Sunday, March 20, 2016

#LDSConf - Why You Should Watch: Part 2

About a year ago, I wrote about why General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is such a critical time of year.  I'm doing it again.  There are so many in the world today who let anger, hate, fear, immorality and more dictate their habits and beliefs.  Selfishness and spinelessness are like a cancer infecting the minds of too many, inside and outside of the Lord's church.  I am victim to some of this as well sometimes, but that's why I'm writing this for my sake to.  I need reminders as well.

General Conference is the perfect time for everyone - and I mean every single person on earth with internet connection or access to an LDS chapel - to listen to counsel straight from God through His prophets.  Remember what the Lord said, "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same [emphasis added]."  We are incredibly blessed to have this twice a year and it's a perfect time to have the Savior speak to and, if we let him, change our hearts, minds, beliefs and habits to align more with His so that we can be happier and have peace, no matter what else is going on around us.

But that's the key right there.  If we are not consistently making every effort to completely align ourselves and our lives with Him, our difficulties and heartache will only get worse instead of being healed by Him.  As President Eyring said (when he was Elder Eyring): "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... You can set your expectations for yourself a little higher and then a little higher, with confidence that a loving Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son will send you the Holy Ghost and lift you higher and higher, toward Them."

Prophets give us counsel during General Conference that we cannot afford to miss.

I know a large number of people, including and in some cases especially Latter-day Saints, will say to themselves, "Oh I can just watch it later online" or "I'll read it when it comes out in the Ensign so I can mark it up."  People who entertain this are feeding a harmful attitude.  Of all weekends of the year where our church attendance and attention to God's prophets should be multiplied many times over, it should be Conference weekend!  Honestly, it's very little Heavenly Father asks of us in the first place to dedicate 3 hours a week to manditory meeting attendance.  Seriously!  That's not even 2% of our week!  So why should it be such a big deal to give not even 3/10ths of a percent of a year to listening to loving counsel from our Savior and our Father in Heaven that, without question, will make our lives better if we listen.  The Holy Ghost can speak to us more answers, give greater means to accomplish what appears impossible and we can have more divine joy in our lives when we take it all in audibly AND visually.

(For any interested, 3 hours / (24 hrs * 7 days a week) is 1.7% and 
20 hrs (8 hrs + Priesthood or Women's session) / 24 hrs * 365 days is 0.228%)

Don't get me wrong.  The Ensign is just as valuable as watching Conference live, but that does not mean it's more valuable.  Please don't just read it.  Watch it.  Watch it live.  And then, yes, read it, no - reading is shallow - prayerfully study it afterwards.  My parents taught me something about Conference and even just Sabbath Day observance in general that has helped to change the way I view Conference today.  Each time Conference came twice a year, we were all required to dress up in our Sunday best, even though we weren't going to the actual church building, sit around the TV as a family, tune in to BYUTV and sit as we would in church, quietly, reverently, with bathroom and drink breaks, if needed, only during the songs.  I will forever be grateful for this example and their persistence with that.  It has helped me to find better answers to prayers, more peace and healing in the Atonement of Christ and greater in faith in God's prophets and their loving pleas to mankind to show unyielding, uncompromising commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you do this already, more people need to be like you during Conference.  If you don't, I'm not here to criticize you or give any kind of message that that somehow means you are less committed to the Lord because of it, but I can tell you that you are missing out on innumerable blessings from God in your life by not watching.  I understand some people have jobs and responsibilities that are totally and completely unavoidable.  Some are kept from watching Conference because their individual circumstances are such that family responsibilities require them to be engaged in other things.  But - and I can't remember or find the source of this - I think it was in a recent General Conference where one of the twelve (I think?) said something like "It's okay to 'pull your ox out of the mire' on the Sabbath except if you spent all Saturday pushing it in!"

Please don't use excuses like "but we've been planning on this sports game all season" or "this is a family outing we've had in the works for a long time" or "I was too afraid to ask my boss for time off."  Missing out on a game, losing it, or even disappointing others on the team is a far better option than disappointing the Lord, family outings could have been planned so that they don't interfere with that weekend, and even as much as religious liberty in America is being attacked left, right and center, it still exists and no employer has the right to deny you that weekend off for jobs that don't involve emergency response to anything.  But heck, even then, you can listen to it on the radio if you are a firefighter or a policeman should you get a few minutes to tune in.

I know I may seem overbearing to some with my approach to this subject, but one of the deepest desires of my heart echoes what Ammon said: " 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."

I want so badly for you to have more of the amazing experiences of Conferences like I have had.  I want you to be so happy that you couldn't possibly be sad, angry, scared or annoyed - at least for some length of time.  That's what General Conference can do for you if you take it seriously enough.

Do you have questions about the church?  Are you struggling to keep your faith strong?  Having trouble overcoming addiction?  Is your marriage in trouble?  Has a loved one or a close friend passed away?  Does mental/emotional illness make life incredibly difficult for you?  Do you need help inviting that friend to learn about the gospel?  Are you struggling financially or fearful about the future?  Has a family member gone down a destructive path in their life?  I've been in all of those situations and I can tell you from first hand experience that you will find guidance that is essential, relieving, comforting and/or healing for your problem if you seek for the Spirit and put all your effort into being receptive to the answers you need.

Do you think you have all the answers?  Does General Conference seem like the 'same old same old' to you?  Do you no longer have interest in the church or even just in watching that weekend?  General Conference is still for you and I give my personal guarantee you will still find something that you would never have dreamed you needed to hear if you watch with an open heart.

So on April 2nd and 3rd this year put on your best dress or your slacks, white shirt and tie, go to church or your TV or computer if you can stream it live in your home, get out some paper and a pen/pencil, turn off your cell phone, close all the other tabs in your browser and "feast upon the words of Christ."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Language: All the "small" things

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matt 5:37, "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

The point that I'm leading into with this, as you might expect, is the subject of communication and our choice of words.  Some might think of me as too picky in my approach to this, especially considering my own glaring weakness in this area for those who know me.  No, this isn't an anti-swearing article, although that ought to never be a part of our conversation (or thought process for that matter) with anyone in any way.  This is about about using words and expressions that feel very common and okay even for those with relatively high moral standards but are still not conducive to the spirit of what Christ taught about the subject.

The reason I start out with that verse about in Matthew is because, in context, the Savior is teaching us to "not swear at all", but to keep our communication stay simple and let plain speech be a powerful enough force to get our ideas and feelings across without unnecessary "additives", if you will.

A good example of things is illustrated in Dead Poets Society when Keating discourages, for example, his students from saying things like "very sad" and replacing it with "morose".  There are many other examples of that kind of idea, but the principle behind it is that swearing and even using words like "freaking" and "crap" aren't even necessary.  Yes I have to work on those two myself a lot as well and I can already hear some people saying to themselves "seriously? 'freaking' and 'crap' aren't even really 'bad' words."  While they won't keep you out of the temple to be sure, someone who really wants to express something with that much adamancy can find another word to use.  With those kinds of expressions you may as well say "that guy was very very very very rude."  Not only does that just sound kind of superfluous, it doesn't do any good for the speaker or the listener.  I can guarantee you there are plenty of ways out there that would get the point across even more forcefully than "freakin" or "crap" and still be more conducive of the Holy Ghost.

"Sexy" and "Hot" are two others that drive me nuts!  According to the dictionary, sexy means "Arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest."  Those who are familiar with the Lord's law of chastity as taught in the LDS church will hopefully see the problem with this when considering that phrases like "he/she is sexy" objectify people.  Sex is the single most sacred act we can do in this life, which is why God put safeguards of total abstinence in all forms before marriage and complete fidelity during marriage.  Those who participate in it become joint creators with the Almighty God, so to just toss that term around like it's no big deal is, to me, wildly disrespectful of such an incredible gift from God.  I have half a mind to re-title this entry "my wife is not sexy or hot" and she would have no problem with that.  She is jaw-droppingly beautiful to me in all ways imaginable, but I know for a fact that she hates those words too and it would repulse her if I ever used those words to describe anyone, especially her.  Even in the health and fitness area, it's just not necessary.  There is always a better way to say it that gets the same point across.  By the way, this also applies to using names of private parts of the body casually, in jokes, or replacing them with slang terms.

This also goes for posting immodest pictures of ourselves for the sake of "health and fitness".  I guarantee you God would never condone any of His daughters putting up pictures of themselves like that.  There is no right way to do the wrong thing.

Name calling, no matter the reason, is also never okay, but I'm not going to say more about that because of how obvious it should be.

At this point, I do apologize if this seems like a nit-picky gripe fest.  I don't intend it to be that.  Fortunately, my plan in writing this was to point out alternatives that we can use that not only communicate ideas just clearly, but more effectively as well.  The following are examples that are meant to not only make the speaker sound more mature, but do so without compromising the desired message and that effect of it.

Ladies, instead of someone calling you sexy, would you not feel more respected, loved and classy if your dream guy said to you "you are hypnotically beautiful" or "you are the most stunningly angelic girl I've ever seen"?  Does that get your heart beating a little faster or make you crave that kind of compliment?  Kind of makes the terms "sexy" and "hot" seem lazy, shallow or even repulsive doesn't it?

Guys, instead of your best friend saying something like "dude, you just kicked the crap out of the other team", wouldn't you feel more accomplished and manly if they said "Now that's what I call total domination!" or "That's how a man's game is won!"  After all, a real manly man can be an example of pure talent without openly defacing the opposing team.

I want to look at this from one more angle before I wrap things up.

One of my most favorite memes is the one I saw from Fight The New Drug which says "We don't see things as they are.  We see them as we are."  This point, I believe, also carries over to our choice of words and communication.  If you see the need to use swearing; if you see a need to stoop to name-calling, no matter how much you dislike someone or something; if you use consistently use euphemisms just because it's a "better alternative to swearing"; that reveals far more about your ability to communicate effectively than it does about the subject matter at hand.

I will be one of the first to admit that I really need to work on some aspects of this issue myself, especially euphemisms, but when I see the insulting, bashing kinds of conversation that plaster the internet today and personal and sacred topics like sex just thrown around like their a dish rag, it tells me we have a big problem that needs more concern than we are giving it.

This one is titled "Language: All the 'small' things" because this is something to which most of the world would say something like, "Oh, come on, you're making a mountain out of a mole-hill here.  Times have changed and so has communication so stop being so thin-skinned about it."  But the reason I put the words "small" in quotes is because those things that seem small to us now are going to become a much bigger deal as the gap continues to widen between true disciples of Christ and everyone else.  His plan for us, if we let Him, is to refine and perfect us to the point where everything about us will be complete, pure, simple and glorious beyond description, including our language.  Why not get started on that now?  Simple and dignified language are the mark of a great soul.

The Savior taught that things we say and do corrupt us more than things we take in (disclaimer; this does not mean He is giving permission for us to consume things that are wrong).  Mentally allowing/condoning lies, insults and inappropriate language is bad enough, but propagating such things by our own words and actions is straight up destructive.

People will think much more of you if you can keep your language consistent with things the Savior would say.  No one has been more quoted, celebrated, revered or loved than He.

You want to be more respected?  Model your language after the Savior's.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Politics: A Clear Voice In the Face of Chaos

Ah, yes, likely the all around most contentious topic of conversation in existence today aside from religion.  So why the heck am I writing about it?  To be honest, I do my best to avoid this subject matter, but there's something happening in the world right now within politics about which so many are (both innocently and willfully) ignorant that I feel a great need to publish this as a reminder to disciples of Christ and a warning and message of hope to anyone else who will read this.

To the best of my memory, ever since Nixon, people's trust in the U.S. government has been doing a total nose dive with no apparent hope of any kind of recovery in that area.  Every four years since then, the majority of the United States population have allowed themselves to be manipulated by fear mongering, controlled by hate and anger and given into the lie that mortal men can solve all the countries problems.  The whole reason we are in this mess of a country we have is because of mortal men, so more of them sure as heck won't get us out.  If we want to have any voice of clarity in all this chaos we need to be turning to Someone who is always clear no matter what else is going on anywhere in the universe, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Elected politicians may never again give us anything more than unfulfilled promises and bravado.  Yes, there are some who actually do want to do good for us by keeping traditional, biblical family values at the core of society, but there are so many of them who don't that they usually end up snuffing out the voice of the few politicians who have any kind of moral compass.

For a while I was actually considering writing in a name instead of checking off one of nominees for any party but at this point (pre election 2016) I have chosen my candidate.  Part of this is because of the fulfillment of the Book of Mormon, written for our day, where "their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted." (Helaman 5:2)  The other part is because, as I have quoted before, from Elder Maxwell, “If, in the end, you have not chosen Jesus Christ it will not matter what you have chosen.”  Only one the candidates who even tried in the race for nomination have given me any indication that they are basing their campaign enough around principles of Christ and His Plan and Atonement but even with him, I'm nervous that he will, at some point, slip into the same pattern that every other politician does.  Christ is the center my moral code and in order for me to vote for a person to fill the office of president, I need to be convinced that they have, as much as possible, the Savior at the center of their focus.

As Glen Beck said, "If you’ve ever been to Washington, D.C., you know the architecture of the buildings. These guys go to work every day in historic buildings and say, ‘Dig me. Look how important I am.’ And some people in the government actually believe, ‘This is never going away. We’ll never lose this. We’ve been through worse times than this.’ No, we haven’t. Nineteen trillion dollars in debt? No, we haven’t. The public as angry as they are now? No, we haven’t. The only other time it’s been like this was the Civil War. You couple the Civil War with $19 trillion in debt, and it doesn’t last."  There are more divisions and bickering and hardened minds and hearts among all groups of people today than there ever was.  Even among Latter-day Saints, the most religiously united group in the world, the intensity of radical divisions in our political opinions this time around proves what President Kimball said, that we are in a "battle royal with an enemy so powerful, entrenched, and organized that we are likely to be vanquished if we are not strong, well-trained, and watchful."

The United States has now become the Divided States, and not just by a factor of which state is more "blue" or "red" than another.  It is also divided within each state to different extents per state.  Even in states like Texas or New York, where the majority of the population is one political "color", there are sizable areas where large and bitter divisions have taken place recently.  In my home state of Colorado, according to this map, the division has been getting more polar and aggressive than ever in previous elections and it's worse now than it was then.

Is there any hope left for the United States?  Yes!  There is!  It all depends on who we put our faith in as the clear voice in the face of all this chaos.  Christ is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords.  As Isaiah prophesied, the "government shall be upon His shoulder".  It is He who ultimately has all things in His care.  Yes, I'm aware that He has revealed to modern prophets that we need to be appropriately engaged in politics, but our reasons for choosing a candidate to vote for should not be because of which type of person they appeal to or which political party they identify with.  The reason should be because the candidate shows by their actions that they are most likely to promote and enforce as much as possible the doctrines and patterns of living exemplified by Christ.  Changing laws won't decrease the number of criminals.  Changing creating new penalties for crimes won't change the hearts of men.  Putting more policies into the education system will not repair anyone's ignorance.  All of these issues can only be solved by one thing: understanding, in our hearts and minds, the doctrine of Christ; for as President Boyd K. Packer said, "The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."

Every election gets more angry, more contentious, more divided and more destructive than the last and it's everything to do with not enough attention on the Savior's example.  The socio-political tide is changing fast and the divide between true disciples of Christ and those who are not is only going to get more quickly, drastically and obviously wider.

If you don't want to be on the wrong of the side of the eminent chaos looming over the world right now, turn full force toward Jesus Christ and don't let distractions pull you attention away from Him.  Satan is more clever in his manipulation of the media and their portrayal of public opinion than you realize.  That cool new product that will never bring you as much happiness as the time you could spend strengthening relationship with your family.  Knowing the relationship status of Angelina Jolie is nowhere near as important as your relationship status with your family and your Savior.  A presidential candidate that is popular because he "says what everyone else is really thinking" is no match for the One after whom we should be shaping what we are thinking.  In fact, one of the major causes for the turmoil around the world today is the evil and destructive thoughts, especially when they are executed, of mankind.

No matter how this upcoming election turns out, the only thing that will put the U.S. back on the right path is if the general public stops letting anger and selfishness dictate their priorities and allow the love and law of the Lord to permeate their hearts.  No matter which candidate is elected, even if we have the most Christ-like leader possible, it won't make any difference if Americans don't turn their hearts to Christ as well.

The only way to pull America out of the hole it's in is for Americans to uproot the anger out of their hearts and fill it with the pure truth and love of Jesus Christ.