Sunday, December 13, 2009

The True Meaning of Christmas

I, like many others, love the Christmas season. I love giving a getting gifts, snow, hot chocolate, candy canes, ice skating, and everything else that makes me think of Christmas. During the Christmas season I like to try and reflect on what the true meaning of Christmas is, and I wanted to write something about it.

We all know, even many non-Christians know, that Christmas commemorates the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I think of the Risen Lord, one of the first things that comes to mind is service. He lived His life serving others, He died serving others, His resurrection makes ours possible, and He lives now and still serves us. We ought to reach out to each other all of the time, but the Christmas season is the perfect excuse to do a little more, to love a little more, and to care a little more.

The prophet of our Church, President Thomas S. Monson, is a great example of a life of service. In his addresses to the Church, President Monson frequently speaks of serving others, and how his life has been blessed by serving. He would like nothing more than for all people to serve one another. A little more than a year ago President Monson was asked what gift members of the Church could give him for his birthday, and President Monson said:

Do something for someone else on that day to make his or her life better. Find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely, and do something for them. That's all I would ask
I feel blessed to have the example of a Prophet of the Lord. I know serving others will help us all keep the real meaning of Christmas in our minds throughout the season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Change of Heart

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can do many different things for a person, but one that is most important and precious is the ability to change someone. I don't mean trivial changes; I mean really changing.

Real change is one of the most difficult things, but I know that angry people can become calm, and arrogance can make way for humility. It is not easy, but it is possible. From Ezekiel 11:19

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.

The Savior overcame every difficulty as part of His perfect sacrifice. He has the ability to help us change. I am by no means a perfect man, but I know that through the Gospel it is possible to overcome the desire to sin, not just the sin itself. It is hard to put this into words, but I know from personal experience that we can be changed.

One cannot earn the Savior's help or His mercy. We all rely on His sacrifice, because without it we cannot be saved. I am just a man, but I have felt this change from time to time. I try to retain it in my heart. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


This past week my wife and I were able to go to Chicago and visit both of our families for Thanksgiving. We were really happy to see and be with our families, and to see that they are doing well, despite a bump here or there. It is such a blessing and a luxury to be able to visit family. I remembered how 150 years ago, and for many even more recently, it is impossible to make a 1400 mile trip to visit family. God has blessed all of mankind with such wonderful things. I am reminded of the scripture from the Savior's words: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)

I know that God blesses us with abundance. He wants us to have full lives, and He watches over us. Many people throughout the world suffer through poverty or other meager situations, but we should recall more of the Savior's words: "not as the world giveth, give I unto you." (John 14:27) Sometimes the Lord's definition of abundance may be different from our gut instincts or what the world may tell us, but I know that a life of following Christ is as a cup that runneth o'er.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blessed And Happy State

I wanted to share this scripture I read today. It is from the Book of Mormon, and these words were spoken by a dying king to the people he loved. It is one of the last messages that he wanted to leave with them; I think that is because the words here can guide you to a happy life:

"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God has spoken it."

- Mosiah 2:41

I hope to dwell with God in that never-ending state of happiness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jacob 7:11

"Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ."

The purpose of all scripture is to teach us of Christ. Reading the Book of Mormon has helped me come to understand Jesus Christ's sacrifice, as well as build a personal relationship with my Savior. The scriptures and all the prophesies from Adam to our time are meant to help us know that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Power of Prayer

There are a lot of big things coming up for me in life, and I have to admit I have been quite a bit worried; I have some wonderful opportunities coming to me, but for whatever reason, I have been very afraid that I will ruin them all. I'm not sure why I feel this way. I usually don't have these confidence problems.

I feel like I am over the worries that I had. I have been able to relax more and focus, and I now know that things are going to be okay. The difference for me has been the simple power of prayer. One of the greatest blessings of prayer is the closeness I feel to God when I sincerely talk about how I am feeling. I know that He is there are listening, and I have felt reassured that He will guide me through these things. I don't get these feelings because I am unique, but I know that God is our Father, and like a perfect father He wants to be involved in our lives and help us through our challenges. He doesn't make them go away, but Heavenly Father will see us through the difficulties of our lives.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

God's Love

I remember when my Grandpa Karnes died. I call him Pawpaw. I was about 5 years old when Pawpaw died and I have an eidetic memory of the moment I heard: my parents had just put Jon and I in bed (we had bunk beds) and my mom got a phone call. We knew that Pawpaw had been sick, and we had actually just recently come back from visiting him in West Virginia. The thing that made me cry the most was that I had never gotten the chance to know him and I felt that I never would know him. I was just a little boy when this happened.

Fast-forward about 15 years in my life: I was a missionary on the island of São Vicente in Cape Verde. There was a rainstorm and since it doesn't rain often in Cape Verde, there was a lot of damage. The missionaries all went to help people get the water out of their houses and clean their belongings. One of the houses we worked on the most had over 6 feet of water in it from the rain. This was a one-story house, meaning they had spent most of the rainstorm outside of their house trying to get the water out. Virtually all of their possessions were destroyed. We got the water out bucket by bucket. We helped them clean their clothes and everything that wasn't totally destroyed. I worked harder that day (physically) than perhaps any other day in my life. I was sore in places I had never been sore before, so sore I couldn't even walk normally. It was a tiring day.

Somewhere in the middle of all this a Quiet Something brought the memory of Pawpaw to my mind. Pawpaw worked in a coal mine in West Virginia. He worked on a farm after he got enough money from mining to buy his daddy's land. He worked very hard every day of his professional life I imagine. I felt like working like that helped me come to know my Pawpaw a bit even though he had moved on when I was little.

Cape Verde is a third world country. I had other experiences throughout my missionary experience that I felt helped me get a glimpse of Pawpaw. He grew up in the rural United States; he would've been a teenager sometime in the 1910s. As Cape Verde taught me a more simple way of life, there was always a Gentle Influence that reminded me of my grandfather. I know that that was the Holy Ghost, sent by God to make up for a little boy's tears. I never thought to pray to God to ask Him to make this up to me, but He loves us dearly and doesn't forget. He intently watches over us and cares for us, and I testify of it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Church decided to donate beds, bedding, some food, clothes, and some other essentials to the families that had lost the most. These were delivered later that night after things had been cleaned up.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Fall of Adam Part II - The Plan of Salvation

As previously mentioned, God fully intended for us to live in the world we now live in; we are here for a reason. Life did not start at birth. We lived with our Father in Heaven (God) before being born. Although we lived with Him, we were not like Him. He has a perfect body of flesh and bone, but we had only our spirits, or our spiritual bodies. He sent us to earth so that we could be like Him.

Part of coming to earth is facing trials. We have these trials so that we can learn to trust in and rely on God; they help us accept the sacrifice the Lord Jesus Christ made for us, as well as help us reach out to our neighbor here on earth. These trials were not possible in the Garden of Eden. If we believe that our Father intended for us to stay in the Garden of Eden, that means that our trials serve no purpose and are expressly against God's will. If this were true, there would be no comfort and no greater meaning to be found in the hardships that we experience on earth. I know that it is true, and I know that the Father teaches me lessons through these difficulties that I would not be able to learn without them, and that is why He wants me to have painful experiences along with the many joys of life.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Fall of Adam Part I - Introduction

It's been a long time since I've updated this blog, and I want to do better about writing more regularly, so I'm going to start with something I've wanted to write about since before I started this blog.

The Christian world view the Fall quite differently. To my knowledge, everyone agrees that the Fall is when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden because they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden by God. The difference among Christians is that there are differing view as to why it has happened.

The Classical Christian belief is that this was a terrible, cosmic mistake. God's plan was for man to live in the Garden forever, and the present world of so much suffering and pain stems from this first sin. Because of this first sin, often called original sin, all mankind are sinners from birth; all people are damned from birth, and will be condemned forever unless they repent and are baptized. This is not what every Christian Church believes; there are many variations and conflicts with this general teaching, but this remains the foundation for the majority of Christian churches' beliefs about the Fall.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs strongly from this traditional belief. We believe that God intended for mankind to leave the Garden, but He allowed Adam and Eve to choose for themselves if they would eat of the forbidden fruit. We believe that children are born innocent into the world, and cannot sin until they reach the age of accountability, and that each person is only responsible for his or her own sins. Lastly, we believe that the challenges inherent in an imperfect world are essential to God's plan for all of His children (all mankind).

Whether or not God intended for mankind to be cast out of the Garden may seem like a trivial difference at first, but it is of tantamount importance. One of the things necessary to have faith in God is to know that there is no greater power than His; if there were, it wouldn't make sense to place all of your faith in someone who can't deliver you. God is all-powerful, and there is no other source of deliverance but Him, through His Son Jesus Christ. His plan wasn't frustrated by Satan tempting Adam and Eve; this was something He foresaw and was part of His plan. We can securely place our faith in God and know that He doesn't miscalculate and that His designs are not defeated, ever. We are in an imperfect world because it is part of the plan of our loving Father in Heaven, not because Satan defeated His first, better plan; this is THE plan.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Road to Emmaus

All of us have trying times in our lives where we wonder what God has planned for us. I'd like to try to compare some of these things with the disciples' experience on the road to Emmaus with the Savior. This story is in Luke 24 in the New Testament, and its where the Resurrected Lord walks with two of His disciples along the road to Emmaus, but they cannot perceive it is Him. These are my thoughts:

It is difficult to imagine the difficulty the disciples must have had in understanding the Lord’s death and resurrection, let alone having the faith to accept that He was going to die and then rise again on the third day after His death. I think the account of the disciples encounter with the Lord shows how trying this was for them: “But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel …” (Luke 24:21). Sometimes when life becomes difficult for me, I also wonder at the promises that I have received, and sometimes I also think of how I trusted that things should happen differently. Just like the disciples had reasons for hope – that the Lord had appeared to the two Marys and that Peter and John had found the empty tomb – I also always have some reasons to hope and continue believing despite everything to the contrary. Also, when my prayers don’t seem to be answered it is usually exactly what is happened to the disciples of Jesus: I’m not understanding what the Lord is doing, not that He isn’t doing anything. I thought the answer would be something other than what the answer is, and I have narrowed my focus to just that answer and so I blind myself to the other evidences of God’s love and mercies. I know that the Lord answers prayers and keeps every promise. I should not doubt but instead I should look for different answers and more reasons for hope.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Matthew 9:13

The Lord said to the Pharisees that “[He] would have mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13) . To me this is a recurring theme throughout the Gospels: the Lord is trying to teach that love is greater than keeping the law and traditions of the Jews, which sometimes were used to justify being outright cruel and selfish to others. The ‘obedient’ frequently were hypocrites who looked down on other men and their traditions also allowed them to claim things as corban to deny giving to their parents. Mainstream Judaism had become very corrupt in this regard, especially with many of the leaders seeking their own power and not to uplift others. The very doctrine and ordinances of the Law were meant to point to Christ, but it seems that many lived only to practice the Law and didn’t grasp the meaning of it. Jesus wanted people to learn that living the commandments was important but that it had the end of leading them to love one another and help each other, not despise people according to their profession or beliefs about whether or not they are sinners. The Gospel is of love. Sacrifices are fairly worthless if done grudgingly and without care or regard for others, but if sacrifices are done in love they can change the world; certainly they change the world of the person for whom they are carried out. It doesn’t mean as much to God if we sacrifice something for Him but it doesn’t lead us to love Him and our fellow man. Our sacrifices and obedience should be out of love, just as the Savior’s sacrifice was out of pure love.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some passages from the New Testament

These are just my thoughts on a few verses from the New Testament.

Mark 11 contains one of the more unique uses of divine power in all of scripture. In verses 13 and 14, the Lord looks at a fig tree to see if it has any fruit, and when it has none he curses it. The next day they pass by the same way and in verse 20 it notes that: “the fig tree dried up from the roots.” I wondered at this scripture for a long time, and I’m still not sure I really understand it. Why curse the fig tree? In Jesus the Christ, Elder Tallmadge says that He did this to show the disciples that He had power to bless and to curse, so that they would know that when the soldiers were beating and crucifying Him that He was not a victim; He was submitting to their cruelties, and had the power to deliver Himself. This knowledge makes the sacrifice even more overwhelming than it already is that someone would die for you: that He didn’t have to by any standard. It was in every way a willing sacrifice of love.

Mark 12 contains the story of the widow’s mites. I always thought this story was about sacrifice in general, which it definitely applies to, but I just realized how it explains tithing. Can you build a chapel or a temple from two mites? Certainly you can’t; each one costs millions of dollars. The lesson is that the Lord doesn’t need our money. Paying our tithing doesn’t do God a favor. It is a chance for us to demonstrate our faith before Him, in trusting that our donations to the Lord will not be lost nor wasted money to us, but it will be our blessing. It also points out that it is most important to pay our tithing when we cast in “of [our] want” and not “of [our] abundance.”

Matthew 1

Joseph shows, to me, what we all need to be willing to do in order to faithfully follow God. It says that he was a just man – this is certainly a prerequisite – and that he was going to “put her away privily.” (v. 19) He already had a plan on how to deal with the situation before him; his mind was made up, but when the Lord sent him revelation explaining to him what happened, he was willing to change. He didn’t get stubborn or fight the Lord about it; he believed and was willing to do his Father’s will. I think that this one of the most important principles of the Gospel. We have to be willing to change our will to what the Lord wants, even if we already thought we knew what we were going to do about things. Joseph had the humility and listened enough to be touched and changed by the Holy Ghost. This is what we all need in order to follow our Savior more perfectly; we need to be willing to give up our will and do his, and I think it means even more to do the Lord’s will when you already had something else you were planning to do about it.

Matthew 5

I love this chapter. I think it’s difficult to pack as much doctrine in one chapter as there is in Matthew 5. A few of my favorite verses come at the end (44-48). Jesus teaches us that we should love our enemies and not just our friends, because it isn’t difficult to love those that love you; it’s natural and easy to love those that love you. This doesn’t show our devotion to God; it isn’t anything worth celebrating. To be like God is to love everyone, even those that “hate you” or “despitefully use you.” If we can love even those that do not love us, then we begin to be like our Father. He loves all of His children. If we do not love everyone we cannot put ourselves in a position to help them when they need it. God is always there to help us. His love is incomprehensible and overwhelming.

Another amazing teaching in this chapter is in verse 24. If we want to be closer to God, but we remember how we have some conflict with our brothers or sisters on earth, then we should be advised that it isn’t possible to love God while we feel hate for His children. Really, the only way that we can show our love for God is by being good to the people around us. We can praise God through prayer and song, but if we do not practice that love by loving those around us, especially our families, then we are driving ourselves very far from Him, and we do not know Him. This chapter teaches what it really means to be a Christian.