Sunday, August 13, 2017

Withdrawing to the Wilderness

Sometimes after a busy day there's nothing better than sitting on the couch watching your favorite television show. Taking a few minutes to relax can take our minds off of the things that are causing our stress and rejuvenate our strength so we can finish out the day. But then sometimes we finish a television show with the same lingering feeling we might have when we just got home from vacation and realize we really need a vacation. So, of course, we watch another unsatisfying episode and another until we're so exhausted we can't help but fall asleep.

The average American watches about five hours of television per day. If we count the media we consume on tablets and phones, that number spikes to 10 hours and 39 minutes of screen time each and every day (The Total Audience Report: Q1 2016, Nielsen Media, 2016). We might have different reasons for being so plugged in, but most of us would agree that at least one primary reason is to "recharge our batteries," so to speak.

Yet, if any of us had a cell phone or tablet that needed a ten-and-a-half hour charge-- plus seven hours in sleep mode-- to function the other six hours of the day, we would likely think it was time for a new device. Most of our ancestors farmed the land from dawn until dusk, a job that required roughly 10-14 hours of hard labor per day. So what's wrong with us that we can barely put together six and a half nonconsecutive hours of work before we need to "recharge our batteries" for the rest of the day?

Perhaps the problem for at least some of us is that we're plugging our batteries into the wrong outlet. Each of us is a spirit child of our Heavenly Father. We chose to come to this earth to obtain physical bodies and become more like Him. Our bodies can become tired and fatigued, but so can our spirits. Responding to physical and spiritual fatigue with the same treatment of television and vacations is like grabbing a sandwich every time you get thirsty-- it might quell your hunger but you'll still be thirsty (and you're probably gaining some weight, too).

Most of us know what to do when our bodies our tired, but we're less sure how to plug in the ol' spiritual batteries. We can learn how to rejuvenate our spirits by carefully observing the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, during his ministry.

Time isn't very carefully delineated in the New Testament, but it's clear that Christ had some very busy days. In Luke chapter five, for example, Christ recruited Peter, James and John; traveled several miles on foot to a certain city where he healed a man with leprosy; taught and possibly healed some Pharisees; healed a paralyzed man who had been lowered through the roof and forgave him of his sins; explained why he spent his time with sinners; called Matthew the publican to follow him; answered some questions about fasting and authored a new parable about putting new wine in new bottles. Whether all of this happened in a single day or over a few days, the text makes it clear that Christ was almost constantly thronged with people as he went about teaching, healing and ministering to them.

It must have been exhausting for the Savior to keep up this routine day after day after day. He was still mortal, after all, and subject to the same fatigue and burnout that we all experience when we work long hours. If he could feel the virtue leaving him as he healed the woman that touched his garment, how did he avoid feeling like he had an empty tank with nothing more to give?

We get a clue about halfway through the chapter. As Christ was teaching a crowd that included a number of Scribes and Pharisees, Luke reports, almost in passing, that "the power of the Lord was present to heal them" (v. 17). Taken alone, this statement may seem ordinary or even a little obvious. Luke could have made this statement at pretty much any time, but he only said it here. His statement builds upon the prior verse where Christ, "withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed" (v. 16).

There is a similar pattern throughout the scriptures and the ministry of Christ. Moses had to withdraw himself from the Israelites to talk with the Lord and receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Elijah was told to withdraw himself onto a mountain where he experienced the Lord's power and heard His voice. The spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be with God and prepare for his ministry (JST Matthew 4:1); he emerged triumphant over the devil and his temptations. The word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness and Christ went to John the Baptist to be baptized (Luke 3:2, 21). Christ went to a mountain in the wilderness to pray and then walked across the water to his disciples' boat. Peter, James and John climbed a mountain in the wilderness before witnessing Christ's transfiguration and receiving priesthood keys from Moses and Elias (Matthew 17). There are many more examples like these.

In every instance throughout scripture, the person goes into the wilderness with a stressor that is, to stay with our analogy, draining their batteries. It may be a particular question or a more general spiritual fatigue. In the wilderness they talk with God and have a spiritual experience that shows them God's power and teaches them more about His plan for us. The pattern concludes with emergence from the wilderness with a resolution to their stressor and an increased spiritual capacity that enables them to do great things they would not have otherwise been able to do.

Each of us can experience spiritual rejuvenation as we live the pattern found in scripture. We withdraw into the metaphorical wilderness when we separate ourselves from the world to seek after the things of God. This might be a few quiet moments in the scriptures or on our knees in prayer. It could be attending the temple and feeling the spirit of the Lord in His holy house. Certainly it includes when we seek to enter divine covenants such as baptism or marriage.

As we seek to know God, He will teach us through his spirit. We will learn the things that we should do and be endowed with the power to do all that He has commanded. It isn't uncommon to find that, bit by bit and grace for grace, the Lord has not only recharged our spiritual batteries but upgraded their capacity as well.

Then, just as an hour on the couch can give us a second wind, we will emerge from our experience with the spiritual strength to address the challenges and stressors we all have in our lives. We will have the knowledge and strength to do great things that we hadn't previously imagined we could.

Withdrawing from the world to recharge our spiritual batteries admittedly takes a little more effort than sitting on the couch to recharge physically, but if we will plug in to the right source we can find the strength and satisfaction we seek. No binge watching necessary.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Continue in the Things Which Thou Hast Been Assured

Few ministries in the history of the world are as striking as the apostle Paul's. Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he inherited Roman citizenship from his father and Jewish faith from his mother. Educated at the Harvard of his day, Paul became a pharisee and actively persecuted Christians, who he perceived to be perverting Judaism, until a vision of Christ changed the current of his life. He would go on to become a great missionary, teacher, disciple and apostle who endured a great deal of persecution himself and was ultimately martyred for his testimony of Christ in Rome.

Near the end of his life, Paul was kept in chains in a dungeon that was exposed to the elements. He was a long way from home and had very little contact with friends or family. He knew he was going to die. He decided to write a final letter to his friend Timothy, who was the first ordained bishop in Ephesus. A lesser person might have used this as an opportunity to vent about the grievances of justice he had endured or perhaps to give final instructions regarding his estate. Paul was inspired instead to share one final sermon that would prove more valuable to you and I than to Timothy.

After admonishing Timothy to stay faithful, he prophesied of the perils of the last days, or in other words, the perils of the times in which we now live. The people in the world at that time, he writes, will be self-centered, irreverent, ungrateful, perverse, dishonest, undisciplined, faithless, traitorous, reckless and conceited. They will be people who love pleasure more than God and follow their appetites into all kinds of addictions and sins. All of these things would come because the people would deny the power of God; they would be ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth because they would refuse to consider spiritual evidence or learning from divine sources (2 Tim. 3:1-7).

Certainly this is the state of the world today. As morals fade and faith is increasingly unpopular, it might seem like the philosophies and ways of the world will soon overwhelm the faithful. Church attendance is down worldwide; truths about creation and the sanctity of life have been banished from schools and replaced by worldly philosophies and courses that encourage students to commit moral sins; and those who stand up for religious liberty are often harassed and accused of being bigoted, hateful, fearful, or worse.

Paul concedes that the righteous will be persecuted in our times and that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived," but also prophesies that the folly of the world "shall be manifest unto all men" and overthrown just as the Egyptian priests who resisted Moses (2 Tim. 3:8-9, 13). He reminds Timothy, and all of us by extension, that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).

While we wait for folly to be overthrown, we may wonder how we "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ" amidst worldly currents of chaos, immorality, deceit, violence, persecution and degrading values (2 Nephi 31:20). Further, how do we keep our faith when some of those worldly philosophies start to make sense or we feel our faith is maybe not as strong as it once was or as we feel it needs to be?

Paul, who had been both persecuted and persecutor, gives a two-part answer based on his experience: "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of," he told Timothy, "knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that...the holy scriptures [are] able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

In another letter, this one to the believers in and around Jerusalem, Paul addressed those saints who were beginning to falter because of the difficultly of staying on the gospel path. To these ancient church members who thought testimony, conversion and baptism would put them beyond trouble, Paul counsels, "Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions... Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:32, 35-36).

Each of us have had sacred experiences that have been and are foundations for our testimony. These experiences are most often times when we knew God was speaking to us. Maybe it was how we felt when we were baptized or when we heard the prophet speak at General Conference. Maybe we were directed to go another way or make a different choice. Or maybe we felt God's love when reading a particularly meaningful passage of scripture, witnessing an answer to our prayers or enjoying the feelings of cleanliness that follow sincere repentance. Whatever those experiences are in our lives, we must not forget them now nor discredit their divine author.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught that we should, "first doubt [our] doubts before [we] doubt [our] faith" (Come, Join with Us, October 2013). "In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, [we must] hold the ground [we] have already won, even if that ground is limited" (Elder Holland, Lord, I Believe, April 2013).

Elder Holland adds, "If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don't give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don't give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. 'Cast not away therefore your confidence.' Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you" (Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence, March 1999).

The second part of Paul's response requires that we acknowledge that God has also spoken to us through his prophets. We turn to God and begin our journey back to him through the study of his revealed words. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God," he explains, "and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be [complete], throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When the world seems to suffocate us, or when we are offended by the evil around us, or when we are tempted to subscribe to worldly philosophies on love or life or anything else, we can find the strength, healing, comfort and answers we need in the Holy Scriptures. Honest study of the scriptures will build our faith, courage, resolve to act upon the truths we learn. We will more often find the inspiration to repent of our misdeeds until, step by step and habit by habit, we become complete and perfect in the sight of God in spite of all that is around us.

This was what Paul experienced as he sat in a Roman dungeon through heat and cold and storms and wind. He had given status and riches to be there. He had lost every worldly thing and would soon give his life. But he had also heard Christ's voice. He had felt God's assurance carry him through his most desperate hours. He knew it was true. He knew death was not the end. He knew he would see his family again and rejoice in the presence of God. And he knew it was possible for us as well, if we would hear God's words and stay on the path that leads back to him.

And so, instead of complaints or regrets, Paul writes to Timothy in the confidence of his God: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Return with Honor

When I was in high school, I often went over to my friend Devon's house. We were there most days for lunch, after school and whenever else we were looking for something to do. Above the front door in his house was a sign that read, "Return with Honor."

It was a simple sign with a simple message: don't screw up. Don't go places you shouldn't go, do things you shouldn't do or be someone you shouldn't be. I thought it was just another way of reminding their family, and all others that have used the slogan, to be good.

There is value in reminding ourselves to be good. That is, theoretically at least, why most LDS 8-year-olds don fresh CTR rings, at least for a few weeks, as they try to remember to Choose The Right. In an oversimplified way, we wear temple garments and attend church every week and put pictures of Christ in our homes so we can remember the promises we have made with God to be good.

Returning with honor is much more than that, however. Many of us have known people who were "good" and did what they were "supposed" to do but were without honor. They are the missionaries who served but didn't work; the temple-married couple who make others uncomfortable with how unkind they are to each other; and the church attendee who rejects all invitations to serve in a calling. These individuals, and others like them, go through the motions but seldom garner much esteem or respect because of the hollow selfishness of their efforts.

Honor is aligned with patience, kindness, contentment, joy for others, sacrifice, humility, modesty, self-discipline, hard work, virtue, hope, faith and love. We honor those who give their lives for our freedom, who give years of study and research to develop vaccines or send people to the moon, who teach us what they know, and who inspire us to be better. There is no honor in selfishness; but that doesn't mean that we don't have a role.

To understand how we can return with honor, we first must recognize that the subject of this sentence is implied. It is you. You are being admonished to return [yourself] with honor. How do you get that honor?

The next part of the statement requires the acknowledgement that to return, we first need to go. There are dozens of scriptural decrees to go a step or two into uncertainty, to go without sin, to go after what was lost, to go show yourself to the priest, to go on the Lord's errand, or go teach the gospel. In order to return, we first have to get up and go.

Finally, the added value to this phrase comes with a deeper understanding of honor. There are many sources of honor. We may receive worldly honors from universities, news media, community service groups or professional organizations. We can receive honors from our peers, our twitter followers or our bosses. Some of these can be good, but they cannot be what we treasure in our hearts. Like Captain Moroni, we are to, "seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of [our] God, and the freedom and welfare of [our] country" (Alma 60:36).

In one of his recent conference addresses, President Uchtdorf shared an experience he had as a new General Authority. One day he was driving with President Faust to a stake conference. Among the important principles they discussed, Elder Faust explained how gracious the members of the Church are to General Authorities. He said, "They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you." Then with a chuckle he said, "Dieter, be thankful for this. But don't you ever inhale it" (Pride and the Priesthood, October 2010).

While we can be grateful for our health, wealth, possessions, or positions, as President Uchtdorf went on to explain, when we begin to inhale our own importance or power or reputation they will begin to corrupt the honor we think we have. In his pre-mortal rebellion against God, Lucifer, the Son of the Morning and a person of some influence, demanded, "Give me thine honor, which is my power" (D&C 29:36).

Honor, like love or respect, cannot be demanded or taken upon ourselves. None of us can award ourselves a Nobel Peace Prize or an honorary doctorate degree from a prestigious university. Though we may inspire fear, we cannot control another's admiration. We are even less able to require the respect and esteem of a perfect being who knows all things and has all power.

Yet, God is anxious to give us honor. He promises, "if ye are faithful ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life" (D&C 75:5). "For thus saith the Lord--I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end" (D&C 76:5).

Honor is the highest esteem or respect we can receive from another person. We cannot take it for ourselves, but we can give it and are commanded to honor those who honor God, including our parents, our spouses, and the laws of the land where we live. We are also commanded to honor the Lord.

My friend's mom could have put up a sign that said, "Be Good". Instead she put up a sign admonishing her family to act in such a way that others would willingly give their respect and esteem. She wanted her family to be anxiously engaged in good causes, to know what it was to sacrifice a meal so another could eat, to experience the reward of working hard to bless someone else's life, and to love so deeply that life's ambitions could be replaced by a desire to make others happy. Most of all, her sign directed her family to be the kind of people that an all-knowing, all-powerful God would delight to have on his side and to recognize for his or her faithfulness. She wanted them to not only be good, but to be courageous, fiercely righteous and persisting in patient faithfulness in the course God placed before them.

That was too long of a sign to fit over the door, so she summed it up: Return with Honor. I wonder if our heavenly mother has one just like it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

We Believe

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost (AoF 1:1). They are three distinct personages. The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us (D&C 130:22).

God is the literal father of our spirits. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16). God so loved the world, his children, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression (AoF 1:2).

The Fall of Adam introduced two kinds of death or separation: Physical or temporal death is the separation of our spirits from our bodies; and spiritual death is when we are separated from God.

And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel (2 Nephi 9:11-12). For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

So we see that the effects of the Fall of Adam, both physical and spiritual death, are completely absorbed in Christ. For behold, the day cometh that all shall rise from the dead the stand before God, and be judged according to their works... And the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt. Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous (Alma 11:41-44, emphasis added).

But there is another Fall with which we should be concerned: our own. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (AoF 1:3).

Jesus Christ taught: And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel (3 Nephi 27:20).

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (AoF 1:4). God has restored his priesthood so that ordinances such as baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost can be performed by proper authority.

When Christ was on the earth, he established his church. That church was not primarily about any sort of building or social or cultural gathering place. Rather, he established his doctrine, his ordinances and covenants (including baptism and the sacrament), and his authority. Because God is not the author of confusion, he created an organization through which these elements could be preserved, exercised and shared with the world. Members of that ancient church were called saints.

There is one body, and one Spirit... One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all... And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ... That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:4-6, 11-14).

We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof (AoF 1:5). Further, we believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth (AoF 1:6).

Those who are called to serve in any capacity receive spiritual gifts to enhance their service and benefit the whole church. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth (AoF 1:7). For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

These principles are the foundation of our faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation. We know these things by their own words, for surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

From the beginning, God has called prophets to teach his doctrine, exercise his authority and perform the ordinances necessary to fulfill the covenants he has made with us. Throughout history, prophetic teachings have often been rejected and the people have fallen into a state of apostasy; but the Lord does not forget us. Because he loves us, his children, he will always call a new prophet to lead us back to him. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Christ himself were all called of God to reestablish his doctrine, covenants, ordinances and priesthood authority on the earth.

Prophets have taught the people and recorded God's word in the Holy Scriptures. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God (AoF 1:8).

The heavens are not closed. God is the same yesterday, today and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round (1 Nephi 10:18-19). We are also God's children and he continues to reveal his word through living prophets and to each of us through the Holy Ghost. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (AoF 1:9).

James 1:5-6 reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. These verses inspired a prayer that led to the restoration of Christ's ancient church; and they can inspire your prayer to know if these things are true.

We invite everyone to read The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is the fruit of the restoration and the evidence of God's prophetic pattern in our day. Toward the end of the book is a promise: And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Christ on the earth today. Christ personally leads the Church through living prophets. The Church contains the fullness of Christ's doctrine, covenants and ordinances. It is the only church authorized by God to perform those ordinances for the benefit of mankind. Through those ordinances and the grace of God, we can be saved and sealed together with our families for time and eternity. This is what we believe; and we invite you to pray to know for yourself. If you pray with faith and real intent to act, as the scriptures direct, God will reveal the truth of it to your heart and mind by the power of the Holy Ghost.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

What E'er Thou Art Act Well Thy Part

As a young man, President David O. McKay was called to serve a mission to Scotland. While there, he discovered a stone above the doorway of a building near Stirling Castle. The architect of the building had arranged nine symbols in a square with three rows and three columns. Each symbol represented a number and every row and every column totaled 18. On the top of the stone was the inscription, "What e'er thou art, act well thy part."

The architect of that building knew that many different materials were used to construct the building. For the building to stand the test of time, each part would need to be in its assigned place and perform its proper function. The cement foundation would need to provide a stable base on which to build; wooden beams would provide a framework of support for the walls and roof; stucco, rocks or bricks would be used to secure the building and keep out the cold; and a roof with shingles would be required to repel the rain and snow.

It is critical to the integrity of the building that each element bear the weight placed upon it. If the building were suddenly without its foundation or if one of the wooden beams were to be removed, the structure may fail. Similarly, a wooden foundation or shingles made of brick may eventually result in collapse. Each material has characteristics suited for a particular role; and it is by performing that role that the entire building has endured for hundreds of years.

This principle is true for social structures as well. Each of us has unique characteristics to contribute as we fulfill our duties and responsibilities to our families and our communities. If we are absent. give less than our best effort or abandon our responsibilities because we wish we had a different role to fill, dysfunction or even collapse may result.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that we in the church are also like the architect's building. All of us have been called to fill an important role that benefits the whole. Some are called to be apostles, others prophets or teachers, and still others are called to work miracles, learn languages, or organize and help others. Magnifying that calling glorifies the whole because every part of the building is needed.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once testified, "We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others" ("This is the Work of the Master," Ensign, May 1995, 71).

To help us succeed in our individual roles, the Lord has given each of us talents, skills and characteristics to use for the benefit of the whole Church. "To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge... To another faith... to another the gifts of healing... To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). We may be gifted writers or musicians, compassionate listeners, or willing volunteers who help wherever we're needed. All of these and many, many more contribute to the integrity of the whole.

We may feel like we're just a bit of grout between some bricks or a single nail on a wooden beam in the grand scheme of things. Christ, through his apostles, asks us to focus less on what we are and use our energy to fill our roles well. His glory is not served by a pile of shingles or an immense, structure-less foundation, but rather with the building of his kingdom on earth. He has given us gifts because he needs all of us, whatever we are, to act well our part.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Matters of Personal Preference

Much of what we do as followers of Christ is governed by his commandments. There were 613 commandments in the Law of Moses; and though that law has been fulfilled, the faithful remain busy loving their neighbors, dressing modestly, paying tithes, going to church, praying always and striving to do all the Lord has asked us to do for the happiness and salvation of his family and ours. None of us is perfect (Romans 3:23), but we usually try not to judge others when they sin (that's also a commandment) and hope for the same mercy when we fall short ourselves.

But what happens when the things we think others are doing wrong aren't addressed by a specific commandment? For example, what about those otherwise faithful saints who vote for the other political party? What about those who are vegetarian or stock up on guns or have too big of a house or shop at stores where we wouldn't be caught dead? Or those who have too many kids or too few kids or whose kids are too rowdy or too well behaved or too spoiled or too shy? Do we ever talk negatively about others or treat them differently because they have different preferences than we do?

That was the case in the ancient Roman empire when Paul sent his epistle around 55 A.D. Although Christ had fulfilled the law of Moses, some of the saints in the early church continued to follow its dietary restrictions and celebrate events like the Passover that were no longer necessary under the law of the gospel. Each school of thought in the matter, both those who ate meat and those who continued to refrain, saw itself as better or more faithful than those who thought differently.

Paul taught these saints, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him" (Romans 14:3). In other words, where personal preferences are concerned, be that how we teach our children or who we vote for president, we should be accepting of others and respect the free exercise of their right to choose differently than we do.

Paul continues and takes it a step farther: "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way... But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, thou walkest not charitably if thou eatest. Therefore, destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:13, 15).

It was perfectly fine for Roman Christians to eat meat, but it was better for them to abstain from meat for a meal with someone who may have been offended than to risk driving that person away from the gospel altogether. Taking offense is a choice, but so are actions that we know may cause others to stumble or doubt. In such cases, "it is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Romans 14:21).

In short, Paul admonished the saints to, "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Romans 14:19). This doesn't mean we have to go around walking on eggshells, and some of the things that may offend others may not be things we're willing or even able to change, but where personal preferences are concerned we should also be considerate of how our choices affect others.

What we do to others, we do to God (Matthew 25:40). If we will let love conquer pride and be seekers of peace and edification for all, the Lord has promised that whatever adversity we are facing will pass; contention will fade because of the love of God in our hearts; and the Lord who gave us the commandments will mercifully approve and accept us as his own (see Elder Uchtdorf, In Praise of Those Who Save, April 2016; and Romans 14:18).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

One of the axioms of life is that it isn't fair. Sometimes the most generous, good people seem to have the most struggles and people we consider lazy, criminal or no-good seem to have it easy. Life's not fair--at least on the surface-- and that creates a special sort of dilemma for the faithful. It has many variations, but it is typically expressed like this: If there is a just God, and he really, truly loves us and wants us to return to live with him, why is life so hard? Or, why do so many bad things happen to good people?

For some, life's perceived unfairness can fuel doubts that grow into significant stumbling blocks to their faith. On the other hand, when we seek answers to even our most profound questions through prayer and a study of divinely-appointed sources we find answers that build our faith. The specific answer you or I may need at a particular time will most likely come through the Holy Ghost as we diligently seek to learn God's wisdom; but there are also some general principles that can guide our thoughts.

For example, consider the role of opposition in the lives of the faithful. Prophets like Moses, Nephi, Abraham and Joseph Smith all faced seemingly insurmountable opposition to their righteous efforts. Meanwhile, the Israelites, Nephi's brothers and others seeking the path of least resistance appear to have had less faith but also to have faced less opposition.

Lehi had a comfortable and prosperous life in Jerusalem. Had he ignored the Lord's commandment to go into the wilderness, he would've likely kept his prosperity for a time. He would have avoided the difficult journey across the wilderness and near death experiences when there wasn't food or when the storms threatened his ship. He would not have experienced the anguish of waiting and not knowing when he sent his sons to recover the brass plates from Laban. Perhaps even some of the conflict with Laman and Lemuel would have been entirely avoided had he only decided to do what was more comfortable and convenient.

Without such opposition, it is also very possible that none of us would have ever heard of Lehi. He would have been killed or taken captive by the Assyrians along with thousands of other Jews in Jerusalem, never obtaining the brass plates or making it to the promised land. It was his faith to obey the Lord's voice, knowing it would be a more difficult path, that helped him cross the ocean almost 1600 years before the vikings and provide the foundation for the Book of Mormon. He shared his thoughts on the matter with his son Jacob:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad... It must needs be that there [is] an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other (2 Nephi 2:11, 15-16).

Opposition gives us meaningful choices. Those choices always have consequences. Sometimes the bad things (and good things!) that happen to us or to those we love are simply the natural results of an earlier action. Infidelity or angry outbursts may lead to a painful divorce. One person's dishonesty in the corporate world may lead to sanctions and layoffs that affect thousands of employees. One group's public preference for a particular false doctrine may yield negative consequences for an entire society, including those standing for truth, as that doctrine is adopted in public opinion and policy. And one man's faith in God's commandment to lead his family into the desert can be the beginning of two mighty nations and the restoration of the gospel that has blessed millions.

In the apparent chaos of all our choosing and reaping consequences, there is order. The Lord is in control. He promises, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). And again, "All things will work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28).

How do the hard things in life work together for our good? President John Taylor once explained:

I heard the Prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion: 'You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.' ... Joseph Smith never had many months of peace after he received the truth, and finally he was murdered in Carthage jail" (John Taylor, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, Aug. 21, 1883, p. 1).

The apostle Paul wrote that "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" and declared that as many as believed despite opposition were ordained to eternal life (Acts 14:22, 13:48). If the faithful must be tried as Abraham to inherit the Celestial Kingdom, it follows that some of the opposition we face in life may actually be blessings for earlier faithfulness and/or to inspire greater faithfulness. Just as athletes that excel have opportunities to face better competition and employees have more professional development opportunities as they climb the corporate ladder, disciples of Christ experience greater opposition to their faith as they come to know and rely on his teachings and Atonement.

Some of these experiences may be like what President Henry B. Eyring described when he explained how his father's prayers during a losing battle with cancer taught him about the deeply personal relationship between God and His children:

When the pain became intense, we found him in the morning on his knees by the bed. He had been too weak to get back into bed. He told us that he had been praying to ask Heavenly Father why he had to suffer so much when he had always tried to be good. He said a kindly answer came: 'God needs brave sons.'

And so he soldiered on to the end, trusting that God loved him, listened to him, and would lift him up. He was blessed to have known early and to never forget that a loving God is as close as a prayer ("Families and Prayer," Ensign or Liahona, Sept. 2015, 4).

Elder Eyring's dad had served others as a professor and priesthood leader most of his life, yet there was a valuable lesson for him about God's love that he could only learn through a difficult life experience of his own. That experience enhanced his prayers, reaffirmed and enriched his knowledge of who he was and God's love for him, and gave him the courage to face the end of his life.

Speaking of a man who was born blind, the Savior taught, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but [he was born blind] that the works of God should be manifest in him" (John 9:3). This hardship was not the result of anyone's prior action but was given as a gift to inspire sufficient faith to lead the blind man and those around him to salvation.

Other times, the hardships we see others facing may be as much about teaching us to serve as they are about opposition for those involved. Elder Robert D. Hales has taught:

As the Savior's latter-day disciples, we come unto Him by loving and serving God's children. As we do, we may not be able to avoid tribulation, affliction, and suffering in the flesh, but we will suffer less spiritually. Even in our trials we can experience joy and peace...

As we follow Jesus Christ, His love motivates us to support each other on our mortal journey. We cannot do it alone. You have heard me share the Quaker proverb before: Thee lift me, I'll lift thee, and we'll ascend together eternally. As disciples, we begin to do this when we are baptized, showing our willingness to 'bear one another's burdens, that they may be light' (October 2016).

It is often said that one of the primary purposes in life is to be tested and tried. That is true, of course, but this phrase is also often misconstrued to mean that God will throw curveballs just to see if he can strike us out. God is "perfect, has all power, and knows all things" ("God the Father", Gospel Topics). He has a perfect love for each of us. He already knows what we would do in a given situation and he has no interest in embarrassing us unnecessarily; rather, his work and glory is to mold and refine us until we are prepared to inherit all that he has.

Each of us has known someone who has tried our patience. Perhaps it was a coworker, another driver on the freeway or one of our children. When we say that our patience has been tried, usually we mean it has been pushed to or even slightly beyond its normal limits. We may feel in those exasperating moments that we don't have any patience at all, but more often than not we have been even more patient than we normally consider ourselves capable and we are feeling the effects of being stretched to something more than what we were before. This is how the Lord tries us and makes us better.

There is a story by an anonymous author about a group of women studying the Book of Malachi in Bible study that illustrates how the Lord uses opposition in our lives. As they read in chapter three, verse three, they read: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what the statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week, the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She watched as the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse: He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part-- when I see my image reflected in it."

Speaking to an audience of missionaries, Elder Holland taught:

I am convinced that [a disciple's life] is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that [we] have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. [We] have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacreligious. But I believe that [all of us], to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.

For that reason I don't believe [a disciple's life] has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, ... nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul ("Missionary Work and the Atonement", Provo MTC, 20 June 2000).

Life is hard because it is supposed to change who we are. Bad things happen to good people, at least some of the time, because they are ready to be put in the fire and refined into someone who reflects the image of our Savior in their countenance. They are ready to take a step or two toward the summit of Calvary and an eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom of God.

The real question then isn't why life is hard, but how we are responding to the opposition in our lives. Are we willing to give up all that we have to walk the more difficult path of a true disciple? When we are in the midst of the flames, are we willing to trust that the silversmith knows better than the silver when it has been refined?

Like Elder Eyring's father, we can get the answers we need in a difficult time through prayer and the Holy Ghost. As we come to realize that many of the hard things in our lives are actually blessings to try us, refine us and qualify us to have a seat next to Moses and Nephi in the presence of God, it becomes increasingly clear that God is in control, he is our perfect judge, and unfair as it may be, all things work together for good to them that love God.