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.