Saturday, December 15, 2018

Righteous Tradition vs Mindless Addiction

One of the most interesting ironies I have recently observed is how easy it has become to blur the lines between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. To me, the most fool proof measuring stick for figuring that all out is our beliefs and motives. I'm talking about digging down right to the core our ourselves by biting the bullet, taking one habit or tradition at a time and meticulously winnowing through the details of what our life might be if that habit were discarded or exchanged.

With some things that process can be emotionally excruciating while, with others, wonderfully and joyfully liberating, giving us a wide open door to elevate ourselves exponentially to higher planes of thinking and more joyful ways of living.

What I want to focus on with this is the same principle outlined in Alma 5:19 and Alma 41:3. Here are those verses, with the general principle in italics:

  • "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?"
  • "And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good."
The seemingly ever present theological debate about faith vs. works relates to this as well. C.S. Lewis once said that asking whether faith or works is more necessary for salvation is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is needed more. The premise of the question itself, as Lewis alludes to, is flawed from the start. It's the same thing with having clean hands and a pure heart with our habits and traditions.

We may be doing really good things or even merely okay things that are innocent enough and be considered in line enough with the Lord's will for the time being. However, according to those verses, even if we are outwardly doing everything right but doing it without being anxiously and lovingly engaged in a good cause within our hearts, it is, as Moroni might say (Moroni 7:8), "the same as if [you] had retained [your good works]." Moroni, in this context, even takes it a step further and says that if your "gifts", or in this case, good works, are done with a bad attitude, it is "counted evil before God"! Wow! That's a pretty heavy idea to consider. It sounds to me like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom and the law of Chastity, attending the temple, fulfilling our callings, doing our genealogy and temple work and studying our scriptures without really wanting to or even doing it grudgingly is counted as evil!

Does this mean we never do a good thing unless our motives are pure? I doubt it. A good way for God to train us to have pure motives is to do things that, coupled with His grace, will help us develop those motives.

However, the first concern that came to my mind as I happened upon this idea recently was pretty poignant. I've been trying for years to get some specific thought impulses out of my brain that have been plaguing me for way too long, and no matter how long I have remained outwardly obedient in that area, I have still not figured out how to change those impulses. I am aware that the solution is based on a sound and constant understanding and study of the doctrine of Christ and prayer and, thankfully, I am in the process of learning to apply that. I know that only Jesus Christ can cause such a might and lasting change in my mind.

This goes the same way the other way around. No one ever said the road to hell was paved with good results. Elder Oaks said the following. "The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done." He instead declared, "It is an acknowledgement of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become." I think another way to put that is that final judgement is a exposure of the result within us of every thought, belief, desire, action, or lack thereof.

Here's where I tie this into the comparison between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. I believe the best way to determine which of our habits is which is to do a raw, no-holds-barred confrontation with our reasons for those habits and our feelings and thoughts immediately before and after participating in them. In some cases this might mean that those merely okay things and even some good things need to exchanged for something better if they are not actively contributing to our spiritual change and growth. A few entries ago, I mentioned that one of the ways in which Lorraine and I are changing things up a bit for Christmas is by not being so attached to the idea that we have to have a Christmas tree among other things. For me this was slightly hard to accept but after some discussion with my wife I realized that I was only attached to idea of having the tree up because it looks pretty and gets me in the mood for presents and eggnog, etc.

As hard as it was for me to realize that my first thought when seeing a Christmas tree was never anything like "I am thankful for my Savior and how that tree reminds me of Him," it was quite freeing to be able to now make room for much much better things. Therefore, this year I have looked ways to replace that tradition with something that actually does bring my thoughts to my Lord and Redeemer, finding more ways to serve others and deliberately make my prayers more intentional and detailed. Of course, if Christmas trees do draw your mind to Jesus Christ, then all the power to you in that symbol of the Savior, for you.

At certain points in my life I've also identified things that everyone should absolutely be doing no matter what - like core commandments of the gospel - which I came to understand I wasn't really doing with a desire to be "anxiously engaged" in said commandment. It's quite a lot to chew on mentally to consider that doing those essential things for the wrong reasons is, as Moroni seems to have said, "evil before God." Wow. Even writing that hurts a little bit. When we repetitively do good or essential things, - or anything even kind of good for that matter - without any righteous enthusiasm or with impure and unholy motives, we are no longer engaged in righteous tradition, but mindless addiction.

It all boils down to what the habit is turning or not turning us into. Life is like constantly going up a down escalator. If there's anything in our lives that is not enabling us to run faster upward (toward being Christlike) than the escalator is going downward (toward infectiously corrosive standards of the world), they need to be replaced with something better OR, if they are the essential things, done with the correct motivation and attitude.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

What Does Being Pro-Choice Really Mean?

I've been thinking a lot about choices, overcoming habits, accountability and responsibility recently. A really good friend of mine also recommended a talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the 70 that he gave at a BYU devotional last year titled Be 100 Percent Responsible. With all of that in my head, I feel a need to explain some of my thoughts on the subject, relating to - yes - abortion, but also other issues where people seek to avoid natural consequences.

For the most part, labeling people is dumb unless the label reflects our only constant, eternal and truthful identity as children of God. However, for the sake of properly portraying my perspective on this matter, I will at least go as far as to say that my views are, in the scriptural sense of the terms, both pro-choice and pro-life in the matter of abortion.  The reason for the pro-choice part is because I believe that main-stream media's use of the term "pro-choice" is a misnomer of gargantuan proportions.

God Himself sent us a Savior to atone for our sins knowing that many of His children would use the very agency He gave them to reject His gift of change, repentance and peace. He put forth this plan anyways because even though He knew many would choose to turn their backs on Him, He understood how precious the gift of agency/free will is. He knew that the eternal rewards He has in store for us are only justified if our receiving them is the consequence of our choices. The irony about such a gift is that, as the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet says, "While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences."

In a previous entry, I mentioned that there is a higher principle than truth. It is to edify (D&C 50:23). If the truth does not edify all parties involved then it needs to be either withheld or applied a different way. In the case of abortion, each of those babies is a child of God and each of those mothers is a child of God. Whatever choice a mother makes regarding the life of her baby, whether it was an intentional pregnancy or not (no matter what the cause), she needs to be sure that that choice will edify all parties involved, including her life, the lives of her family and friends and the life of the baby. Except for the extremely rare exception where a spirit son or daughter of God was so righteous in the pre-mortal life that all they needed to do was to have their spirit enter their body without actually living outside of their mother's womb, the only situation that might (a big "might"), just maybe justify - not excuse, but justify - an abortion is if the neither the mother or the baby will survive the birth and one must give it's life for the other to live and even then, it must be done in a way that is most edifying to all parties involved. That way, absolutely no one's agency is violated and the eternal laws of justice and mercy remained balanced.

Another angle to look at choice and responsibility is the way Elder Lynn G. Robbins discussed. He made a list of nineteen items on an "anti-responsibility" list. This list as follows:

1. Blaming others (1 Samuel 15:21)
2. Rationalizing or justifying: (1 Samuel 15:21; see also verse 22).
3. Making excuses: (1 Nephi 3:31).
4. Minimalizing or trivializing sin: (see Alma 1:3–4).
5. Hiding: (see Moses 4:14).
6. Covering up: (see 2 Samuel 12:9, 12).
7. Fleeing from responsibility: (see Jonah 1:3).
8. Abandoning responsibility: (see Alma 39:3).
9. Denying or lying: (1 Samuel 15:13–14).
10. Rebelling: (1 Samuel 15:23).
11. Complaining and murmuring: (Numbers 14:2).
12. Finding fault and getting angry: (1 Nephi 3:28).
13. Making demands and entitlements: (1 Nephi 18:10–11).
14. Doubting, losing hope, giving up, and quitting: (1 Nephi 17:17–18).
15. Indulging in self-pity and a victim ­mentality: (1 Nephi 17:21).
16. Being indecisive or being in a spiritual ­stupor: The irony with indecision is that if you don’t make a decision in time, time will make a decision for you.
17. Procrastinating: (Helaman 13:38).
18. Allowing fear to rule: (Matthew 25:25–26).
19. Enabling: (1 Samuel 2:29; see also verses 22–36).

One of the most important points of his address, I believe, was where he said that "going to the anti-responsibility list is counterproductive, even if you are right." (emphasis added)

In each of those cases on the list, even if you speak the truth, even if something isn't your fault or if unfavorable circumstances feel more forced upon you than as the consequence of your own actions, the Christ-like response is to take responsibility by...

1. Responding to circumstances out of our control with patience and, of our own accord, proactively seeking His guidance to change them.
2. Accepting the full and unfiltered consequences of trials we bring upon ourselves with meekness, humility, courage and yes, even gratitude.
3. Refusing to dwell on who is at fault for a sin or mistake, allowing God to execute mercy and justice as He sees fit and, instead, seeking to help rebuild or heal whatever or whoever was negatively affected by another's action.

Boy do I wish I was better at all of those things. The reason I bring that whole thing from his talk into this is because it re-emphasizes the fact that being pro-choice means, by default, that we accept the consequences of our actions and even the actions of others. Acceptance does not necessarily mean condoning or continuously allowing the harmful actions of others without proactively seeking the edification of all parties involved. It simply means we do not become bitter about it. Taking the life of an unborn child for the sake of emotional duress, convenience, financial instability, mental illness or any other number of problems caused by another person is actually very anti-choice because it is anti-consequence. It is irresponsible because it is an attempt make a choice but avoid the inescapable second part of the package deal, the consequence. In reality the pro-choice route means either confronting parenthood with faith and humility by using proper means to find help raising the child or finding someone else who can do so to take in the child.

Whether someone decides to perform or get an abortion or not, whether they face the negative consequences of such an action now or later, the eternal laws of justice and mercy will eventually catch up with them. As Mordo says in Dr. Strange, "the bill always comes due."

This also applies to retaliating or responding aggressively and tactlessly towards people who commit violence, oppress religious freedom, use religion to oppress others, deliberately slander, lie, abuse others, or otherwise injure and degrade us or those we love. Even when we have done nothing to justify mistreatment or injury, being pro-choice always means being pro-consequence.

-Remove yourself from that toxic relationship or seek to repair it, but don't blame others or victimize yourself.
-Be patient with weaknesses of others that hurt you, considering the difficulty they themselves may be facing and proactively make choices to alleviate their burden so the burden they have caused you can, therefore, be lifted.
-Refuse to wait for others to reach out and help you overcome a bad habit by making whatever sacrifice is necessary to break that bad habit that is dragging you and others around you down.
-Instead of blaming, make whatever preventative actions you must to prevent undesirable consequences of others actions on you.

Please don't misunderstand me here. Obviously women, especially women who are doing things right and not attracting pigs, are absolutely not responsible for the choices of the one who decides to abuse them. However, they are responsible for how they respond to that choice and the response that robs a child of his/her life is, probably 99.99999999% of the time, irresponsible.

If we don't like the consequences we face, we must change our choices. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

To Conform or Not to Conform

Anyone paying even a little attention to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's members and it's leadership has likely seen the varied reactions to the many changes made to certain church policies, standards and practices. From the lowering of the age of missionaries when they are called, discarding the term "Mormon" to describe the church and it's members and the Ministering initiative to policies surrounding same-gender unions and Boy Scouts of America, most people are either all-in with every change, totally against it or just ignore it completely. And I get it. It takes a lot of faith to abandon old traditions, especially the ones we hold on to for decades.

But when it comes to following the prophet or the traditions of the world, I have always been one to be utterly nonconformist when it comes to what the world thinks is popular or "cool" and I give every effort I possibly can to be an absolute conformist when it comes to counsel and changes made by God's prophets.

Being in the nonconformist minority in temporal matters can be lonely sometimes, but it always gives me more peace than the other way around. I remember a lady I met one day here in Hamilton a number of years ago with whom I talked about a belief in Jesus Christ and with derision she replied something like "You know, know one really believes in that stuff anymore." From other people on social media around the world, I have heard things like, "that world is changing and if you don't change with it, you'll be left behind." Both of these arguments and all others like it are merely people who are afraid of believing in something bigger and more divine and holy than themselves because it means they have to swim against the current of popular opinion. Being a conformist can be a bad or a good thing depending the standard to which you conform.

I am reminded of a quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell that he used to address the ever mocking and demeaning criticism of the humble followers of Christ by those who oppose holiness and godliness. He said, "The laughter of the world is merely loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself."

For this reason among many others, I choose to conform to the revelations, counsel and encouragement (see what I did there?) of God's prophets. Part of the reason I love that quote from Elder Maxwell is because I know, first hand, what it's like to be wrapped up in sinful habits and addiction that the world celebrates or at least speaks of with an attitude of "live and let live." I know very well how lonely or depressing it feels to be around people who love and care about you and still feel lonely because of the kind of person you have become in your dark habits. It's horrific and leaves you feeling empty, numb, worthless, weak and fake and no amount of kindness will bring you out of it unless you change your behavior and become a better person yourself, which is where the power of Jesus Christ comes into play because of His atoning sacrifice. The laughter of the world really is loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself.

Refusing to conform to the worlds standards and, instead, rigidly conforming to God's prophets is always the best road to take. I was so excited (and still am) about the Ministering initiative and its purpose to simply love people enough to serve each other out of desire instead of obligation. I have been looking for every opportunity possible to be a light in others lives since that time, whether they are on some kind of list or not. I always loved getting to know new people anyways. I also absolutely loved President Nelson's talk "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives" where he said, "There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."

Ever since then I try as tactfully and kindly as possible suggest that people replace phrases like "I know the power of atonement is real" and "I found healing from my heartache through the atonement" to "I know that Jesus' power to heal us because of His atoning sacrifice is real" and "I found healing through my Savior."

I have to be honest. I have been really confused as I have observed people who have blatantly ignored or out-rightly refused to follow President Nelson's counsel to refer to ourselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instead of "Mormons" simply because of the tradition. I absolutely could not care less how long a tradition was practiced or how much good it did. If the Lord sees fit to elevate our thinking to an even higher plane or correct some thing that may have been good for a time but is stopping us from becoming even better, than we need to, without question, be totally on board with that. Any opportunity to smash through the barriers of our comfort zone and exponentially elevate our habits, thoughts, motives and feelings to a higher plane should be welcomed, embraced, even clung to for dear life (temporally and spiritually). I will absolutely conform to any change God reveals through His prophets, whether it's in the form a policy change, a new revelation or a call to abandon or adopt new habits and reasons for doing things.

I'm not actually even where I want to be in this regard, but I am working as hard as I possibly can to live far, far more than just worthy of a temple recommend, but worthy for Zion and Celestial Glory, which standard of worthiness is going to unfathomably higher than things are right now.

The world is changing and we need to be conforming, but not to the world. Any conforming we do should be to Jesus Christ and the counsel He gives us through His prophets; unapologetically, enthusiastically, unhesitatingly, joyfully, exactly, constantly, humbly and lovingly.

Friday, November 30, 2018

How Good Can I Be?

This was a video I recorded a few weeks on facebook. I wanted to post it on here because I see more international activity here on my blog than on facebook and I'm hoping to do as much good for as many people as possible.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Learning From Example

During my scripture study this morning, I was in Alma 15 where Alma and Amulek had just escaped the prison in Ammonihah and went to establish the church in Sidom. When they got there they found out that Zeezrom, having realized the error of his ways, "lay sick at Sidom with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness... and [his sins] did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat." (Alma 15:3)

I thought about that for a while and then considered the result of that kind of repentance, which it goes over in a more detail in verses 5 - 12, where "...they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was exceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.

"And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?

"And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.

"And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.

"And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.

"And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.

"And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.

"And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people."

The cause and effect of this story in my mind got me feeling a much greater desire to make every time I repent like this instance with Zeezrom. He felt 100% true Godly sorrow so much that he wanted to abandon his sins and received forgiveness, as President Russell M. Nelson would say, "with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air." How often is my repentance like that? How often is any of our repentance really like that? Rarely. But look at the result! That kind of repentance permanently changed Zeezrom's life for the better. Imagine how much happier we could be, how much more peace and unity with God we could have if we wanted to abandon our sins (of commission and omission) as intensely as a drowning person grasping for air!

That should be a hashtag, seriously. #repentlikeZeezrom. But on that note, why not look at other examples of gospel principles in the scriptures? Let's take a look at a few.


In the spirit of Thanksgiving week (at least for the U.S.), studying Alma 26 provides a fantastic example of humble gratitude for the blessings of missionary work, making others happy, the love and mercy of God, sacrifice and more. Here are just a few of the expressions of gratitude he gives after asking his companions, "I ask, what great blessings [God] has bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?"

Verse 3, "We have been made instrument in the hands of God to bring about this great work. Behold, thousands of them do rejoice, and have been brought into the fold of God."

Verse 12, "I know that I am nothing; as to my strength i am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in [H]is strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise [H]is name forever."

Verse 14, "Yea, we have reason to praise [H]im forever, for [H]e is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell."

Verse 17, "Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our our awful, sinful, and polluted state?" (italics added)

And all this gratitude was in spite of the mocking and ridicule his own people shot at him. He recounted it, saying "they laughed us to scorn [and] said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as [stubborn] a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spend in the grossest iniquity...?"

This didn't deter Ammon. He was thankful for the chance and his efforts were certainly not wasted.


More commonly known as The Brother of Jared, Mohonri's story is unique in a number of ways. First, he left for the Americas even before Abram was named Abraham so he wouldn't have even had the pentateuch (five books of Moses) like the Israelites and Lehi did when Lehi left Jerusalem. All he probably had was whatever records there were at the time of God's dealings with His children from Adam up to just after Noah and the flood. He wouldn't have had nearly as many records of prophets testimonies of Jesus Christ as the Nephites had when the Jaredite nation was founded.

With that in mind, remember the story of his asking the Lord to touch the 16 stones and what unexpectedly came of that experience. When the Lord showed Mohonri His spirit body, He said to him "never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." In fact, so great was His faith that Moroni mentioned (and keep in mind this was written after 400 A.D.)  that up to the time when Moroni wrote it, "there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared." He knew this because "the Lord [had] commanded [him] to write them..." and include them in the sealed portion of the plates Joseph Smith had.

Imagine how much faith it would take to make it so that a prophet would write about your faith "he could not be kept from beholding within the veil;" For now I merely aspire to attain this level of faith, in mind, heart and action and hope to one day get to that point.


If you've ever read the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites series by Chris Heimerdinger, you may remember the part where it mentions that Garth always considered Ammon the greatest missionary of all time. I think there's a good reason for that idea being included in those books. It takes a missionary like Ammon to instill such an incredible love in a people like the converted Lamanites who were later called Ammonites. They were, as Mormon mentions, "distinguished for their zeal towards God and also towards men;...and they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence... they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them."

How many people do you know who couldn't, even if their life depended on it, lift a finger or a single word against another human being? Do you know anyone who can't stand the thought of doing or saying anything to hurt another person, even the rapist, the hater, the murderer, the pornographer, the liar, or the abuser? The Ammonites learned to love everyone to the point where, while they would never even entertain the idea of abandoning their faithful and diligent lifestyle, they also would never dream of hurting someone who hated or hurt them because of their faith.

There are a few others I can think of, but I don't have the time to go over them right now. But just think of totally Christ-like examples of other virtues and how you can exemplify those virtues in a similar way in your own life. Heck, when you share this, perhaps pick your favorite or do one of your own.

#humilitylikeKingBenjamin (Mosiah 2:10-26)
#patiencelikeAlma (Alma 14:14-end)
#obediencelikeNephi (1 Nephi 3:15; 4:6-7 and 2 Nephi 33:15)
#diligencelikeJacob (Jacob 2:9-11)
#hopelikeHelaman (Alma 58:33-37)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

We're Doing Christmas Differently This Year

This month back in November 2015 I wrote about Christmas and explained why the holiday still deserves to be treated by the mass public as the divine, special time of year it deserves to be. No matter how many people stop caring about it, there is always a reason to make a bigger deal out of Christmas.

With that in mind, this one is to explain why my wife and I are doing Christmas differently this year. Each previous year we put a big effort into make the usual things associated with Christmas special; the tree, the gifts, the music, the food and always going above and beyond our usual routine to do some extra nice things for some friends and even a few complete strangers. But this time a few things have happened recently, both horrific and beautifully amazing, that have changed our objectives in our celebration of the birth, life and mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Big changes in life often require us to accept that certain things about ourselves - habits, beliefs, attachment to certain traditions - may not entirely align with the will of the Lord for our lives. Such has happened for us this year.

In the last few months we have upped our regular spiritual feast. Our prayers are changing to include more praise, gratitude, sorrow for sin and pleading for God to help us shift our priorities towards things that will change us into a Zion couple. Our fears about Lorraine's health have been steadily diminishing with each passing year because of the spiritual experiences we have had individually and together and we want, more than ever before, to become willing to accept whatever hard changes the Lord is going to ask us to make, to abandon whatever habit, tradition, routine or expectation He asks us to in order to become more like Him.

A few of those things we are changing this year are a part of our Christmas celebration. We'll be cutting back on how much focus we put on gifts, a tree, and "fun stuff" this year and more focus on how much we can do and be for each other and others. We'll be looking for every opportunity to brighten someone's day and #lighttheworld. Jesus made His entire life and still makes everything He does about us and giving us every opportunity to have and become the absolute best and, in doing so, gave us the best possible gift anyone ever could. So, in turn, Lorraine and I are making this Christmas about bringing others as much joy as we possibly we can and making our home a place where people can feel Jesus' love for them strongly enough that they want more than anything to know Him better and want to be like Him, no matter the cost.

How better to celebrate Him on Christmas than to be as much like Him as possible and show love to Him by loving others? We're still going to be doing something with gifting, we have decorations of up course and we did do our usual gingerbread house tradition. However, the more we talk about certain common Christmas traditions, the more I consider with brutal honesty the real reason why I like those traditions, I realize that some of them have been more for me about doing the "generally accepted, fun" Christmas thing than doing it in actual celebration of the birth of my Savior. Some traditions I know for sure are more for the sake of celebrating Him than just for fun, but others are not. In the last few weeks, I have become more willing to abandon some, change others and begin new ones as well, better ones that are more focused on Jesus Christ and helping those around me feel His love.

Just think of how much more amazing this world would be if we truly applied to following counsel from 2 Nephi 32:9 where it says "But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul."

This verse has always served as a reminder for me ask myself the following question with everything I do, "can I do this in Christ's name or not?" In the case of Christmas celebrations, the question changes to "is [insert tradition here] in celebration of the Savior or just because it's fun and everyone else does it?"

Being brutally honest about this question recently has actually been refreshingly awakening.

I invite you to try it as well and I look forward to seeing the positive changes that will hopefully happen within Lorraine and I and in our home. Merry Christmas everyone :)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Atonement Doesn't Do Anything?

Before the reader calls me out for being the biggest blasphemer of all time, just hear me out. I thought that title would catch your attention and there's a good reason I used it. It has to do with a recent talk by our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, from April 2017 titled "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives."

The foundation of my thoughts here come from the following section of his talk, but also draw upon other ideas found therein.

"There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."

The atonement was an action performed by Jesus Christ, our Savior, not a formless thing or power that can just be used ad libitum based solely on personal preference. One folly of modern English is that many of the common phrases we use, although universally understood by those fluent in it, are fundamentally flawed. Such is the case with the ideas that some pivotal moment changed our lives or that one fight back in elementary or high school branded us as permanent enemies with a peer. The reason this is completely inaccurate is because events aren't things. They are memories of the collective choices of any number of people and the effect those people allow those choices to have on them.

It's one thing for me to say "that was my worst camping experience ever" and quite another to say "that camping trip ruined that summer for me." The first one is merely a statement of my experience and perception of what happened. The second one is just stupid. The experience itself did not grow a head, arms, a torso, legs and feet, it's own will and then choose to make life difficult for me for the remainder of the summer. I chose to let my negative experience and the memory of it stay in my mind and therefore distract me from better things for that period of time.

The sad but true idea that "we learn from history that we do not learn from history" proves true when we consider our misguided human attachment to events themselves and how good or bad they are. In the vast majority of people, not events, who changed the world, those who have the power to do something about it focus so much on what happened that they either forget or willfully neglect any thought about why it happened. What choices were made by those responsible and what motives lead those responsible to such actions?

This needs to be the focus of our attention in regards to Christ's Atonement (see what I did there?). I once heard a woman who was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make an observation about our church meetings that proves this point further. Sometimes when she heard us speak or sing about Christ's Atonement, she would whine about how depressing it was and that it was a bad idea to focus so much on someone's death. In one respect, she was correct. Focusing on death is a bad thing to do. But what she didn't realize was the reason we speak of what Jesus did for us. It's not out of sadness for His suffering, as sad as suffering is to be sure, but in reverence, respect and love for who He is and what His choice makes possible for us.

Really, that should be the premise of every discussion about His holy sacrifice for us, what His choice made possible.

  • Because Jesus chose to pay for our sins by His own blood and suffering, we may receive His forgiveness for them if we repent.
  • Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, He has the power to (and has promised us that we will) resurrect each and every mortal who ever lived.
  • Because Jesus took upon Him the pain of every abuse, mistake, injury, heartache, illness, etc. that we experience through no fault of our own overcame them Himself, He can and does show us how do to the same when we are humble and in tune enough with the Holy Ghost to let Him.
  • Because Jesus spent His life showing a perfect example of how to be happy with constant opposition, we now have the Holy Ghost and the scriptures to show us how He did that so we can do it, too.
  • Because Jesus atoned for us and purchased our souls with His own, He can now exercise mercy and stand between us and justice, satisfying both of those laws. 
  • Because He rose above all things and is one in love, power and purpose with the Father, He is now in a position to grant us power to overcome and make our own choices that will one day elevate us to His stature.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of course, but notice how each point lists the effects of His choices and the power that flows from Him because of those choices. 

The atonement didn't pay for our sins. He did because He performed it. 
The atonement doesn't save us from death. He does.
The atonement doesn't strengthen us in trial. He does.
The atonement doesn't console us in affliction, raise us from the dead, put efficacy into ordinances and covenants, give us the blessings of obedience, empower us to do better, inspire us, change our hearts or protect us from spiritual dangers.

Jesus Christ does all of that. He can because of what He did, who He is and always was, but that's the key. It's reason why we worship Him as our ever living, all loving Savior and Lord, our Advocate with the Father. It's because of what He did and who He is. Under the direction of the Father, He is the why behind all that is good in life and eternity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Assertive Love

It's been a while since I posted anything in this blog, mainly because my wife has been in the hospital and I have been looking after her here for the majority of the time since June. It's a little more difficult to write on this site on an iPad, but I think I finally need to just do it considering what has transpired since then.

What I write about today comes from a few different trains of thought but ultimately will converge into a single important idea that I will identify later. The first train of thought is the increased amount of bitterness surrounding social problems and political issues. Whether it be about the sheer anger between friends and families, Trump's presidency and the Kavanaugh case, or the latest gossip about what this or that celebrity said, the bitterness - and even violence in some cases - that so many are resorting to can only ever do one thing, destroy. It cannot create peace or truly resolve the problem and nor can it ever make those who engage in it feel better about the issue, themselves or those they accuse as perpetrators or enablers. And I will not be playing into the whole "picking sides" game.

You can ask me all you want who I agree with in each case and you'll get the same answer, "it doesn't matter which who is right, but rather WHAT is right."

The second train of thought, thankfully, is about something good. I wish so much that I could share lots of details about it, but I can only speak of it in mostly general terms because of the sacred nature of it. Early in September my wife had some severe nerve pain here in the hospital that had some... shall we say... special effects on her and how close she was to the Holy Ghost and the Lord. The result of this was a spiritual experience that left us both never to be the same. I wish I could give more details of what happened, but suffice it to say that we both learned more about ourselves, each other, the Father and His Holy Son Jesus Christ than at any other time in our lives. We felt a love from them and received counsel from them that was utterly and pleasantly overwhelming. There is much for all of us, all mankind, to accomplish and become before the return of our Savior, both temporally and spiritually, but Lorraine and I are confident that we can accomplish anything the Lord asks of us.

In connection with that, my third train of thought is as follows. We must refuse to let anger, bitterness, offense and fear reside in our hearts or dictate our choices. My hope is to encourage everyone to find the humanity, the divine spark that still remains even in those who they consider their worst enemies. The following is from an audio book I have been transcribing so I can reread it without having to find specific spots in the audio every time I want to find something in it. The book is called When We Don't See Eye To Eye by J David Pulsipher

"The ability of the past to distract or distort our lives is a dynamic I first recognized as a graduate student in Minnesota. My research focused on the national legislative and legal efforts to constrain the power of the LDS church during the second half of the nineteenth century. Consequently, I spent many hours in the government document section of the library, culling through congressional debates and court decisions. As I read some of the arguments against the "wicked Mormons," often belittling or dismissing truths that I held sacred, I was often irritated by their apparent self-righteousness.

"How could seemingly Christian people condone or even advocate wholesale religious persecution, imprisoning hundreds of men and women, disrupting and impoverishing families, driving church leaders into hiding and not recognizing the inconsistency and hypocrisy of their behavior? Their arguments for draconian measures such as disinheriting children, disenfranchising men and women, or confiscating church properties seemed spurious, arbitrary and illogical. Indeed, the whole rational for reforming the church and its members made little sense to me. One day as I sat in the library, surrounded by piles of government publications containing seemingly endless streams of anti-Mormon rhetoric, my irritation began to escalate into anger. How could they be so insensitive? How could they be so cruel? How could they not see the unnecessary pain and devastation they were causing?

"As I brooded over these thoughts, another quietly crept into the corner of my mind and gently pushed itself upon my consciousness. "You have to forgive them," it said, and I was startled to realize it was true. At that moment, I let go, and the anger that had been rising in me suddenly dissipated, swept away by a feeling of growing peace, and for the first time in months of study, I began to understand these persecutors of my people. The logic of their actions began to make sense to me. I still didn't agree with it, but I could better understand how it made sense to them, and instead of hypocrites, I began to see well-intentioned people, who were perhaps overzealous but nonetheless thought their actions would improve the world."

Notice how, in that moment, those who had been the perpetrators of such heinous abuse now appeared to him as the children of God they still were with potential to repent and become glorious. No more was he burdened by the - in all honesty - horrible things they had done and in his heart justice was left to be determined by the very Master of justice and mercy.

Considering what Lorraine and I learned about being peacemakers and making a relationship thrive, whether marital, generally familial or otherwise, and the stark contrast to that in the arenas of social media, politics, entertainment, sports, etc. I put this entry and my new perspective out there as an invitation, written with every emotional emphasis I can summon, to any reader is to please stop focusing so much attention on "getting even" or pursuing justice for every last perceived wrong or offense you think you see. Work towards healing and forgiveness in your own heart and seek divine guidance to fortify yourself against future attacks and desires for retaliation.

As J David Pulsipher outlined in his book, every movie, book, magazine, article, TV show or story ever imagined is mostly saturated with the same story, "good guy defeats bad guy" and the only two options portrayed are either give in or strike back. In reality, he says, neither is the best answer. Rather, creative, assertive love is the answer, which, if a person chooses it, sends a message of "I will not strike back against you because I love you, but I do not accept your behavior. If you continue to act this way, I will expose you in your unjustified aggression, but will do so with kindness, or I will do whatever it takes to peacefully protect myself from the effects of your aggression. Either way, you will not win."

The bottom line to all of this is to follow the example of Jesus Christ by being a peacemaker and instead of falling to society's methods of conflict resolution, which obviously does not actually resolve it at all (it merely continues the cycle), use the Savior's way. Defend (which is NOT retaliation or vengeance) only when absolutely necessary, forgive always, be kind to and speak kindly about absolutely everyone, whether they are there with you or not. For those of us who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know the Lord will not return until Zion is physically built and that cannot happen until our hearts and knit together in unity and love and become Zion first. Yes, we need to defend our religious beliefs, our families, and our values when they are attacked, threatened, or misrepresented, but we need to so with unity, kindness and love.

The next time you are tempted to find fault with a family member, friend, teacher, politician, religious leader or anyone else at all, remember that by harbouring ill feelings or impulsively forming negative opinions about them, you are hurting yourself more than them. Follow the Savior's example. Remember He paid for their sins and weaknesses and loves them as much as He loves you and, in reality, compared to Him, you and anyone you don't like aren't really all that different. Thinking and acting with kindness and Godly love towards everyone has become a much more prominent focus for me now, and I invite you to join me.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Rational Response

I recently mentioned to someone that one of the main purposes of this blog is to be an example of that quote that goes something like "Small minds talk about people, average minds talks about events, great minds talk about ideas." With that in mind, the thing that sparked this entry does happen to be an ongoing thing surrounding people and events in the US right now, but I am only going to mention it briefly to more effectively illustrate the idea I want to emphasize here.

For the last... I don't know... few weeks?... There has been a flood of news articles and posts claiming a whole bunch of horrible things are happening with families and children seeking asylum at the south US border. Each time someone posts something, the now typical social media response is a whole slew of comments filled with anger, bias, fear and ignorance because people allow their responses to be ruled by their emotions rather than constructive, rational research and analysis of the facts from original sources.

I don't what grade schools are like today, but when I was going through those years, the process we were taught to follow to write a research paper was simple.

1. Determine the core of the subject matter, the most pressing points you want to discuss. Make sure it's not ambiguous. "Five essential functions of our circulatory system and why they matter" is miles better than "How the circulatory system works."

2. Go to original sources for the facts. CNN, Fox, NPR, or other news sources do their best of course, but no matter who is reporting information, the 'telephone game' effect (i.e. Information and perspective skewed more and more from one person to the next) will always make it impossible for those sources to give a 100% accurate, truthful and properly contextual picture of what's really going on. If you want to know something about a robbery that happened down the street from you, ask the person who was robbed and the officers who are investigating. Hearsay is never totally reliable.

3. If you find contradicting views or stories from original sources, dig deeper. Find out what circumstances lead to what it is that you want to know about. If it's really that important for you to know, play a little 'Sherlock Holmes' and get more background. Don't settle for being uninformed OR misinformed and ESPECIALLY don't believe something just because it confirms your bias or your own personal experience. Experience is good but no one person's experience is quite like anyone else's. Always remember context is just as essential as the truth. This little visual helps make it easy to see why.

The best response to any problem is always a rational one. In order to form such a response, it is absolutely essential to "shine a light" on it from as many different angles as possible. Each of those lights in the picture represents just one perspective or one little piece of the puzzle within the whole context of a story. And that's just three lights. Imagine, now, how many people ("lights") are involved in any controversial situation, whether it's what's going on at the border, taxes, religious freedom, health care, the political/moral/religious battle ground that college campuses have become or any number of other things. 

Those issues are attacked, or "shined upon" by so many different people that determining your own view and interpretation of it as the only valid one before getting as much information about it as possible is not only unfair, its outright irresponsible, pompous and egotistical. Even if you've talked to a whole bunch of people about an issue and gone to sources you are "absolutely sure" you can trust, you still don't have the whole picture. As uncomfortable as it may make you, go to a source you normally wouldn't trust and be ready to consider that maybe there's SOME truth or context in what they are saying that you need to consider. This doesn't mean that you must trust and untrustworthy source, but that you need to be willing to at least understand someone who holds an opposing view so you're not just shining your "light" on the truth in a way that misrepresents the entire truth in its complete context.

The more angles from which you understand an issue, the more capable you are of responding rationally instead of constantly firing off the same opinion "bullet" at the same target in the exact same place. Once you've hit it from one angle, as I have learned from sad experience, the less people are going to care the more you keep hitting it.

Especially in areas of politics, where so many are so obsessively focused on people and events rather than ideas, the most rational and responsible way to respond to a problem is to:
1. Make sure you have as much context as possible, preferably from those who are actually involved as close to first hand as possible,
2. Consider that you might just be wrong or at least missing context, even (and especially) in areas that are sensitive to you personally and
3. SPEAK KINDLY. Contention, even when you are right, is wrong. Don't stoop to name-calling or insulting someone or their viewpoint no matter how outlandish it seems to you. They won't care about what you say, even if you have the truth in proper context, if you can't treat them like a human being. AND YES, EVERY HUMAN BEING, even if they don't always act like one, deserves love and understanding, which is different, by the way, than trust. And understanding doesn't have to mean you agree.

The main reason I'm writing this one is in hopes that someone might use it to form a more thoughtful, rational perspective about sensitive subject matter and there respond more rationally as well. I will absolutely not claim that I'm a perfect example of any of this, but it's the idea that's important.

Just remember what Jesus said about the matter, "...he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention..."

Give the rational response. Stay peaceful, do your research, and don't let your emotions rule you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Superpowers and Not So Super Powers

Anyone who knows me well or even just reads most of my blog entries knows I have Asperger's syndrome. I've made a few posts over the years on facebook about this subject and I feel the need now to do a post about it here. It's not meant to be just about me, though. My goal with this one is to promote awareness and provide some understanding.

When you speak to someone about the condition who knows more than a little about it, one thing you'll likely hear someone often is that when you've met one person with Asperger's you've met one person with Asperger's; meaning this: There are similarities between all people with it but it also can manifest very differently from person to person. One Aspie [person with Asperger's] may be extremely anti-social or even completely non-verbal, go into utter panic mode when routine is broken and yell and scream when something bothers them or be heavily developmentally delayed. Another, however, may be extremely intelligent and high functioning, but have the social skills of a gnat. Yet another may not be as bothered by disruptions in routine and be very independent and capable, but have extreme difficulty putting thoughts and feelings into words that accurately and tactfully convey the message.

There are several different degrees of the condition. The most common (although not universal) symptoms I am aware of are
  1. Either non-verbal or excessive, burdensome verbal communication, 
  2. Great irritability and loss of capacity to function properly when something familiar is altered or routine is unexpectedly changed.
  3. More developed intelligence and/or creativity within a very limited area of interest that surpasses most others in the same demographics as the Aspie.
  4. Extreme difficulty understanding social cues and reading between the lines in a conversation and 
  5. Heightened senses or sensitivities in one or more areas.

There may be more but I'm no psychologist (although I do like psychology) and wouldn't be able to come up with a conclusive list of typical symptoms in the moment. I can't speak for anyone with Asperger's but myself, but as a part of my efforts to help others understand what it's like and thereby encourage more compassion and comprehension of what to expect from and how to help one of us, I can at least explain what it's like for me. Some of our abilities feel superhuman to us and some it feels utterly crippling so I'll try explain some of the differences there as well.

If you've ever seen the movie Fight Club (which I actually don't recommend), the most memorable quote from it might be "First rule about Fight Club. Never talk about Fight Club." In my mind, the exact opposite is true of Asperger's. "First rule about Asperger's. Talk about Asperger's." So here we go.

Symptom numbers 1 and 4 go hand in hand for me, I'm obviously on the talkative side of number 1 that and it often gets me into trouble. Something you should know first is that I. LOVE. PEOPLE. I really love people, easily, always, with a depth human words can't explain, especially when they reciprocate my expressions of love (friendly, familial or romantic). Whether they do or not, the "superpower" behind this is I can focus on how much I care about a person so much that even if I am absolutely livid at them or terrified, I feel emotionally incapable of blocking them out. I care enough to think "I'm so scared/hurt/angry at them but the thought of not making this right and helping them feel better scares/hurts/frustrates me even more." This causes problems with how hard I try to resolve contention between me and anyone else. The harder I try to resolve it the more overwhelmed they feel.  Another reason my talkativeness gets me in trouble and becomes not so super is frequently because of how much I try to "fix" what I'm saying. I feel everything I feel so strongly that I perceive a constant need to keep readjusting my wording, tone and body language to make sure my ideas and intent are being conveyed to someone else flawlessly so there is no room for misinterpretation.

I grew up in an environment where I was often misunderstood because my lack of tact and sense of social cues. I was, therefore, often bullied in school for coming off as weird, rude or breaking social "rules" that I either didn't understand or thought were just plain stupid. Out of desperation to correct my mistakes, my efforts to make up for my unintentional tactlessness were often in excess, overwhelming others and driving them further away from me emotionally. This still happens today and I struggle with it every day. On top of this, when I'm doing my best to listen to people when they talk to me, more often than not I have to look away from their face in order to really take in what they are saying. I process spoken words like a computer analyzes a chess board. I almost always completely miss body language and facial expressions and therefore, according to my wife, miss 90% of what they are saying. I get so focused on words, their definitions and how they fit together with the tone of voice to gather the meaning and intent of what I hear that anything they communicate with their body or face

As for number 2, have you ever been working on something so intensely and with so much deep focus that if someone says "hello" to you it throws you completely off? You know, when you're "in the zone"? Well I get "in the zone" with every single thing I do to the point where I literally forget to shower, sleep and eat, even when I'm hungry. Who do you know that can literally skip a meal only because they were so focused what they are doing that they could "turn off" innate impulses for the sake of their masterpiece? This "superpower" proves both super helpful but also extremely dangerous.

It's dangerous when it comes to sinful impulses of the natural man (see Mosiah 3:19 in the Book of Mormon) but wonderfully helpful during scripture study, cleaning up the house, writing music, blogging :) and practicing piano. The biggest not so super social problem with this for me is when I'm super involved in what I'm doing and something with my wife's pain goes haywire or someone arrives at our home unannounced or whom I had just forgotten was coming or something like that. Nothing around here is ever boring, but we still manage to keep things at least predictable enough for us to keep our sanity and when something "throws a wrench" in our plans or, for me, interrupts something I'm super zoned into, I have a really hard time dealing with it emotionally. You should have seen the last time we had to go to the hospital unexpectedly. It has taken me almost 10 years to get to the point where I can even remain in a somewhat rational head-space while getting everything she needs ready for us to go, whether by ambulance or just riding there.

The "superpower" behind number 3 comes in when I am hyper-focusing on one of my niches. My wife sometimes gets annoyed and tells me how badly I need to 'change the channel' from these four things: Religion and Religious Literature, Technology, Music and Movies (especially sci-fi, marvel and dystopian). When I get zoned out in any of these areas, I retain what I am learning, comprehend what I'm doing and perceive it all in context of my life so clearly that others often get annoyed with the intensity of my excitement about it. I see hundreds of gospel parallels in everything I see and hear and understand how all the individual details of the principles shown therein would most effectively and optimally fit, enhance and enrich the greater whole of life and reality. Sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode with wonder and joy when I see things that clearly. The only not so super part of that is when I "come back down to earth" I almost never know how to put what I now understand into words that won't offend or sound like gibberish to the listener and still accurately represent what I know, think and feel. I often tell my wife and my closest friends that english (or any mortal language) is stupid because none of it is sufficient to explain how I really feel, what I really understand and what I'm really thinking.

I wrote a historical fiction yet to be published called The Stripling Warrior about the 'might-have-been' son of Abish (see Alma 19:16 in the Book of Mormon) as he grows up to fight in Helaman's army of stripling warriors (Alma 53, 56-58) and there's a part in there where I snuck in a little sci-fi where two of the characters accidentally find a way to communicated their thoughts and feelings to each other telepathically and directly from heart to heart without audible words or facial expressions. I have felt for a long time that that kind of communication, when God shows us how to do that, is the only way I'll ever be able to show people what I'm really thinking and feelings.

When I'm trying to discuss something I'm quite passionate about and someone disagrees with my perspective I immediately feel an insatiable urge to understand their contrasting viewpoint and, more importantly, find out what our different viewpoints have in common. In my efforts to do this, I have to have all other distractions silenced. In the case of number 5, in our place the TV is usually on just for noise if Lorraine isn't watching a cooking show and I have to have the TV and sometimes even the AC turned off just so I can even focus on what she's saying without being overwhelmed by too much information at once. I often get way too easily confused about what someone might mean by a phrase that could be taken, like, 5 different ways and 3 of them are really mean so I have to find out which way they meant it and that doesn't often go well. I hate shows like Dr. Phil because he always lets people talk over each other and argue about the stupidest things. There's rarely any "one person at a time" or "speak calmly or don't speak" or anything else that is actually conducive to a civilized conversation. I get overwhelmed extremely fast when one person is talking over another.

Another helpful analogy that paints a picture of Asperger's is a brain that processes small pieces of information so fast and so in depth that too much stimulus from too many different directions at once is totally overwhelming. If a computer had Asperger's syndrome, it would probably have a few TB of RAM, a 5 PB HD and processor that runs at several TeraHertz. You'd only be able to run 1 program at a time, perhaps with one more running idly in the background, but you could accomplish more with that one program in 5 minutes than most other computers could in a day. If a car had Asperger's you'd have more horse power, better fuel efficiency and navigation system than most other cars, but less than average handling and really shoddy brakes.

When it comes to emotions it's a similar thing. We can do a lot in some areas and not much in others. Sometimes we appear to have very little empathy or concern for others opinions and feelings, but this is not true at all. As one person on Tumblr put it, "We lack cognitive empathy: the ability to predict others thoughts and intentions, including the ability to "read between the lines" during communication. We have plenty of affective empathy: the ability to share another person's feelings with them. We have plenty of compassionate empathy: the desire to help others (although we may not always know how). Many of us have [FAR] too much affective and compassionate empathy which can be overwhelming for us." The good part about this for those without it who have difficulty with our quirks is that we never have a hidden agenda. There are no "lines" to read between in our verbal communication. We mean what we say, which is why I'm always correcting myself to make sure my wording is 100% accurate. Communicating online is so much easier for me because I can see what I've said and adjust it all I want before hitting 'send'. I can't do that in verbal communication. But seriously, honesty is paramount for us (unless we are scared to tell the truth for fear of being misunderstood).

In a nut shell, we love. We love A TON. We just don't always know how to direct that love the right way or express it in ways others understand and we almost never have ulterior motives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ten Of The Most Powerful Scriptures About Our Savior Jesus Christ

Every time the question "what is your favorite scripture?" comes up, my answer is usually the same the last few years; something like "I don't have one, but I do have a few." I didn't used to be like that. Sure I used to switch off every so often to a different favorite scripture for a few months or even years, but now that I've spent so much time in them over the last ten years there is no possible way I could ever pick just one that I prefer to all others.

My home made scripture case has a picture of Jesus calming the storm on the back, Greg Olsen's "The Gentle Healer" on the front and key verses about Christ and His atonement on all the sides. I couldn't fit ten different passages about that on the sides because the length of the passages I chose were too long to fit more than 7, and even now, my perception regarding which scriptures about Jesus are the best has changed. Either way in this one I'll be explaining why the following ten passages are among my absolute favorites about our Savior and Redeemer.

1. Jacob 4:11-12

  • "Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto [God] through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh. And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?"
My favorite part of this is the question at the end. According to Tad R. Callister, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is a doctrine for all seasons as well as the "most sacred and sublime event in eternity. It deserves our most intense thoughts, our most profound feelings, and our noblest deeds."
Also, "it should be paramount in our intellectual and spiritual pursuits." So thus Jacob's invitation to speak of it, in as proper a frame of mind and heart as possible, as often and as intentionally as we can couldn't be more fitting.

2. Isaiah 53:4-5

  • "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
Something else Callister mentions in The Infinite Atonement is that "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 (i.e., the twin relief mechanisms of man) 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 simply brought a larger cup to hold the bitter drink." So when Isaiah says He has "surely" born our griefs and carried our sorrows, that is not a metaphor, nor is it oversimplified.

Also, for a long time I didn't understand what the phrase 'the chastisement of our peace was upon him' meant. In order to maintain good spiritual standing with God when we sin, we must repent and often be chastised by God in order to experience the change of heart we need to have peace. So the chastisement that we need in order to change and have the blessings of His atoning sacrifice extended to us? He took that upon Himself. Because of this, He didn't need to repent in order to know what it's like to be in our shoes through the repentance process.

3. Alma 34:14-17
  • "And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption. Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;"
So many people get caught up in saying things like "I know the church is true" or "I know the gospel is true" and both of those are good things. They are essential. But people forget why it matters. This scripture helps to answer that. The very first sentence tells us that the purpose for any commandment we are given by God, "every whit" of it "point[s] to that great and last sacrifice... the Son of God." The Jews had largely forgotten that fact, as evidenced when almost all of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

The other awesome parts about this are where we are taught that Jesus was the only one who could see to it that "mercy ... satisf[ies] the demands of justice..." and the invitation at the end: "Therefore, ... begin to exercise your faith unto repentance... that he would have mercy upon you." Fantastic verses right there.

4. John 17:3, 19-22
  • "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent... And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

I should have put this verse in my one of my entries (here and here) about misconceptions about Christianity, because it puts to rest one of the most widely misunderstood and most pivotal doctrines ever taught in Christianity, whether or not we can ever understand the mysteries of God and truly know Him. In Romans 6:23 we are taught that "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." If we are supposed to have eternal life though Him and He Himself says that eternal life is "to know ... God[] and Jesus Christ," it doesn't make sense to assume that we can't know everything He knows as well as know Him. He even explains how when He says "that they also might be sanctified..." and "that they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee." This is not the supposed metaphysical identity which many think God has. He does not expect us to physically merge with Him and He is not physically the same person as Jesus. That would mock the sanctity of Jesus' submission of His will to another person, the Father. He expects us to be united in love, purpose, will, understanding, action - heck, just about everything short of our identity. These few versus carry such a powerful clarification of what Christ really wants us to become and it can be accomplished via His atoning sacrifice.

5. 2 Nephi 26:24-28
  • "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price. Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay."
This specifies, in action, the truth behind number 7 in this list. It offers an... I'd say almost a dare... to the reader to find any place where the Savior said that the blessings of His atonement are only offered to certain people, that repentance was ever off limits to any of God's children. Any place where the people are forced a distance away (physically or spiritually) from the Savior's power or presence was when they chose on their own to walk away, whether by their habits, beliefs or anything else unholy and impure. There is not one place in all the inspired words of prophets or Jesus Himself where He is partial to anyone out of bias. His invitation is utterly saturated with perfect, divine love, to "come unto me... and [have good things] without money and without price." We are the ones who reject Him, He NEVER rejects us. Even sons of perdition haven't been rejected.

As Callister puts it, "The unpardonable sin is an informed, calculated, irreversible rejection of the Savior and his atoning sacrifice.  To then claim that the Atonement is not infinite would be to argue that the son who rejected his father's bequest was robbed of his inheritance.  Suffice it to say, to reject a gift is not to disprove its existence.  The sons of perdition have chosen to spiritually disinherit themselves, to make of themselves spiritual orphans."

He never abandons us

6. Helaman 5:12
  • "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."
The closest example I can think of (in the moment, though I'm sure there are many others) in mortality to a completely fail-safe "switch", if you will, is in the movie The Core. In the movie, a team of super smart people have to dig down to the outer core of the earth and "jump-start" the flow of hot liquid iron and nickle to stabilize the electro-magnetic field around the earth by using nuclear bombs. In doing so, they end up having to come up with a plan B and a plan C, which is to intentionally sabotage a part of the ship that wasn't built to be sabotaged in order to save the world by turning a switch that is normally not physically accessible to the crew. It was meant to be a completely fail-safe mechanism and they find a way around it.

The reason I mentioned this verse is because, unlike the almost fail-safe switch in The Core, this teaches us that our Savior provided us an actual fail-safe switch which cannot fail. There was nothing Christ left un-suffered, un-experienced, un-thought of, unplanned, or in any way shape or form reversible in God's plan for our redemption on His end. The only "switch" in mortality than isn't fail-safe is our agency. This is why this verse can promise us that if we "build [our] foundation [upon Chris, we] cannot fall."

7. Romans 8:38-39
  • "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Pretty simple, but also profoundly powerful. Similar to the previous verse in principle, Christ's love is all encompassing and there is no way to escape it in all eternity, period.

8. Alma 7:11-13
  • "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me."

Alma talks here in a little more detail about the what and the why of the atonement of Christ and he is quite exact about his wording. There are no qualifiers on the phrase "every kind", which means, as already shown, that He left nothing undone. There is also a comforting reassurance that He really does understand us both from a Godly perspective as well as a totally mortal one with the phrase "according to the flesh". A firm reminder is also included that, in response to our repentance, it is "the power of His deliverance" to save us, not our own, that frees us from sin and it's effects.

9. Mosiah 15:7-9
  • "Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father. And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice."
During this part of Abinadi's sermon (who is my absolute favorite prophet in the Book of Mormon) to wicked King Noah, He reminds us of the power of the Son submitting His will to the Father in the supreme expression of love to Him and to us. That is followed by the effect flowing from such an act.  "Thus God break[s] the bands of death... giving the Son power to make intercession for [God's children]... having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice."
Only a God could do that and only one who was willing, capable and in a position where He could.

10. Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19
  • "Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."

Yes, the only recorded testimony we have in the Standard Works of the Savior's own testimony of what happened that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. The first part of this can sound like a stern parent point his finger in our faces, but I can think of nothing more earnest and pleading and loving than the Savior's own words begging us to really pay attention, to repent and using the memory of how bad it was for Him to say "how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not." He's saying, basically, "please, I can make this so much easier for you in the long run. Please, repent, so that I can spare you from what I had to go through." You'd be hard pressed to find a more loving statement anywhere else in scripture.


Obviously there are many, many more examples of wonderful scriptures about Him, but these ones stick out to me as ten of the most concise, beautiful and complete explanations of Christ's atonement, God's plan for us and the true power and role Jesus Christ has in our lives.

I love Him. I do my best to be like Him, to repent and follow His example. I'm not at all where I want to be yet, but I'm learning more every day. Layer by layer I unfold more spiritual depth, more layers of understanding and truth as I pray, search the scriptures and look for ways to more effectively keep my covenants. My hope is that something I have said here will convince someone else to increase their obedience to and faith in Jesus Christ and search the scriptures themselves for the same understanding God has blessed me with... and more! Much more!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

5 Truths About The Book of Mormon That Most People Aren't Aware Of

In 2015 and 2016 I wrote two articles - here and here - about common misconceptions about Christianity. Each one was designed to help people better understand the life and teachings of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

For my third round of clearing up misconceptions I decided to make it about the one book I know is most likely to bring the reader closer to Christ and instill in them a desire to change to become more like Him, the Book of Mormon.


The Book of Mormon is a replacement for the Bible.


From the Introduction, the very first line: "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible." Notice that it doesn't say "that replaces the Bible". The subtitle of the Book is "Another Testament of Jesus Christ", not "better testament of Jesus Christ." There are four volumes of scripture that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I am currently going through a new years resolution I set for myself to read through all 2476 pages of these books before the end of 2018. Today I will likely be finishing Isaiah and I'll tell you what. With what I've been through so far, I have been reminded of - as well as found - some of the greatest and most wonderful evidences of the love of God and the benefits of keeping His commandments I could have imagined. I had in my mind a huge stigma through much of my life about how hard the Old Testament is to understand and good heavens! It's amazing! I've made more footnotes about lessons I've learned from the Book of Mormon that are solidified by the Bible and vice versa than I ever thought I would. From the story of Joshua "cleansing the inner vessel" if you will to Kings Saul, David and Solomon to Kings Hezekiah and Josiah and the stories of Mordecai and Nehemiah (who happens to be a lot like Captain Moroni from the Book of Mormon), I LOVE both books. Every four years in sunday school we rotate between studying each of book of scripture. All of them have eternally pivotal importance to us.


Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.


Nope. As mentioned in the Introduction, it was "written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon." The reason why it's called the Book of Mormon is because the physical hand of the prophet named Mormon literally wrote every single word of it, quoting many ancient American prophets as well as abridging much of the history of his people in the process. Joseph Smith was called of God to translate Mormon's writings into the English language and did so by the power of God. The Book of Mormon is, similar to the Bible, a record of many sermons and stories of ancient prophets who taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.


The Book of Mormon has no archaeological evidence to support it.


I could go on for hours about this one, but I'm sure you don't have hours to read this so I'll just point out a few archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon.

First, gold plates. Many have scoffed at the idea of gold in the ancient Americas, but if you recall in the early 1500's when the Spanish Conquistadors were after gold when they came to the temples of Cajamarca in the Incan nation, Atahualpa, the emperor, offered to fill a room with almost 85 cubic feet of gold in return for being liberated from Spanish captivity. It took him only a few days.

Second, horses. People thought for the longest time that the first horses were brought to the Americas by the Spaniards even before the ransom of Atahualpa, but if you look at the research papers on the La Brea tar pits in California, you will find evidence of ancient american horses.

Third, Lehi and the Jaredites leaving from the Middle East for the Americas at 600 BC and around the time of the tower of Babel, respectively. Again, many have scoffed at this idea, mainly because the Bible, they say, doesn't mentioned Lehi leaving at all. However, if you look at 1 Nephi 16, verse 34 mentions that they stopped (on their way to the ocean, where they built a boat to sail to the Americas) in a place called Nahom where Ishmael, who's family had come with Lehi, died. At this point they had traveled for "many days" in "nearly a south-south east" direction from Jerusalem. If you look many days journey in that direction (without modern transportation of course) you will see the modern day city of Marib. There you can find inscriptions at the temple of Bar'an where sat the Queen of Sheba that date back to the 6th century BC. Some of those ancient Semitic inscriptions talk about people from the ancient city of Nahom. As for the Jaredites, the writings of Josephus make it quite clear that just after the destruction of the Tower of Babel there were many who "passed over the sea" toward the ancient Americas. (Josephus Bk. 1 Chapter 5)

There are a TON more evidences than that but there are a few for starters.


Joseph Smith was simply a well educated man who was intelligent enough to come up with a religious text, the Book of Mormon, that happened to sound a lot like the Bible.


Of his own admission, Joseph Smith was not well educated even into his adulthood when he finally began translation of the Book of Mormon. He had a the equivalent of what today we would consider a mere 3rd grade education and had little understanding about the world outside of where he lived in New York. Now, in order for someone to even write a secular history book and remain both truthful and contextually accurate, a person would usually needs to travel the world and spend years in research first. Lloyd C. Douglass, the author of The Robe, spent ten years in research before he even started and that book didn't even have to be true. It just had to sound like it was true. In this case, the first draft had to stand. Yet, as a man named Douglass Brian once said, "yet, the language is quite perfect. You will find no discrepancy between names and dates and places. Famous attorney's have declared that in this respect the whole book if as perfect as the finest of legal documents. Any author will tell you that for even the greatest scholar to write such a thing in one draft would be absolutely and utterly impossible."

I can also tell you from my own efforts that this is true. I wrote a historical fiction (that I still need to publish) with a part of the Book of Mormon as historical background that's over 300 pages long and almost 125,000 words. It was purely imaginative and it was crazy difficult to get all the details contextually accurate without messing up the timeline or contradicting character traits, appearances, relationship and familial details, who had which conversation with whom and when, etc. It's really difficult and I've been to High School and College. Joseph Smith didn't have that. At one point he was translating a passage about Jerusalem where it mentioned the city walls and he said, in surprise, "Jerusalem has walls?"


The Book of Mormon isn't Christian


This is probably the biggest slap in the face to the Book of Mormon as well as a complete falsehood.

Jesus Christ is mentioned an average of every 1.7 verses, in connection with Mosaic law, Isaiah's prophecies, King Solomon and more and most importantly, for His unmatched life and atoning sacrifice on multiple occasions. Here is just a few verses from the Book of Mormon:

2 Nephi 25:26 "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

and another

Mosiah 15:7-9 "Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father. And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men - having ascended into heaven; having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice."

and there are TONS more. There's a reason why it's called Another Testament of Jesus Christ.


I can tell you from my own personal experience and thousands of hours of study of this book that it will bring you closer to Jesus Christ than you've ever been. I know that it is 100% truth because the Holy Ghost has witnessed it to my heart on multiple occasions.

Study this book. You've got absolutely nothing to loose and everything to gain by doing so.