system named after the person from whom it originated is designed for it's followers to mirror the life and words of that person.  I think it is safe to say most people would agree with that statement. From that angle, consider these words straight from the Master, "...then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)  While Christ did obey the law of Moses, consistent with the Jewish culture in which He grew up, He boldly and unapologetically declared that He was the one who gave the law of Moses from which Jewish culture sprang in the first place. He was simply there to do the will of His Father came to earth to exemplify, teach and enforce a higher law, which His Father had given Him.  His teachings were not dictated by Jewish rites or beliefs of the time, as evidenced by local Jewish religious leadership's disdain for Him (and even they flagrantly tainted Mosaic law in the first place).  He declared, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."  (John 18:36) I'm not sure you can get much more obvious than that. Jesus lived with Jewish culture, yes, but He did not preach or enforce any uniquely Jewish religious ideas. He was an Isrealite by lineage, but religiously, He was not a Jew. Christianity is not and never was a sect of Judaism nor is it an offshoot of it. In reality, Christianity in this world has been around since Jesus taught Adam and Eve after they got kicked out of the garden of Eden.


Christianity teaches that God is unknowable and incomprehensible.


Christ also directly contradicted this idea when He said, in John 17:3 "And this is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent."  The very Messenger of the salvation of God would not, in the midst of His great intercessory prayer, declare to our Father and our God that eternal life IS to know God, to comprehend Him, if it was not in His eternal plan for us do so at some point, whether in this life or the next.  Think about it this way.  When you think about what you want your children to become when you first hold them at birth, do you not want them to become great?  Do you not want them to have and become everything good about you and even have the good qualities that you don't have?  In the case of God the Father, nothing is not good about Him, so that point still stands.  Why would an omnipresent, omniscient, all powerful, all loving Father in Heaven want anything less of us than to really understand Him and become like Him, sharing with Him in the joys of His power and creation?  The answer is obvious.  He doesn't.


Christianity is all about "if you live a good life, you're going to heaven, if you live a bad life, you're going to hell."


I can understand to an extent why so many people think of many Christian sects like this.  Even the doctrine of the LDS church, which is more inclusive regarding salvation than any other, declares that those who do not measure up to the potential God gave us will not enjoy all the blessings He has in store for us if we do.  However, the Book of Mormon, helps to explain things further, as a volume of scripture completive with the Bible, "...for I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction." (Alma 29:4)  So to be perfectly candid and honest, when we go before the feet of the Lord for our final evaluation with Him, it will not be those who chose not to follow Him saying "I know I didn't quite do everything I was supposed to but please let me in, let me be with you forever."  Rather they will be acknowledging that they have become, however short they fell from their potential, the kind of person who doesn't want to live in a state of Godliness, that they would rather live a lower way of life than is required for exaltation.  Everyone will receive exactly what they want.  For Latter-day Saints, "hell" can be used to mean anything that constitutes separation from God, so it's not always quite as black and white as "if you live a bad life, you're going to hell."  For more/official doctrine on this, go here, here, here and here.  Also, I have provided more of my perspective on this specific subject in this article.


Christianity is basically just "believe in Jesus and you're saved, period."


The Savior Himself said "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)  At the same time, the other side of that coin was emphasized very well by A. Theodore Tuttle when he said "Just as faith without works is dead, likewise, works without faith are dead."  It has been said that asking which of grace and works is more important is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is more necessary.  I have heard so many people express an attitude of "you can't earn your way to heaven" and they're right!  You can't earn it, but you can qualify for it.  Even then, we only become qualified for it, by the Savior for His sake, as we make consistent choices and changes in our lives that make us like Him.  As Brad Wilcox reminded us, heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to become heavenly.  They won't want to be there.  It goes beyond works alone or faith alone.  You have to have both constantly feeding each other, founded on Jesus Christ, His example and His Atonement.  That is what Christianity teaches about salvation.  Jesus saved everyone from physical death unconditionally and He can save us from spiritual death (eternal separation from God) if we follow and become like Him.  The price has already been paid for us, totally, completely, entirely.  What is left for us to determine is if we will make choices that transform us into someone who is qualified to inherit what is now waiting for us.


As long as you have faith in Jesus Christ, the specific sect or denomination to which you may or may not adhere makes no difference.


The apostle Paul actually clarified this in several different ways to several people.  One example is in Ephesians 4:5 where he says "One Lord, one faith, one baptism", indicating that the Lord established one method to return forever to the presence of God and become like Him.  Furthermore, the Lord Himself said in Matthew 7:14 "...strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."  An attitude of "oh, any old Christian sect will suffice" or even "the sect that fits me best" or "the person with whom I identify the most" just doesn't fit with the idea of a straight gate or a narrow way "which leadeth unto life".  What Christ taught, through Paul, was that His church will always have apostles and prophets, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, to unify His followers, united in all things, not "carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men" (verse 14).  The belief that any church that professes to follow Christ or happens to fit your perspective will get you back to God contradicts the absolute truth that all of Christ's true followers will be perfectly unified in His pure doctrine.  There most definitely is one correct way to interpret the scriptures.  How do you know what that way is? You'd have to listen to and follow prophets and apostles sent by the Lord Himself, for, as Christ said "whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same".  Does this mean that there is no good in all but one of the existent Christian sects today?  No.  It simply means that there is only one place where the whole truth and nothing but the truth can be found and that is in Christ's one true church.  As for me, I have received witness from the Holy Ghost that that church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


There are, of course, many more flawed perspectives and misunderstandings (both deliberate and innocent) regarding Christianity.  Agency, our ability to choose granted by God, can be a tricky thing and when people are afraid of being wrong or are angry at God it is easy for them believe anything that convinces them that whatever they are doing is okay with God.  Change is not something people embrace as much as they should (read more about that here) but the more we seek to put our own will on the back burner and focus more on Christ's will for us, we will be truly happy, for that is all He wants for us, happiness.  Only sticking to pure Christianity in it's true form will result in our eternal happiness.

*edit* read the sequel to this here

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Practice CAN Make Perfect, but Always Makes Permanent

I love this article about practicing habits and have shared it with many friends during discussions about music, piano and practicing.  I believe I first heard from a sister missionary who served here in our ward (I won't mention names just in case), practice makes permanent.  I also believe that it's 100% true.  As the article I mentioned indicates, when people were observed and evaluated in their methods of practice, the following was discovered.

1. Practicing longer didn’t lead to higher rankings.
2. Getting in more repetitions had no impact on their ranking either.
3. The number of times they played it correctly in practice also had no bearing on their ranking.

What did matter was:

1. How many times they played it incorrectly. The more times they played it incorrectly, the worse their ranking tended to be.
2. The percentage of correct practice trials did seem to matter. The greater the proportion of correct trials in their practice session, the higher their ranking tended to be.

It also mentions that the top three most influential factors in the end result of the experiment were as follows:

-The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected.
-Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct; or sped things up to test themselves, but not too much).
-Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials.

Note how all three of these things have direct connection, not with an attitude of just "practice, practice, practice", but more so with how they responded to their mistakes while playing.

However, this entry is not meant to be applied or to just music or any other art or skill.  Our very thought patterns, habits, communication and perspectives heavily depend on the kinds of practices we choose to develop and strengthen in those areas and more.  I can practice communicating kindly and effectively all I want, but if my practice consists of making the same mistakes over and over again without actually doing something different, the bad habits I am really practicing will stick.  No matter how much I think I'm going to do better next time, I can think nothing but "I'm going to [insert action step here] better next time" 100,000 times in one day, but if the hoped result behind it does not become reality in what I say and do, I have just continued to practice the same thing. Instead of making the change I am looking for, I have only made it worse. Planning, as critical as it is, will never mean anything if the plan is not deliberately and actively applied and made into reality.

This also applies to religion.  There is a reason why the Lord has declared that sexual relations of any kind are to be reserved for marriage.  I have been a first hand witness to the devastation that pornography causes in people's lives.  I have personal experience with how difficult it really is to kick a habit like that and one thing I know for sure is that it is a prime example of a habit that takes the right kind of practice to rid it's infectious poison from our lives.  No matter how many times I kept saying to myself I'll never do it again, until I actually turned full force to my Savior and went about recovery His way instead of my own way, the problem only gained momentum.  However, I know also know now that, especially in this area, practice makes permanent, not always perfect.

There are moments in an addicts life where they are literally in the act of their addiction at the same time they are saying to themselves "I shouldn't be doing this, I should stop. Umm... that means stop! Stop it! I said stop it stupid! You freaking retard, idiot, moron! Stop it now! You are ruining your life and relationships!" And they keep going.  Why?  Because their practice habits in recovery have not included effective identification of the problem or core reasons behind their thought patterns and the correct response to them.  They have literally given up their agency, their ability to choose, to a degree.  They have not yet turned, full force, to the most effective source of healing and a change of heart and mind, the Lord, Jesus Christ.  While I'm on this subject, to those who are struggling with any kind of addiction, please don't wait until the pain of the problem becomes worse than the pain of the solution.  Save yourself that kind of pain.  Start implementing effective practice habits in your life now.

There's a song I really like by Cherie Call called That's Where Faith Lives.  The lyrics go like this:

"It doesn't live at the end of a rainbow,
It doesn't sleep at the edge of your bed
And sometimes it doesn't fit so well
With the plans you're making in your head
But just before you reach the service station,
Right before the car runs out of gas
In the eye of the tornado
With all the strong winds blowing past

That's where faith lives
That's where fear tries to go
That's where everybody guesses
And you're the one who knows
And it may take the most that you can give
To find the place where faith lives

It lives in the fiery furnace, and it lives in the lion's den
And sometimes in the wilderness where it lives and dies and lives again
It lives where the doors fly open, it lives where the sun comes out
It lives in the window where you throw away all your doubts"

It's in the moments of "now is the time to decide, now is the moment of change", as Cherie puts it, right in the eye of the tornado, where we have to give our all to accurate recognition of and response to our previous mistakes.  Yes, mistakes will be made no matter what in the process of perfection and we can't learn to fix mistakes and overcome them if we don't make them in the first place, but it's always better to make those changes sooner than later, seeking the Lord's timing for us instead of ours.  No expertise in sweet talk, no social or intellectual prowess, no degree of eloquence (to ourselves of anyone else) will be sufficient, of itself, to make the things we practice in our lives improve if the key to effective practice is not applied.  No matter the area of ability, in order for practice to result in perfection we must make sure that the things we are making permanent about our practice are things that will make us perfect.

It's all in how you respond to your mistakes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Routine vs. Change

I've mentioned this analogy in a previous entry, but it's effective enough that I'll use it to introduce my message here.  In the movie Rattatouille, Remy's dad shows him the shop window with all of the rat traps and poisons and he tells Remy that that's nature.  That's just way it is and it won't change.  Remy replies with "change IS nature, dad".

Now I understand that there are good and bad changes people make all the time.  Not all change is good.  Some things need to stay relatively consistent, like our level of frequency in scripture study.  Elder Pearson said recently in General Conference, "Search the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets every day, every day, every day! It’s the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we are spiritually lost."  It's similar with prayer. Everyone should be making prayer a part of life many times every day.  It's easy for me to go on with things that should stay consistent as well as things that should always be changing, but my point isn't to just make a list.  My goal here is to emphasize why we should never be afraid of change.  Bear in mind that nothing I say here negates the need for good habits to remain, intensify and become more a part of who we are over time, but even in those habits, there is a critical necessity to have our attitudes, commitments and faith in habits the Lord would have us develop continually improve and multiply and that means change!

I'll start out with Alma 41:10-11 in the Book of Mormon.  It illustrates very well why change is so important. "Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.  And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness."  The nature of happiness.  Think about that for a moment.  It's not natural for us as children of God to be entertaining behaviors, beliefs and thoughts that counter His truth and plan of happiness for us.  At least it shouldn't feel natural.  It shouldn't be an instinct to treat people harshly.  Rudeness and selfishness should not feel normal.  Attitudes that diminish the someone's personal, divine nature or shows a lack of concern for their feelings and well being should not be our impulse.  This does relate to change and I'll get to that in a bit.

Alma also mentions that "Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."  If we have not made the transitions in our very nature to become godly by the time our personal interview with the Savior arrives, there will be no "Oh, ok, I'm ready to be better now."  We have to already by to that point by that time!  He wouldn't have asked us to do so if it weren't possible.

Another awesome scripture that helps to emphasize this concept is 2 Nephi 2:11, "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility."

What this tells me is that stagnancy is worse than misery.  I was talking to my wife when her health was bad a few days ago about this concept in relation to our feelings. (For those who know my wife well who are thinking "when is your wife ever in good health?", yes, yes I know, but bear with me.)  We were talking about the fact that she would rather be sad and miserable than feel nothing at all, that it reminds her of how amazing it feels to have relief and happiness.  She was doing amazing that day, responding with gratitude to her trials and thanking Heavenly Father for the reminder of the good things she has and would continue to have in life.

Now on to the point I am trying to make with these concepts.  Because it is not natural to be stagnant, because it should not be an automatic, knee-jerk reaction to indulge in ungodly attitudes, beliefs, words and behaviors, it thus becomes of pivotal, eternal importance for us to welcome change!  Does it seem easier to just let many of our daily routines stay the way they are?  Of course!  Is change, especially the big changes, scary?  Yes!  That natural man in us makes sure that we perceive change as a burden.  But where would we be if Christ had chosen to condone the age old habits, routines and teachings of the law of Moses and passively allow them to remain a part of Jewish life?  Where would He be if He had simply allowed Himself to fit into the mold of the Isrealite nation and conform to their customs and rituals during His ministry?  Where will we end up if we don't consistently change our lives to match His more and more and confront the hard changes we should be making every day with confidence in Him instead of fear?  Not with our families in the highest degree of Celestial Glory, that's for sure.

I've been to places where the really difficult, scary, but positive changes in perspective, believe and action are celebrated and consistently ingrained into people's lives.  I've also spent time in areas where everyone is so stuck in their ways of life that if someone comes into town who gives off a vibe that doesn't fit their view of the way life should be, they form, many times obliviously, opinions about them that are more close-minded and ignorant than you can imagine; and much of the time they don't even realize they're doing it!

As I pointed out in the beginning, routine is not wrong when it's based on Godly principles and there most certainly are a plethora of bad changes people can and do make all the time.  But please do not allow yourself to fall for the lie that it's just too hard to make the big changes.  Do not allow yourself to be fooled by the attitude that the pain of rejecting the natural man and changing into the god or goddess inherent within you, along side our Savior, will be greater than the positive results along the way and at the end!

Just as a side note, I've noticed that it is within many of the small towns I've lived where making changes that allow Christ to overcome my carnal natures are particularly difficult.  Not necessarily all small towns, or even a majority of them, but enough to mention it here.

I want to point out something taught to me by one of my seminary teachers growing up. If the proverbial sails on our boats are too straight, our progress will be either non-existent or so slow that we will have insufficient growth in our knowledge and faith in our Redeemer and Father in Heaven, eventually being brought to acknowledge that we failed to fill our true potential (which happens to be one of the few and most pronounced fears I have).  Granted, if our sails are turned too far in any direction we will be blown over by the winds of adversity, but if we are not making every effort to see that our sails are turned at the optimum angle to blow us more effectively through the difficulties intended to make us like the Christ, we have much work to do!

I love, so much, these lyrics to "Jesu, the Very Thought is Sweet" sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

"Jesu, Thou sweetness, pure and blest,
Life's Fountain, Light of souls distressed,
Surpassing all that heart requires,
Exceeding all that soul desires!"

The transformation we need to make to become what God wants us to be, to have that unlimited joy with our families forever, was never supposed to be something common, mundane or blandly ritualistic.  It's supposed to be something that requires our whole heart and soul, something that brings us to appreciate, at least in the limited way we can, the import of the Atonement of Jesus Christ; to make, every day, the significant shifts in our very eternal makeup that turn us into type of person the Lord is.  If you are not ready when the approaching great and terrible day of the Lord arrives, it won't be because you make too big of a change to be like Him.  If you are ready when that day comes, it will truly be a great day for you and it will be because you never let the ever falling standards of the world prevent you from bringing your nature more into absolute agreement with His.

I know these changes are possible.  I have experienced a number of them myself and I have many left to go.  Every time a major change occurs in me for the better, each time I become more obedient, each improvement in my ability to discern and follow the Holy Ghost helps calm my fears about those major transformations.  Approaching them isn't always fun, but I can honestly say I don't consider them with apprehension and fear anymore.  I ask God for them now because of the increased capacity I have to feel joy and love from Him afterward (and even during them).

Please keep and build upon the godly habits you already have, but form new ones as well, in word, thought, belief and desire.  Do it all the time.  Make a consistent ;) habit of making a big change, internally or externally (or both).  Fill the jar of your life with the rocks of commitment to Jesus Christ and our Father.  I guarantee that if you do so, everything that you need will fall into it's proper place and those that you don't will seamlessly slip out of your life and you will even be able to see it as a welcome relief!

Don't fear godly change.  Confront it, welcome it and embrace it alongside our Savior and you'll never regret it.