Sunday, December 29, 2013

Questions I Can't Answer

I have known different people throughout my life who have become disenchanted with their church or religion in general due to questions that the preacher couldn't answer. Included in this are many of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who leave because the missionaries, the home teachers, or the bishop couldn't answer their questions to their satisfaction. This has motivated me to write about what I do with questions whose answers I'm not yet familiar with.

The first thing I'd say is to re-iterate that I have questions. Sometimes people feel guilty that they have questions, like maybe its because of a lack of faith, or because they weren't born in the church, or didn't put enough energy into seminary, or because of some other personal shortcoming. This is simply not the case. While there may exist some person or persons that have so much knowledge in the Gospel that there is no question she or he cannot answer my belief is that this constitutes a tiny minority if anyone. There's nothing wrong with questions.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks and I recently re-read an interview a friend of mine gave. I'm going to quote two things she said about questions:
I think a lot of people have questions but they don’t ask them. If we don’t ask the questions, we can’t have the conversation, and it’s the dialogue that enlarges us all, that enables us to get understanding. We’re told in Proverbs [4:7], “Above all, get understanding,” but sometimes we just swallow stuff.
I agree 100% with this attitude. Ask your questions and seek understanding. Don't just ask them to people you know or church leaders but ask to God and reflect on them when you study your scriptures. Some answers come faster than others but eventually the answers will come. I think that in often times the experience we gain seeking the answers becomes more valuable than the answers themselves. We have a lot to potentially gain by asking questions and little to gain by swallowing stuff.
I had questions then and I have questions now, but the things I do understand bring such peace and enlightenment.
Here my friend is discussing when she decided to join the Mormon Church; when I read it I thought: "my sentiments exactly." There are absolutely things that I don't understand, but I don't feel the need to leave the church or lose faith over the matter. I wouldn't have the same peace in my life without the Gospel and the things I do understand. I would not have as much hope for my future and others' futures without it. It makes me a stronger, better me.

I know that I'm a better man because of what I've been taught in this Church. I have seen many instances where living the Gospel - attempting to live the Gospel is more accurate - has protected and blessed me. I believe that continuing to attempt to live the Gospel will guide me to the answers to the questions I have now and the questions I'll have in the future.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Christmas Gifts

This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.
Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most.
This quote is from the Prophet Howard W. Hunter's last public address before he passed away. President Hunter gave this talk at the LDS Church's Christmas devotional that year. I'd recommend you read the entire talk; it is really beautiful and powerful. It also contains this wonderful quote:
A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding.
My understanding of his talk and these quotes is rather simple: the Lord's life was a life of service and love. If we want to truly celebrate Christmas, we should replicate something He would do. I believe that celebrating Christmas this way will last far beyond the thrill of new gifts; it will change us in ways that keep on giving.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Peace On Earth

At the time of the Savior's birth, angels heralded His birth by saying, among other things: "on the earth peace." (Luke 2:14) We now have many Christmas carols among other things qhich refer to this same saying, and I'm fascinated by the Lord's birth being so tied to peace on earth.

When we think about the Savior's life, at least the part that we have records of, it would be hard to say it abounded with peace. From shortly after when He began His mortal ministry people started plotting to kill Him; He was constantly accused of violating God's commandments; people attempted to stone Him several times, and at various times His followers either left en masse or attempted to forcibly anoint Him their earthly king. In the end, He died in the most brutal possible fashion as the culmination of a vicious conspiracy. At least to me, this doesn't sound like a life marked by peace.

At the same time, can any doubt that the Man from Nazareth was constantly filled with peace? Even nailed on the cross He had the calmness to ask His Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who were pawns in the plot against Him. I testify that He had a perfect, abiding peace.

These facts suggest to me that the angels weren't referring to a lack of war, stable governments, and prosperous economies when they appeared to the shepherds. I think they were saying that Christ would teach us and show us how to be at peace in the world, despite its imperfections and challenges. This theme was so important to the Lord that He taught it to His Apostles during His last moments with them before His crucifixion:
Peace I leave with you, my bpeace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be ctroubled, neither let it be afraid.
The Savior's life is a resounding testimony of the power of inner-peace. He knew He was the Son of God. He knew why He was suffering, why He was hated, and why His body would have to experience so much physical torture. He knew us then and knows us now; His desire to help and bless us gave Him the peace to complete the Atonement despite pain and suffering whose depth we know not.

The world is not at peace now, and it isn't necessarily trending towards peace either. The Savior's Atonement is in effect now, and His arm is not weakened. I testify that He can bring us peace. He can heal our broken hearts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Giving To One Another

I love Christmastime for many reasons, including how it invites me to reflect on giving to others. There is a scripture in D&C 49:20 teaches plainly on this subject. The Lord is teaching about the purpose of creation and how to use it when He offers this warning:
 But it is not given that one man should apossess that which is above another, wherefore the bworld lieth in csin.
I can't say that I'm perfect in following or even understanding this scripture and what the Lord wants us to do in light of this teaching, but it makes me want to be generous and reach out to meet the needs of those around me; it makes me want to help those around me better themselves.
Obviously, there are many ways you can apply this scripture to your life, but one part is not debatable: the Lord would like for His children to be equals. I believe this scripture is teaching us to give to the poor and needy, and to help them better themselves.

I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to provide for my family and have some extra to use at my discretion. I have found that when I donate money I have more. It is not a concept that adds up mathematically, but it is something that has repeatedly proven true in my life. Giving money makes me happier and more content in my life. I know that our Father wants us to find ways to help those around us; I know that He blesses us as we try to make that happen, and we are happier knowing that we are fulfilling this obligation to Him and helping those around us.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Repentance is the second principle of the Gospel according to the Articles of Faith. The most common application of repentance is in seeking forgiveness for sin; a practical definition of repentance could include any change we make to become closer to God.

To repent, we 1) recognize that we are wrong, 2) feel Godly sorrow, (see verses 10-11) 3) confess our sins appropriately, and 4) stop committing the sin. Sometimes, repenting may be as simple as following these steps once and moving on, while for other sins it may be a process that we work on for longer periods of time until we are finally able to overcome the sin. The latter is often true for overcoming addictions or changing other difficult behaviors.

The most obvious blessing from repenting is gaining forgiveness from God; we are removing barriers that would prevent us from getting as close to Him as we otherwise might. Preach My Gospel's lesson on repentance adds insight into some other blessings from repentance:
As we repent, our view of ourselves and the world changes. As we change, we recognize that we are children of God and that we need not continue making the same mistakes over and over. If we sincerely repent, we turn away from our sins and do them no more. We resist any desire to commit sin. Our desire to follow God grows stronger and deeper.
 This was an eye-opener for me the first time I read it. I had never considered these benefits of repentance, despite them being absolutely true. One of the overall things we can learn from applying the Atonement is that we aren't perfect, but our Heavenly Father understands that, and Christ has paid the price to make up the difference. Repenting regularly is very empowering. We can be more than we are, and repentance can take us there.

As I reflect on my life I can see lots of mistakes that I've made, and I can't count the number of things I'd like to have done better. Instead of dwelling on the many shortcomings I choose to put my faith in repentance. I can see the tremendous progress I've made as I have repented. I can see the Hand of God lifting me higher, bit by bit, over the years through His Son's Atonement. I am far from perfect even in simple things, but repentance makes that alright.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Power Of Gratitude

I believe that being grateful is not only necessary to please God but also a key to being happy. Its a natural tendency to come to expect the things that we experience every day. It is not a surprise that I have electricity, running water, heat, food, and so many other necessities. Does the fact that I always have them require that I lose all gratitude for them? I believe that we can cultivate gratitude in our lives, even for these basic necessities.

Grateful people experience the world fundamentally differently compared to ungrateful people. Obviously, most people are not 100% committed in either direction, but there are certain principles of thankfulness, and if we convert ourselves to them we will be much more likely to feel gratitude on a daily basis.

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. - D&C 59:21
We depend on God for everything and do next to nothing in our lives completely independently. We should all recognize that we cannot control the world. We can plant crops but we cannot make it rain; we can graduate college but we cannot force job openings; we are constantly at the mercy of the unknown and uncontrollable. There is One to whom nothing is unknown or uncontrollable, and we should recognize His influence and guiding hand in our lives. When we accept that our successes are not ours alone, it becomes much easier to be grateful for them.

Another key difference is pride. We can consider the example of working to advance a career: one works for a few years and achieves a promotion. A prideful man may see the promotion was long overdue, minimizing any gratitude and joy for the improvement. A humble man will recognize that many things factor into a promotion: the company must be doing fairly well, have the money to increase payroll, efforts must be recognized, the boss must appreciate him, etc. Many of these things cannot be controlled and should be attributed to Grace. Humility has a myriad of benefits of which increased gratitude is one.

True gratitude makes life rich; the lack thereof can make even the rich poor. I testify that this is true and that I have experienced it in my own life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Connecting With The Lord

My belief is that the Lord is constantly attempting to speak to us and influence our lives. He has established many ways that He accomplishes this:

- Holy Scriptures or the writings of His prophets
- The teachings of His current prophets and local leaders
- The Holy Ghost
- Now, the Church has a youtube channel, several websites, and really uses every technology possible to reach out to us.

Why then, is it so hard to stay in tune and connected to the Lord? Why is it so difficult to constantly feel His influence and peace in our lives? How can we minimize these challenges?

For me, the biggest challenge might just be the pulls of daily life. I have a lot of responsibility at work and at home. My children keep me very busy and I have to help make sure my wife has personal time. My job can be very stressful at times and sometimes commands my attention even though I'm not there. Double that for children and thinking of them, plus wanting to have a social life, be a good friend to my friends, and get to play some sports to try to stay in some kind of shape.

God often doesn't confront. All of us will come face-to-face with Him one day, of this I am certain, but if I become lax in almost all of my worldly responsibilities, there is often an immediate reminder. My boss will remind me of essential assignments if I fall behind; my children will misbehave if I don't spend time with them; it goes on and on.

Instead, He speaks to me through the still, small voice of the Spirit. It truly is a still, small voice, and can therefore be a little too easy to ignore at times.

My solution, or what I attempt to do, is to seek regular time to reflect and pray. I need that contact with my Heavenly Father. I need His guidance throughout my life because I know that He knows what I need better than I do. My goal is to have some quiet time every day to connect with God. When I am consistently successful there are no words to describe what a blessing it is. Its constant reassurance and guidance, combined with peace like a river. When I lapse, which unfortunately is frequent, I simply cannot sustain those feelings. I want to do better at taking time to listen, to meditate, and to sing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Lesson From Nho Meriku

During my service as a missionary I remember a man named Nho Meriku (or Senhor Americo). He was a member of the local congregation of the Church there; he came to church every Sunday, and he tried to make sure his family attended as well. However, I felt regularly frustrated by his level of commitment to the Church. He didn't serve in any calling and he didn't really appear to do anything other than show up; he didn't even seem to teach his family the Gospel other than hoping they'd learn it at church. I often wondered what it would take to get him going, and why he appeared to not understand the beauty of the Gospel enough to be proactive about it.

At some point while I was in the area we visited his family and were talking with them about how the Lord is mindful of each of us, His children. Most of the time that we visited, Nho Meriku didn't say much, but this topic prompted him to share a story. He told us of a time when he was living in Angola - people from Cape Verde sometimes moved there to find work - and a militia was attacking the village where he lived. Everyone fled to the jungle to hide there until the militia would leave, and at the time one of his children was a baby. Nho Meriku desperately needed to find some powder to make milk for the baby, and somehow he found it. He said he was probably the only person to find a can of milk powder out there in the jungle, which he and I both feel is a fairly miraculous occurrence.

Nho Meriku probably said some more things, but I got stuck there thinking about the gravity of his experience. I couldn't shake the thought of how nothing in my life was even remotely similar to what this man had been through. How could I judge him for what I thought he ought to be doing when I had no hope of understanding his world? This was a major turning point in my life to help me see that I am not capable of judging another when it comes to spiritual things.

The Atonement means that if I do my best the Lord's sacrifice will make up the difference, and I could never know what Nho Meriku's best was because I didn't understand him in the way I needed to in order to know what his best would be. Perhaps if you've spent time fearing for you and your families' lives, having a house, food, and safety feels like you're already in the Celestial Kingdom.

Of course, this is a dramatic example. Most of the people I have trouble not judging these days grew up in the USA, just like me, and have probably also never had to run for their lives. However, the principle is the same: you never know what life someone else has lived, and you can never know what thoughts and feelings dominate their mind and heart. I can never know how to adequately judge another person.

In Matthew 7:1-2, the Savior warned:

1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
I now understand that to mean that when I judge others I am condemning myself because my salvation requires considerations I can't include in my judgments.

At the same time, I realize that not judging others makes me much happier. When I am judgmental I'm focused on others and what they are doing, which leads to envy and feelings of entitlement. When I'm generous in my thoughts and evaluations of others I worry about them less and spend more time thinking about things I can control and influence; this empowers me because I'm not focused on the infinite supply of what things I can neither change nor handle.

I know that our Father in Heaven roots for us and has given us the Gospel to help us be at peace, and the path towards judging less is certainly a path that makes us more at peace with the most important components of the world - the people in it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dealing With Hypocrisy in Church

I have met many people who have lost faith - either completely or partially - due to hypocrisy in church. These have included friends who are Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and who belong or belonged to other churches. The viewpoint, as near as I can understand, is that they see people who are in good standing and viewed positively by the congregation, but they have seen disregard one church principle or another. It becomes more and more uncomfortable to hear this person's viewpoints, to deal with them in church, etc. and eventually this gets upsetting enough that one no longer feels happy in church and decides to pursue spirituality through some other means.

This might not perfectly describe everyone's situation, but this is how its been for most of the people I've known.

This is something I've thought about a lot; I admit I'm also bothered by situations like this. Its tough to hear someone go on about a principle when you have seen that they do not live it. I won't go into specific examples, but I'm pretty sure we've all seen this before.

The first question I try to ask myself is: how do I know that he or she doesn't live that principle? If I believe in the Atonement, then living a Gospel principle means doing your honest best and having faith in the Lord's sacrifice to make up the difference between how well you can live it and how well it should be lived. I will admit that my personal best can vary greatly at times in my life; I'm grateful that God doesn't hold me to my absolute best at all times. I believe that He judges based on every situation.

If I accept that, should I say that I know that someone is a hypocrite? Or could it be my evidence is based on an idea of a best effort that didn't match them that day or doesn't match them ever?

Another question I try to ask is why do I go to Church? Why do I consider myself a Mormon? Certainly, I would like to be completely comfortable and happy at Church. I would like to be surrounded by exemplary people who make me better by association, but that really isn't the reason. I want to know my Father in Heaven. I feel a deep need to know Him and to learn truth. If I have issues with others in the congregation, does it change the truth? Does it change the experiences I've had? For me, it doesn't. I think President Uchtdorf said it correctly: I should "hold fast to the words of eternal life."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Importance Of Difference

My understanding of God's plan for us on earth is that we are each sent to have experiences that will prepare us to return to live with Him. Here we can learn the necessary lessons to prepare us to receive everything that He wishes to give us, and that without this learning we would be unable to enjoy these blessings even if we had them.

No two people live the same life; everyone appears to suffer and prosper differently. It is extremely common to wish for a different situation in life. Some people wonder why they had to be born in the country they were born in; others wonder why their career isn't what they wanted, why they get sick so often, so severely, younger than they thought, or wish to change any number of things that can't be controlled.

I think perhaps one of the greatest challenges of this life is accepting God's will when we wish it were different. It is one of the largest acts of faith that He asks of us, and in the times where I have actually managed to accept His will over mine I've learned that His plan is better than my plan. The Lord knows what we need more than we do, and how to shape us into what we need to become better than we do.

This is what makes me the most uncomfortable with the idea behind I can understand the idea behind the organization, but I do not understand where it is anyone's place to demand that Church doctrine be changed, or that the Church receive a revelation to match their will.

I think that asking questions and having dialogue are infinitely valuable. In my experience, doubts and serious questions do not vanish if you ignore them. However, my faith is that God leads this Church through Thomas S. Monson, His ordained prophet. I don't believe that everything in the Church is perfect, but I believe constant revelation is far superior to public opinion.

Finally, I think that all of the worst trials in life will be things we wish didn't happen to us. In the moment we are going through them nothing will be more valuable than the faith to accept God's will and the confidence to wait on the Lord. I pray that those eagle wings may come to us, and that we may work now to develop such faith.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Having Compassion One Of Another

The title for this post is from 1 Peter 3:8 and is what Elder Holland cited as the inspiration for his talk in this past general conference. Elder Holland chose to speak about those who suffer from mental illnesses or emotional disorders.

Personally, I was moved by his speech. This talk to me is a tremendous testimony of God's love for us and His awareness of all of His children. I picture the loneliness of someone who suffers of any of these illnesses; imagine the loneliness from knowing that no one else in the world experiences the same reality that you do! Perhaps equally lonely are the spouses, parents, and siblings, friends, or others who long to fully connect to their loved one again but cannot.

It is a bitter and terrible loneliness, but for me this talk was a powerful reminder that none of us are ever completely alone. There is One who bought us with His own blood. He paid, as Elder Holland put it, an unfathomable price to be able to reach and to help each of us. When and how the healing may come is something I do not know specifically; it will probably vary greatly, but we can know that it is in our Lord Jesus Christ's power to save, even from this.

After having listened to conference I feel strengthened in my faith in the Lord. I feel reassured that He knows us and loves us. And He does.

Your Worth

Many things try to tell us what we are worth. For some, they feel that they are measured by a grade point average, their skill in sports, whether or not they have acne, a date to the dance, what college they are accepted into, their SAT/ACT scores, or how popular they happen to be.

As you get older, the metrics change but their validity doesn't. It could be what car you drive, the clothes you can afford, how much your job pays, what career you have, how many friends you have on facebook, how many views your blog gets, or how big your house is. Others feel its more about what crafts you do with your children and how often you share them on pintrest or instagram. Still others might view it as whether or not you have money to lend to your adult children or how much is saved away in retirement accounts.

No matter who you are, there are many in the world who would like to tell you how to measure how valuable you are. For the right price, they can make you more valuable. Whether your weak point is that you need the right creams, more exercise, a diet, a new financial plan, etc. they can fix it and make you valuable.

The short-coming is that none of these things can measure you. You are a daughter or son of God, the Most High, the Ruler of creation. You come from a noble birthright and your value is in your potential to be like your Heavenly Father. We all have a divine destiny and inheritance, but we have to accept it.

Obviously, it is important to become better versions of ourselves. I do not think any responsible person would advocate doing poorly in school or intentionally becoming unhealthy. The distinction is that we can't let any of this define us. We are more than test scores, numbers on a scale, likes on social media, or any other rank or measurement known to man.

I pray that when the temptation comes to accept a metric as an assignment of personal value that we can think or say what Moses said in the face of temptation:
...Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? (Moses 1:13)
Even things that are important in this life pale in comparison to our relationship with our Father. As I have worked to improve myself, it has helped me to start from the point of view that I am a child of God with the potential to accomplish my goals. We are not inadequate beings that needs these metrics to value ourselves.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Thought on Modern Day Prophets

While listening to Elder Hale's talk in General Conference this morning I got an insight into how modern day prophets function. Elder Hale was pointing out that we received The Family: A Proclamation to the World long before people were trying to legally re-define what a family is. In fact, it was revealed in September of 1995; in September of 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act was passed without much controversy. I don't think that many if any expected that within 20 years the law would become unpopular and the Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional.

This made me think of another thing: President Gordon B. Hinckley was the prophet of the Church from the time I was young until I was partway done with college. I never heard President Hinckley say he knew the real estate market would collapse due to inflated home prices and foreclosures, but my entire life I heard him teach the Saints to buy a modest home that and live within their means. I have often reflected on how much better off the entire United States economy would be if the country as a whole had listened.

Modern prophets seldom stand up and say: "Behold! I have seen a vision..." Instead, they teach us correct principles that will protect us from things they know will shortly come to pass. So often we think of visions when we think of prophets, but primarily they will teach us how to live so that we can return to our Father in Heaven. I know that I have found protection in following prophetic counsel and I'm grateful that we have these leaders to guide and direct us.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Interview

My mom kept this quote from President David O. McKay, the 9th prophet after the restoration of the Church, on the fridge of our house for most of my life growing up:

Let me assure you, brethren, that some day will have a personal Priesthood interview with the Savior Himself. If you are interested, I will tell you the order in which He will ask you to account for your earthly responsibilities.
First, He will request an accountability report about your relationship with your wife. Have you actively been engaged in making her happy and ensuring that her needs have been met as an individual?
Second, He will want an accountability report about each of your children individually. He will not attempt to have this for simply a family stewardship but will request information about your relationship to each and every child.
Third, He will want to know what you personally have done with the talents you were given in the pre-existence.
Fourth, He will want a summary of your activity in your church assignments. He will not be necessarily interested in what assignments you have had, for in his eyes the home teacher and a mission president are probably equals, but He will request a summary of how you have been of service to your fellowmen in your Church assignments.
Fifth, He will have no interest in how you earned your living, but if you were honest in all your dealings.
Sixth, He will ask for an accountability on what you have done to contribute in a positive manner to your community, state, country, and the world.”
I think this is an easy way to realize what is important in life and what isn't. It is telling to me that the first items on this list aren't about personal fulfilment or anything that usually brings any attention or praise to ourselves, but how we treat the people whose lives we are most able to bless.

It also interests me that these interactions are among the most private of our lives. Most of the people we know, although they may think otherwise, really don't know whether or not we are doing these things or to what degree we do them. Perhaps this is part of what the Lord was referring to in Luke 12:3 -
"Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops."

Mostly, I love this quote and have found it useful throughout my life. I'm grateful that we have prophets today who teach us. I'm looking forward to general conference next weekend; I know that if we practice what we're taught there we'll be lead down the right path.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why Do We Have Families?

Families are a unique relationship that we have in this world due to its permanence. With few exceptions, family is family and no matter what we're going to be attached to them. Even people who spend years separated from their families often eventually return to become part of the family again.

I do not believe that this organization is by accident. I think the families we are given here are meant to teach us directly about our relationship with God. No matter what, we are God's children; He created all of us and placed us here on earth. Although we can make decisions that disappoint Him we do not cease to be His children. The relationship a child has his or her parents is directly patterned after the relationship we have with Him.

As we seek to strengthen our families and our relationships in our families we will come to understand God better. If we are good and faithful in these relationships, then we will please Him; if we are not, then we cannot please Him. It is as simple as President David O. McKay taught:

No other success can compensate for failure in the home.
Now the obvious, sad fact is that many are not born into homes where they are loved by their father and mother. Some have single parents, some have abusive parents, some are orphaned, some are ignored, or many other possible unpleasant situations.

This begs the question: why would God allow innocent children to suffer? How can this be His plan? The answer I have found for this question is two-fold: first, God will not force us to live correctly. We are meant to learn from this life and be tried. You cannot effectively test someone if you force them to choose the correct answers. Second, God's plan is for us to all have rich and fulfilling family relationships. Like so many of the things we suffer here, in almost all cases the lack of a loving family is because of disobedience to His plan.

Families are given to us as gifts to support us through the challenges of this life and are one of the most effective ways we can learn about our Heavenly Father. I know that if we work to develop love in these relationships it will bring us more peace and happiness than most anything can in this world.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Daily Scripture Reading

One of my permanent life-goals is to read the scriptures daily. Bishop Davies, of the president bishopric of the Church, included daily scripture reading as part of a sure foundation for our lives. I find it to be so in my life.

In taking some time to read the scriptures every day, we bring the Holy Ghost into our lives. The Lord wants us to understand the scriptures and wants to teach each of us from them; to accomplish this He sends the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Teacher of all Truth. I feel that I'm more able to receive His teachings and guidance every day when I study daily.

Another blessing is that we can always have the word of God on and in our minds. If the scriptures are in our memories - even if we aren't perfect at recalling them - they can be brought to our remembrance. The Lord will help us internalize His teachings, helping us along the path of discipleship.

I know that the God wants us to know Him. Not have ideas about Him or for Him to be a marvelous mystery to us, but for us to know Him as our Father. Reading the scriptures doesn't accomplish this by itself; we also need to pray and follow the teachings we receive from the scriptures, but reading the scriptures daily will put us on the path to know our Father.

And this is alife beternal, that they might cknow thee the only true dGod, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast esent.

John 17:3

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ninety And Nine And The One

I have always been intrigued by the Parable of the Lost Sheep. From Luke 15:4-7:
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine ain the wilderness, and go after that which is blost, until he find it?
 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
 I say unto you, that likewise ajoy shall be in heaven over one bsinner that crepenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
I'm very interested in this idea of leaving ninety and nine in the wilderness and going after the one. On its face, it doesn't sound correct to me. Perhaps this is partially because I'm not a sheep herder, but it seems to me that all of the ninety and nine need the shepherd, and how can you sacrifice 99 to go after 1? The math doesn't add up for me.

However, sheep aren't helpless, and neither are the people that the sheep represent in the parable. A flock of sheep will protect the sheep in the flock, but a sheep that is alone is almost completely helpless. One of the lessons the Lord is teaching here is that we have a responsibility to take care of each other, or else the ninety and nine would be just as helpless as the one in the wilderness.

I think another lesson from this parable is that the Lord loves each of us and is aware of our different situations. He knows when we are among the ninety and nine and when we are the one lost in the wilderness, and He attends to us appropriately. This tells me that when I don't feel the Lord's support its not because He has abandoned me - its because He knows that its not what I need at this time, and I should have faith that He'll know when I do need it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


One thing that always amuses me are the advertisements I see to get you in shape in a heartbeat. It seems there are dozens of ways for people to get you in shape post haste. For men, the pitchmen for the products have bodies that it takes years of weight-lifting and conditioning to accomplish. I always think: "doesn't everyone know the right way to stay in shape is just to eat healthy and exercize all of the time?"

Those who know me know I couldn't be a pitchman for one of those products, but my point is simply that most things have to be done constantly in order to be done right. Becoming constant in our worship and service of others is a must for developing greater faith and being closer to God.

Think of being a parent. If I ignore my children most of the time, but sometimes am available to talk to them, play with them, or otherwise give them attention, will they trust me? Now, imagine if I dedicate time to them every day and make an effort to connect with them every day? Which father is more likely to be trusted with life's greater pains and doubts? Which father will be able to help his children more?

One of the great challenges of getting to know our Father in Heaven is that He most likely won't come to our house and speak to us face to face. He doesn't do that because He wants us to have faith, so He connects with us in different ways, and He is even willing to help us recognize these ways, but it takes some learning on our part.

In other words, He is the Father that reaches out to us every day, but we have to learn to recognize and understand how. Daily, sincere prayer helps us recognize these things more. Daily, focused scripture study does the same. Regularly serving others, even in small ways will also bring us to Him.

Just as you cannot learn to speak a foreign language by occasional efforts, you cannot develop the relationship you want with God erratically. You might learn a few phrases or even be able to order food on a menu that way, but I know that life will be richer and peace will be deeper for those that are constant before the Lord.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly"

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. 
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. - (D&C 121:45-46)
Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants is one of my favorite chapters of scripture. It is exceptionally clear and direct. Lately I've thought a lot about this phrase: "Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly." I think this is one of the most difficult commandments given to us, with some of the greatest blessings promised.

This is one of the most difficult challenges offered in scripture, followed by some of the choicest blessings. You could re-organize it like this:


 - Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith.
 - Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.

 - Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.
 - The doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
 - The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion.
 - Thy scepter (shall be) an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.
 - Thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
An immature approach to following the commandments is to wonder how much you can get away with and still be okay in the Lord's eyes. I think this is the natural approach for almost all people: commandments tell us what to do, including things not to do, so we should test the limits of how much we actually have to obey.

If we are going to let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, we are going to need to keep all immoral thoughts from our minds at all times. In other words, we cannot have this spiritually immature attitude of pushing morality as far as we can. We need to keep ourselves clean, even in our thoughts known only to us and God. As I write that, I must acknowledge that I have a long way to go to keep this commandment, but the blessings are powerful.

To me, it is obvious why someone who is virtuous, even in her or his thoughts, would be more comfortable in the presence of God, understand His doctrine more fully, and feel the Holy Ghost more readily. All of these things seem more comfortable in a pure mind. The last two blessings seem less obvious; I know that I am more comfortable with having a pure-minded ruler who loves completely.

As a father, the idea that my family - one application of dominion - flows unto me forever and ever without compulsion sounds more like heaven than perhaps anything else. I believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that They love us.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I believe that whatever we choose to believe in, we can gracefully accept that people will disagree. There is no need to believe that anyone who disagrees on a particular point is anti-family, brainwashed, incompetent, racist, homophobic, hates the poor, hates the rich, or otherwise incapable of legitimate thought. In a time where public discourse is increasingly polarizing, we should rise above the conflict and disagree civilly.

I am as passionate about what I believe in as almost anyone. Part of my motivation for writing this blog is how much I value my faith, and how much it has helped me. My hope is that it might bless others equally; I can say without equivocation that there is no place in Christianity for intolerance.

Many confuse tolerance with acceptance. Being courteous to someone who is smoking a cigarette doesn't mean you endorse smoking, just as being rude to anyone sinning doesn't equate to righteousness.

As in all things, it is more worthwhile to espouse virtues than to decry frailties. When I was a missionary, I spent some of my time helping get visas for other missionaries in the country where I served. One of the people at the embassy asked us what we stood for? We told her that God has called a prophet today just as He did in the past, and that this prophet teaches of Christ right now. She then asked: what do we criticize? We told her that we weren't in the business of criticism. She was amazed at this answer; she fully expected us to denounce at least some of the churches in the country.

Christ gave us the Gospel of Peace, and peace is the message we should take to the world. We must do this without bickering, with respect, and most of all with love. If we do not live by this then there is no chance people will accept His message; all will simply question why we do not practice what we preach.

I know that God loves all His children. He does not excuse our sins, yet He loves us as a perfect Father loves His sons and daughters. If we are to follow Christ, we need to cultivate this love, and tolerance is an entry step on that path. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Today I asked myself why is reverence so important? Some places - both religious and secular - go to extreme lengths to maintain reverence. Certainly, anywhere that you are asking children or adolescents to be reverent it is going to be a lot of work. I know that it is worth it, but I wanted to write down some thoughts on the subject.

I think an okay definition of reverence could be the appropriate respect for where you are and what you're doing. Obviously, someone who is at a cemetery shouldn't be loud and obnoxious, just as someone who is handling a firearm should be careful. To show adequate respect to God or His House I think we should also recognize that He knows better than we do and that we need to seek knowledge from Him.

The reason reverence is so important is simple - it facilitates communion with the Holy Ghost which will instruct and purify us. The still, small voice is very difficult to hear if we are irreverent.

I think about the Nephites to whom Christ appeared after His resurrection. They had to hear the Father's voice three times, and on the third time they only understood because they "... did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came." (3 Nephi 11:5)

I also consider the temples of our Church. To borrow a concept from my father-in-law, praying in the temple often feels like a 'local call.' It is easier to receive answers to prayers and understand the Lord's will in the temple because His Spirit lives there. It can live there because of the reverence that abides there as well as the worthiness of those that enter.

I have often heard the idea expressed that God speaking to a person makes that person chosen or special, but I believe that our Father is constantly speaking to all of us - His children. The disconnect is on our end. Reverence will bring us a step closer to recognizing and hearing His voice more often.

Of the greatest moments of my life, many of them have been very quiet; if you were sitting in an adjacent room you wouldn't necessarily have known that anything was happening. In these sacred moments I was communing with my Father, receiving healing and understanding. I am not capable of sustaining these periods constantly nor forever - that is why I refer to them as moments. I believe that as I become more disciplined in my reverence I will receive more of them more often and benefit more from it.