Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Patience to be Free

Prophets have long counseled against incurring debt. President N. Eldon Tanner explained:

Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus, control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage. (Ensign, Nov 1979).

Financial debt occurs when we spend more than the constraint of our budget. Other kinds of debt might include physical debt if we intake more calories than our physical constraint allows or spiritual debt if we act outside of the constraint of the commandments. Though these kinds of debt are usually not referred to as debts, prophets have warned us to care for our bodies and avoid sin, which keeps us free of physical, spiritual and other kinds of debt.

For many of us, the opposite of debt is patience. We go into debt because we want things now, so we borrow from our future earnings to be instantly gratified. That desire for instant satisfaction often contradicts the laws of God as it becomes lustful or covetous. Reaping what we sew, low-effort, instant returns often bring more problems than solutions. For example, not waiting for sexual intimacy can lead to broken families or disease. Not waiting until you could afford to buy your dream home may lead to foreclosure. Not waiting for food to cook properly, or too frequent use of the microwave, has been linked in some studies to disease and cancer. Similarly, not waiting to buy the things we want or even things we think we need can lead to financial illness, marital stress, depression and bankruptcy.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained:

Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.

Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.

... Patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!

Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.

... Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels. Patience is truly a fruit of the Spirit.

Patience means staying with something until the end. It means delaying immediate gratification for future blessings. It means reining in anger and holding back the unkind word. It means resisting evil, even when it appears to be making others rich.

Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith. It means being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.” 1 Ultimately, patience means being “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord” 2 every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so. In the words of John the Revelator, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and … faith [in] Jesus.” 3

... The lessons we learn from patience will cultivate our character, lift our lives, and heighten our happiness.

When we are patient, we are better able to avoid debt. We will find that we are more successful and more prosperous. President Ezra Taft Benson said:

In the long run, it is easier to live within our income and resist borrowing from future reserves except in cases of necessity.

Patience is the ability to live within a budget. It is an attribute of discipline and obedience. In matters of finance, we are encouraged not only to live within our means, but also to save for a rainy day. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave this counsel in a 1998 conference address:

I urge you... to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.

... If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That's all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.

It is clear what is expected of us. We must be patient, actively pursuing worthy goals without overextending ourselves. As we live within the constraints given to us, be they financial, physical, spiritual or otherwise, we will have peace. For more on constraints, click here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Word on Caffeine

Quoting Daniel 1:3-20, the First Presidency has clarified what the Word of Wisdom, or D&C 89, would have us avoid. They wrote:

Never use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, and pipe tobacco. They are very addictive and will damage your body and shorten your life. Also, do not drink coffee or tea, for these are addictive and harmful.

Any form of alcohol is harmful to your body and spirit. Being under the influence of alcohol weakens your judgment and self-control and could lead you to break the law of chastity or other commandments. Drinking can lead to alcoholism, which destroys individuals and families.

Any drug, chemical, or dangerous practice that is used to produce a sensation or “high” can destroy your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. These include hard drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medications that are abused, and household chemicals.

Even with this clarification, members of the Church have sometimes wondered whether caffeine is or isn't prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. At least two prophets have commented on this matter. In the April 1922 General Conference, President Heber J. Grant said:

I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious. The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.

President Kimball said something similar:

Wisdom goes beyond the letter of the law. Generally when we speak of the Word of Wisdom, we are talking about tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor, and all of the fringe things even though they might be detrimental are not included in the technical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application.

I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, 'But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug.' With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this, but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them.

Thirty years later, the Church still has not taken an official position on caffeine. They have, from time to time, warned of its dangers in Ensign articles or passing comments in local conferences, but the ultimate choice is left up to the members of the Church. It is then our responsibilities to be good stewards, making choices that will lead us back to our Heavenly Father according to the dictates of our own inspiration and conscience.

Strength Unto Deliverance

We all need deliverance from something. Whether it be an overwhelming day, the pain of injury or disease or the burden of sin, "all mankind [are] in a lost and in a fallen state" in need of deliverance (1 Nephi 10:6).

While deliverance will come in and through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we have a vital role in our own salvation. It is sometimes said that "God helps those that helps themselves". That phrase isn't scriptural, but those who make the greatest progress are those who accept the help available through the atonement and get to work.

The Red Sea wasn't parted for the children of Israel, for example. Rather, the Lord made help available and required Moses to use his staff to part the sea. Moses had to choose to act to be delivered from the armies of Pharaoh.

When Alma Sr. and his group of followers were taken captive, the Lord heard the prayers of the people and made their burdens light. Alma's people were given strength to endure. At length, the Lord provided an opportunity for the people to be delivered. Without action, the deep sleep of the Lamanite guards would have only created a small pause from tribulation. Alma and his people were prepared for the opportunity the Lord gave them, and were delivered from bondage through swift obedience (action).

Understanding this principle, Alma Jr. and his recently reactivated missionary companion, Amulek, provide us with a model for obtaining deliverance. Bound in prison, having just witnessed the massacre of all the Christians in Ammonihah, these missionaries endured all kinds of abuse with great patience. Alma's prayer was that the Lord would, "give us strength according to our faith in Christ, even unto deliverance" (Alma 14:26).

When Alma concluded his prayer, he and his companion were able to break the cords that bound them and emerge from a prison that had been shaken by the power of God and collapsed, killing their abusers. The narrator of the story, Mormon, explained: "Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ" (Alma 14:28).

Whatever our burden, we can be delivered like Alma and Amulek. If we will but endure a little while, preparing to act when the Lord gives us power to do so, we can be delivered from sin, death, sorrow and tribulation of every kind. With faith in Christ, we can choose to act rather than being acted upon. Through our action, we can choose deliverance.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reality Shows and a Change of Heart

Millions of Americans tune in each week to NBC's The Biggest Loser. The reality TV show pits overweight contestants against each other in a weightloss competition. The winner goes home with hundreds of pounds lost and hundreds of thousands of dollars gained as a victory prize.

Successful contestants on The Biggest Loser always have a moment they remember that fuels their success. They remember waking up or looking in the mirror or talking to their kids and suddenly feeling motivated or disgusted or desperate-- at that moment, they know they have to change. 

There is a similar moment for the successful callers on The Dave Ramsey Show. These people have usually paid off tens of thousands of dollars in relatively short periods of time through disciplined budgeting. These people call in to scream, "I'm debt free!" as a rite of the victorious over debt. Very often, these recent fiscal independents say their path began with a moment when they realized they had to make changes.

In either case, a change of heart about their weight or their money motivates radical changes in their lifestyle. You make know others who have quit smoking or overcome some other habit in similar fashion. Paraphrasing Elder Packer, we see in these instances where the change of heart changes behavior more quickly than the study of behavior would have changed those behaviors.

We can have similar changes of heart with respect to many aspects of our lives. One awakening moment may change our view on health, money, politics, family, food storage, family history or a host of similar possibilities.

Manoah's wife had such a change of heart in Judges 13. Though barren, when an angel appeared to her and told her she would have a son, she gave up alcohol and unclean foods so the boy could be the Nazarene that would deliver Israel from the Philistines, as promised by the angel. The boy would be named Samson.

When Jonah was swallowed by a whale, he changed his heart and agreed to preach to the people at Ninevah. Subsequently, Ninevah repented and was spared.

The Brother of Jared was chastized for three hours when he had not prayed for several years. A change of heart resulted, and the Brother of Jared turned to the Lord frequently thereafter, including his prayer to make sixteen stones glow inside their barges.

Whether regarding parenting, missionary work, prayer or other important doctrines, we can have changes of heart that convert us to single principles. Still other scriptural examples show that we can also have a change of heart with broader strokes.

Job was completely converted when the devil assailed all that he held dear. Alma the Younger and Paul the Apostle both had miraculous changes of heart, despite being bitter opponents to the gospel beforehand, through the visitations of angels. King Lamoni, his father and an entire generation of Lamanites dramatically changed their lives and lifestyles with the help of only a few powerful moments. There are many, many others.

Once these moments are experienced, it is critical that we remember them. Laman and Lemuel also saw angels and changed their behavior, but slipped back into poor habits quickly. Yet Amulek remembered, and sustained beatings, the massacre of many of his people and the interrogation of men who wanted to kill him-- all on the strength he gained by remembering the change of heart he had when an angel asked him to feed the prophet.

We can also have a change of heart. Alma teaches that such a change will loosen the chains of hell, expand our souls and allow us to sing redeeming love (Alma 5:9). That kind of change will come by the word of God. Alma reminded:

"[Abinadi] preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts" (Alma 5:13).

It was similar for King Lamoni:

"And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them... and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil" (Alma 19:33).

Again, for King Benjamin's people following his sermon:

"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually."
It is the same for us. As we study the scriptures, the teachings of the modern prophets and the inspired words of our local teachers and leaders, we will also experience a change of heart. We can eliminate our desire for evil that binds us down with the chains of hell and instead expand our souls with songs of redeeming love.
Like contestants on The Biggest Loser or listeners of The Dave Ramsey Show, we can be victorious over the obstacles in our path as we allow a change of heart to motivate us to righteous action. May each of us then seek to find and to follow a change of heart that will turn our lives to Christ and allow us to be saved in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father.