Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Special Connection

This last Sunday my wife and I were going through some of the new Come, Follow Me manual and in the third lesson for January there is a video that focuses on how Joseph felt as he helped raise The Messiah. As I was watching and read about it and I was dumbstruck by the portrayal of how he felt when Jesus was missing on their way back from Jerusalem. I don't know how to explain this very well, but it was as if all of the sudden I could feel Joseph's love for his step Son, his understanding of who He was and the resulting overwhelming anxiety he felt, knowing who Jesus was and that they had lost Him. I could feel so strongly the enormous responsibility he felt for keeping this Holy Boy safe and teaching Him, the best he knew how, the righteous traditions of his forefathers.

I felt in that moment an empathy for him like I had never felt for any other mortal father. I could feel the urgency in his efforts to get himself and Mary back to Jerusalem as fast as possible to make sure Jesus was okay. When I watched the video and saw the look on Joseph's face when Jesus said "wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" realizing what he meant, I felt like Joseph's expression almost yelled "how could I have forgotten that? I am only His mortal guardian. I need to be more humble about this. I should have known."

The contrast I felt between a) his absolute and intense sense of love duty to provide for and protect his wife and the Son of God and b) his realization that his role in Jesus' life was only temporary was so overwhelming for me that it got me thinking about the parallels in my own life that seemed to fit this moment of clarity for me like a brand new lock and key.

Joseph instinctually acted with an urgency the totally rocked me. Finding Jesus was of pivotal importance to him. I began asking myself: Are my actions mirroring the faith, love and loyalty I say I feel for my God, my wife, my family and friends? How can I better transfer how I feel about what matters most into my habits?

I see the example President Nelson is showing of following the Lord's counsel without regard to what is convenient or what others say about him and I wish I was doing better at that myself. Well, my readers, I don't know about you, but today I have felt a huge but gentle push from God to go against the grain of my natural instincts and replace more of my unholy habits with Godly ones.

I was recently listening to a podcast with Chad Daybell where he was talking about what will be required of today's youth and he said the following: "[our youth] will have to be stronger than the stripling warriors, and the reason I say that is because the stripling warriors only had to worry about one side of that kingdom, the physical side, because they were raised in a Zion-like society. They didn't have the problems with pornography, [] multiculturalism, [] drugs, gender-identity, [] socialism, they didn't have all these... just bombardment of satanistic attitudes that are coming at our kids left and right."

I see a great irony in this. We perceive, and justly so, these amazing examples of faith and endurance from saints and prophets from long ago. We have songs that say things like "I'll have faith like brother Joseph [Smith] and the strength of the pioneers. I'll be brave as the stripling warriors and, like Nephi, persevere." Yet there is that statement by Chad Daybell which is spot on.

How many of those anciently who we look up to are watching us today in both utterly unanticipated horror as well as dumbfounding wonder and joy with the levels of wickedness and righteousness they see in humanity today? My own patriarchal blessing says my heritage (which is rich with faithful examples in church history) will guide me in my determination to do everything within my power to be faithful and obedient to the Lord's will.

That... connection I guess you could call it, that I felt from Joseph was a huge reminder to me that my desire to be faithful in everything the Lord has asked me personally to do needs to increase exponentially. And I'll will going about that just the way the Lord told me to in my patriarchal blessing, by focusing on carrying on my family legacy of faith and loyalty to my God, my wife and my covenants. And I hope this has inspired someone else to do the same.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

3 Things Every Man Needs to Have in Mind While Courting

In a day and age where the institution of marriage is subject to more attacks from the devil than ever before, it is more imperative than ever for us guys to approach the search for Mrs. Right with the most important parts of a marriage at the forefront of our attention.

In my search for my wife, I had some guidance from my patriarchal blessing, but it wasn’t until I was engaged to my then-to-be wife that I realized my interpretation of my patriarchal blessing was a far cry from what it actually meant. If I had known then what I know now about what I should have been looking for, the process would have gone much more smoothly. There are quite a few aspects of my marriage that have become indispensable, and I wish I would have began working on them sooner. For now, I will summarize three of them.

1. Learn How to Balance Trust and Vulnerability

Every marriage counselor will tell you that one of the most important skills you can possibly gain to build a wonderful, blissful marriage is communication. I know there are plenty of guys out there who are not good at talking about emotions, whether it be their own or their wife’s. However, one thing I have learned from experience is that if you want a happy eternal marriage for you and your wife, you must learn to have conversations where both of you are completely and totally vulnerable about your opinions and feelings while speaking in a way that makes it easy for you both to trust and love each other even more.

This can be a difficult skill to develop. Your version of “yelling” or “raising your voice” can be very different from that of your wife. Nobody hears how they sound to others in a conversation. Also, some words or phrases that felt normal and common to you growing up may accidentally come across as offensive, hurtful, or rude to your spouse.

One example I remember is when I used to say “You’re going down, clown” to my brothers while we were playing a competitive game together. Back then it was interpreted innocently enough, but the first time I used it while playing a game with my wife, she interpreted it as rude and name-calling—and technically, she was right. The most important factor in developing this skill is to learn what really makes your wife tick and for her to do the same with you. Both of you need to be willing to make some emotional sacrifices and learn to find a balance between not taking offense easily and deciding what is truly rude and offensive in conversation.

2. Society’s Version of Equality in Marriage is Not the Lord’s

The core issue I’m getting at here is based on gender expectations and how tolerant or intolerant we expect one gender or the other to be about sarcastic and demeaning humor.

In renowned marriage and family therapist’s Dr. John Lund’s book, Without Offense: The Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism, he wrote:

“The word [sarcasm] originally came from the Greek sarkazein, meaning, literally, “to strip the flesh.” People justify the use of sarcasm because it is infused with humor. The one being sarcastic can always claim humor as his or her objective, while removing a strip of flesh from the one lashed by the tongue of the critic. For example, a husband might say, “I like your hair, dear. I wonder how it would look if you combed it.” It’s a funny line. Everyone laughs. Even the one who is the target of the joke may laugh, but inside, where self-worth abides, she bleeds a little and feels less worthy as a human being.”

Similarly, just because society expects men to be able to humorously accept stereotypical insults like, “Oh, just let them do the dumb guy thing,” as okay doesn’t make it right. Of course men and women have divinely engineered, biological differences in the way we communicate. That doesn’t mean, however, that husband or wife should deal out or accept commonly accepted stereotypical insults just because the corresponding weaknesses in one gender or the other are ever prevalent. Expecting those weaknesses is a far cry from exploiting them or, worse yet, weaponizing them.

I grew up in an environment where phrases like “You’re my better half” were common and used humorously and even affectionately. The intent was, admirably, to emphasize how highly men thought of their wives—but anything that elevates one spouse by sacrificing the worth of the other is not the Lord’s way. As “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states, “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (emphasis added). So find out what that means for you and your wife or fiancĂ©e.

As men, we are expected to (and we certainly should) treat our wives like queens, the goddesses they will one day be. But I don’t think it is wrong to say we should also expect our wives to treat us like kings, the gods we will one day be—and neither at the expense of the other.

3. Expect (and Even Hope) That Some Differences Between You and Your Wife Are Not Just Different, But Totally Opposite

This might sound a little weird to some people, but I only found the true value of this after my wedding. Some things beforehand were more obvious: I am very outgoing, while my wife prefers to blend into the background. Other things were not so obvious at first: we both love music, but our approach to practice, teaching, and performance is vastly different. Our learning styles are polar opposites. In order to really understand what I’m learning, I have to go through things hands-on, doing the whole “fly by the seat of my pants” thing. I audibly and visually process things very quickly, focusing on the big picture, but sometimes I miss little details. My wife, on the other hand, learns better by reading things through, meticulously going from the ground up. I get the most out of studying my scriptures by simply going cover to cover over and over again; my wife gains more by going topic by topic.

Many of these differences come up frequently when we are spending time together participating in the interests we have in common. On more occasions than I can count, we have learned to find the value of each other’s contrasting strengths. When some of our more pronounced character traits becomes excessive and damaging to our marriage, we have seen a great need to use these complimentary differences to balance each other out.

Jesus Christ Himself is the epitome of balance, and even though it sounds uncomfortable at first, finding a wife with contrasting traits (both diametric and complimentary) is often one of the best favors we can do ourselves. It can help both you and your wife learn humility and patience more effectively.

It certainly helped me.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Focus on The Solution

This one is going to take me a bit, but if you bear with my I promise I'll do my best to make it worth your while.

If you use facebook even once every few days, you know how it goes. You log on and maybe your eye goes immediately to the number of messages or notifications you have or the "on this day" however many years ago suggested post facebook gives you. From that point, if you even scroll for 3 or more posts down your news feed there's an... I would guess 80% chance you'll see something that either uses profanity, complains, has a racy or sarcastic joke or picture or it's a news or blog article or video that gives society yet another thing to be sad, annoyed or angry about something.

It's ridiculous and feeds the plague of constant nagging we all see (on the internet or otherwise) to react, react, react without thinking for two seconds. The loudest voices these days are saying "listen to my woes! Hear ye, hear ye, I have something negative to say and doth require everyone to listen to how I feel about it!" Someone always has something bad to say. By the end of each day - and I kid you not, this is not an exaggeration - there is always at least one person or page or something else on facebook that someone shares that goes through the following process.

1. Hide the post,
2. Possibly report it for advocating something immoral, dishonest or manipulative, fully expecting facebook's staff or algorithms to completely brush it off as no big deal
3. Click the three dot menu and select "Hide all from [insert name of third party page or person here]"

I have continued this process for well over a year now, partly because of how much I have been trying to weed out all the mind-numbing, time-wasting, stupid distractions people share, but also to eventually (hopefully) eliminate everything from my feed that is not edifying and good for my own spiritual health.

Now, I'm aware that the way I have started this seems a bit counter-intuitive to what I titled this entry, so I'll start to turn this around now.

I totally understand that burying our heads in the sand and turning a blind eye to people's suffering is wrong. However, we also need to understand that one of Satan's most effective weapons is to overwhelm us with negativity and bring to our attention as many reasons as he can to focus on problems we cannot solve on our own. I've deliberately and vigorously been working on how I respond to negativity, a frown on someone's face, a stranger with a bad attitude, a corrupt politician, or even someone with a valid point and good intentions but who still has nothing but negative to say (even in the name of humor) in the moment.

My number one impulse over the last year has increasingly been to find any reason or method I can to respond to those people constructively, focusing on a solution and addressing their concern but in a way that encourages positive thinking and love toward others.

Because as far as the devil is concerned, as long as we are not actively focused on doing good, he couldn't care less if we are involved in grievous sins of commission or omission.

My efforts have required me to change the kinds of comments I give attention to and the conversations online I choose to be a part of. As an example, a while back I used to find Matt Walsh a catalyst for constructive conversation and problem solving, but I don't pay attention to almost anything he says anymore. I already know how far away from the doctrine of Christ and reality itself most churches today are straying. I've heard quite enough of how celebrities, clergy, politicians or "that person in that viral video" are completely abandoning common sense and cherry-picking which parts of scripture they want to follow.

Even when I'm not online there are so many mind numbing, time wasting, and even straight up evil things I'm constantly trying to combat and the method is the same. Focus on the solution and be more aware of which things are truly edifying and which are not. I think I'm starting to get a little better at it, too. My wife and I have become better at recognizing when we are rationalizing by making excuses to allow certain unholy and impure sources of entertainment into our home. We both wanted to see what the new show Titan Games (with Dwayne Johnson) was all about, but when my wife rightfully pointed out that the way they dress the women is completely unnecessary and revealing, we decided to avoid it. I also noticed recently how many times the devil tries to make cheap shots by subtly sneaking horrible messages into good causes. There is a new Weight Watchers commercial that uses a catchy beat and tune, but the lyrics are horrific!

And baby, worship me
Worship me
On your knees
Patiently, quietly, faithfully, worship me

The solution? Turn our attention more frequently and vigorously to God, the One we should really be worshiping.

-Perhaps replace the impulse to mock those with contrasting political views behind their back and make contemptuous jokes about them with an impulse to see what you have in common with them, and if there is truly a necessity to address evil intentions and actions, do so in a way that seeks to understand their heart and perspective. Only when we truly understand others can we begin to show them love in a way that a) they will accept and appreciate and b) will cause a desire within them to change their hearts. Back in 1972, Elder Marvin J. Ashton recalled a fantastic example of this from the life of President Abraham Lincoln.

"President Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for his attitude toward his enemies. 'Why do you try to make friends of them?' asked an associate. 'You should try to destroy them.'
'Am I not destroying my enemies,' Lincoln gently replied, 'when I make them my friends?'"

-Rather than hold a grudge against someone, even when we are justified in our hurt feelings, lets try replacing the impulse to dwell on it and gossip about them with a desire to resolve our concerns like adults, candidly and peacefully; and if those who wrong us don't believe they've done something wrong or just aren't ready to make things right, let's not allow them to live in our heads rent free. One of my most deeply held beliefs about dealing with toxic people is as follows. "I do not care what you think about me. I just don't and I don't need to. However, I will always, always care how you feel." And I don't. I lost the energy to care about what people think of me a long time ago, but my desire to empathize with how people feel has only grown exponentially over the years.

-Instead of emphasizing over and over and over and over and over again the corruption of "Billy John Bob" over in yonder country, let's avoid fighting fire with fire and instead simply teach the good things we know to be true. To combat people's effort to try and destroy people's lives and families, let's take every opportunity to spread the divine value of the human soul and eternal family relationships and then exemplify those ideas in how we live and treat those around us.


There are any more examples I could rattle off about how to respond to negativity in a way that is constructive, edifying and love. But if I did this article would be way too long to keep anyone's attention all the way through.

Let's talk about good and then go out and do good.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Making Friends With The Book of Mormon

In quite a few discussions about scripture study and the Book of Mormon within the last year, I've noticed and been fascinated by the different methods people use in the personal study and their different levels of familiarity with the Book of Mormon, or any standard work for that matter. Many times I see people getting confused about the historical background, who went where when, which people came from where and why, etc. I've have been able to come to a firm understanding of such details, but only because of meticulous scrutiny of the book and attempting to actually make friends with the book and all those of whose lives it speaks.

Something I've always wanted to get out my own studies as I do so is unraveling the unwritten spiritual layers of every word written by ancient and modern prophets. This helps me develop a sort of mental flagging system that I use to connect all the spiritual, historical and cultural details. I think (?) I've noted this is a previous entry somewhere, but there is one Latter-day Saint author who has posed the following insight, preferably in lieu of mine as just mentioned:

"...anytime Christ descends and speaks to a mortal, it is so weighty with meaning that mere words cannot convey the fullness of the truths given. The message is layered. First are the words He speaks, and then there is a vastly larger body of truth you receive spiritually, layer upon layer, more truth than you can understand for years afterward. One small moment in the presence of the Savior can last for a lifetime. This is the reason the scriptures are so powerful, because they contain the words spoken by Christ, and this layered truth is still there, spiritually interwoven with those words. It takes a lifetime of spiritual growth and obedience to be able to receive the deeper layers. They are truly there, and they contain the great mysteries and greater truths He desires that we acquire and enjoy in our lifetime."

In my studies I always go into it with this in mind and prayerfully search out those layers. In the 30+ times I've studied the Book of Mormon cover to cover, I end up filling each page with yet more marking, more side notes, more insights and references to other places in the scriptures. In this uncovering of these layers, I feel like I've made a best friend, so to speak, of the Book of Mormon and those of whose lives it speaks. I've become familiar with the book to the point where someone can name almost any chapter and I can tell you exactly what it talks about, everyone who is involved, where they are, what they are doing, the historical context, etc. Part of my purpose in writing this one is to express some personal feelings about a few key parts of the Book of Mormon that have been especially motivational to me in my efforts to become more Christ-like in the last few years, especially during my attempt to study the entire standard works in 2018 (which circumstances cut short towards the end of the year).

First. Next to 1 Nephi 14:3 I have 14 different other verses throughout 2 Nephi, Alma, Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah where the Lord illustrates the same principle through His servants, that all the efforts the wicked put forth to make life difficult for the righteous will ultimately end up coming full circle and resulting in their own demise. It also reminds me that the opposite is also true. All our trials, especially those caused by others, (provided our response is Christ-like) will be engineered by God to be sanctified for our good and even directly contribute to our sanctification and perfection, opposite the intent of those who persecute us. This is illustrated well in Isaiah 14:2, "And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors."

It also causes me to feel pity for those who seek to make others lives more difficult. Said the Lord to Isaiah in Isaiah 29:7-8, "And the multitude of all the nations that fight against [Jerusalem]," and by extension, all faithful saints, "even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion."

Sometimes I feel like I'm getting to know a little better how Nephi felt about his trials and his enemies each time I read through 1 Nephi 11-15.

Second. Helaman's words to Corianton in Alma 42 are especially amazing. They are an example of how the Lord can teach us some pretty amazing, deep truths by repeating fairly simple ideas often enough and with different context. One such example of this is illustrated by dissecting verses 13-26, focusing on the different ways Helaman speaks of the justice of God. If you pay careful enough attention, you can unravel the layers that teach how God is all powerful from a purely logistical point of view. I was dumbfounded when I realized, after reading the following part of Tad R. Callisters The Infinite Atonement, that the exact same teaching is right in the Book of Mormon. Speaking of justice and mercy, he says,

"There are certain laws of the universe that are immutable, that are without beginning of days or end of years. They were not created by an intelligent being, nor are they the product of moral thought, rather they are eternal, coexistent realities with intelligences of the universe. These laws are immutable in that they cannot be altered or modified in any form. They are unchangeable from eternity to eternity. They are self-existing, self-perpetuating laws to which even God Himself is subject."

This does not mean that God is not all powerful, but that the reason He IS all powerful is simply because He has mastered the laws of justice and mercy and knows how to use them to accomplish His purposes. The end of verse 15, all of verse 22, the end of verse 23, and all of verses 24 and 25 from Alma 42 as well as Mosiah 15:27, the end of Alma 12:32 and the beginning of Alma 41:2 all testify of this truth.

Third. I'll give one last example, but there are so many I've found in the last year. It comes from Helaman's (son of Helaman and grandson of Alma the Younger) reminder to his sons Nephi and Lehi why he gave them their names. In verse 6,

"...Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written that they were good."

Part of the reason I think I can relate to how Nephi and Lehi felt about this is because of this part of my great great great great grandfather's autobiography.

"But when the Revolutionary War commenced my father was very young and being away from home one day he heard that the British Army had destroyed some Military stores at Concord, New Hampshire, and being fired with indignation he sought for a recuruiting officer and enlisted for one campaign. When he returned home and informed his father of the circumstances, the old gentleman told him that he was too young and that he would enlist and go with him. Accordingly he did, and they both went to Boston, Massachusetts. In the memorable Battle of Bunker Hill, the 17th of June 1775, there they stood side by side and fought with about 13 Americans against 3000 of the Bristish for about two hours. When the enemy, after firing Charleston and wending around under the smoke, and nearly surrounded that wing of their own army, when they saw but a small gap to retreat through which was then [continually] plowing the ground with balls from the shipping. But while they were going out my grandfather saw one of our men wounded and crawling away on his hands and knees. In the meantime a British soldier ran him through with a bayonet, being filled with indignation at such rank breach of the laws of all [civilized] nations he immediately stopped, amid scenes of death and [carnage], loaded his gun and shot that man down before he left the ground and then obtained a safe retreat. I speak of this to let my posterity know that our ancestors were clothed with that steady unshaken determination in time of the most immanent dangers that are incident to human life."


There are so many more of these gems noted in the sides margins on my scriptures and I encourage everyone to seek daily to become completely, intimately, lovingly, deeply familiar and friendly with the Book of Mormon and individuals therein.