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Monday, January 27, 2014

Loving the Words of God

All of us have access to scriptures.  But how often do you hold, cherish, seek after and honor the scriptures as a true pearl of great price?

Do you think there's even the slightest possibility that you, too, may take them for granted sometimes?

The next time you grab your scriptures to read from them, remember what these Chinese people did when they first received their Bibles.

Then hold them to your chest, close your eyes, and thank He who made them available to you.


"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate 
therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is
written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou
shalt have good success." (Joshua 1:8)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Elder / Sister ____________

I wish I had a chance to talk to young men and women before they enter the mission field, and give them a short talk about expectations and reality.  I fear that too many are succumbing to pressures to meet or beat mission-based statistics that many will never achieve.  I felt that on my mission.

Elders and sisters need to know that a mission isn't about statistics, or numbers of hours spent tracting or teaching.  It's about something far deeper.

Now, I'm not talking about those who disobey the mission rules or slack in their standards.  I'm talking about young men who feel pressure to leave on their mission when they're 18 (and sisters at 19), despite Pres. Monson having said that leaving on a mission at those ages is an "option."

I'm talking about those who compare themselves with others and, in the process, encounter futility and depression.

I'm talking about those nights that you cry yourself to sleep, wondering why you're even there in the mission field in the first place.  Wondering if you really can make a difference.  Wondering if He hears you in the stillness of the night.

Although you don't know me, take me at my word when I say: He does.

You see, you bring a unique, individual gift to the mission and the people you serve.  It is your uniqueness, your combination of individual gifts  -- not shoehorning yourself into someone else's expectations -- that makes the difference and makes the magic happen.

You need to know that if you will give it your best, the Lord will make up for what you lack.  Start by seeking out your individual gifts and sharing them.  As you do, you will find that your gifts -- and other's -- will be magnified both in quantity and quality.  So has He promised; so shall He deliver...to those who are truly in His service.

The Lord will definitely use you in your imperfections.  He has a long, distinguished history of using truly imperfect people to bring about truly miraculous, awe-inspiring results.  He will do that as well -- very soon -- when He directly elevates 144,000 High Priests from a status of activation to action.  On that note, elders and sisters should be asking the Lord where to go, where to turn, what to say and what to do.  Ask to be led to those that are looking for truth.  He is the ONLY one who will guide the way.  He always has, and always will.

Because when you follow Him, you ARE a success.

OK, maybe you don't know the language.  Maybe you don't know the lessons.  Maybe you feel anxiety at the prospect of meeting total strangers.  Maybe you miss the comfort and security of home.  Maybe your companion is sub-human.  I'm not going to tell you to "buck up" and be a big boy or big girl, because (quite frankly), He doesn't want you to rely on yourself.  He wants you to rely on Him.  Be meek and humble.  Take advantage of this opportunity to study faith, test faith and exercise faith.  Jesus Christ will not only rejoice in your doing so, but He will also show you the next steps.

If there are mistakes in your past (and there are for any and everyone), the best way I know of to fix your mistakes is to seek Him and feed His sheep.  There is no better way to show the Lord the depth of your repentance and where your heart is.  He is very aware of even your tiniest acts of devotion.  And He is more anxious to forgive you -- and to activate the atonement which far too few people take advantage of -- than you can imagine.

If I could only tell you how great your worth is in the Savior's eyes.  You can do so much good - even if the good is for yourself or your companion.  It pains me to hear of missionaries hurting and giving up.  There is nothing here that can't wait, there is nothing here of greater value, than serving the best you can as a servant of the Lord.  I know it's not easy.  Rejection is the way of the disciple.  But there is light that punctuates the darkness and the despair that is all too often your daily lot.  I remember it well.

I think we need to better inform all pre-elders and pre-sisters and give them a flu shot against the adversary, and the dogma he will certainly teach in trying to derail them.

And should an elder or sister go home early for medical or emotional reasons, so be it.  There are many who return home early these days.  A shocking number.  But who are we to judge their standing before God?

When I meet an ERM (Early Returned Missionary), I look them in the eyes and tell them that I'm confident the Lord is so appreciative that they tried their best to serve Him.  After all, even Peter sank into the water when he left the boat to approach the Savior.

Some see Peter's sinking as a sign of failure.

But he was the only one who left the boat in the first place.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sacred Silence

Below is a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting last Sunday.  Enjoy!

I've been asked to talk about “Rising Up and Continuing on the Path Toward Spiritual Goals.”

I think this is pretty timely, because it’s the first of the year, and lots of people have New Years resolutions to accomplish some personal spiritual goals.

Several years ago this week, my wife and I had been attending a married student ward and made a New Years resolution to attend a new ward -- this ward.

And in that time, I've seen lots of births, a few deaths, happy and sad tears, mistakes and jokes, and quite a few people go “Whew, what did I get myself into?”  But to be perfectly transparent, over the years,

  • I've seen members cry in our meetings because their spouse wasn't active, or even a member of the church.
  • I've seen us cope with family members in jail, pregnant yet out of wedlock, run away, addicted to porn or drugs or gambling, abusive or neglecting. 
  • Some of us have been shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. 
  • I've seen some of us chronically depressed, gripped by anxiety, schizophrenia and even suicidal tendencies.
  • I've seen us deal with a life-long disabilities, terminal disease and sudden death.
  • I've seen some of us hurt -- and I mean really hurt -- by others.

I've seen more than one of us put on the happiest, smiliest face we could possibly imagine at church, and then when I visited them at home right after the block meetings, I've seen their sad countenances and tear-stained faces.

In those many years here, some of us have folded under the pressure.  They turned their backs on God and the church and haven’t looked back.

Yet some of us -- some of whom are here today -- did something else...something so wonderful, so spiritually significant, that miracles took place.

They not only rose up, but also continued on a much higher spiritual path.

They aimed higher, reached farther and attained greater than they ever thought possible.

And the kicker is: they all did was...Just.  One.  Thing.
There’s a story about a Japanese Zen master who was once visited by a university professor, who came to inquire and learn from the master.

It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup is overfull, no more will go in,” he said.

The master said, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Like the university professor, our cups are overflowing with cares, concerns and worries about ourselves, our families, our jobs, our health, the world, as well as the past, present and future.

It’s no wonder that we find solutions to our problems so elusive at times.  Our cups are so overflowing, we are unable to tune in and receive wisdom from Our Master.

And so what do we do?  We rely on OUR mortal abilities and OUR mortal wisdom and OUR mortal relationships to resolve those cares, concerns and worries.

And how how quickly we find out -- as Moses did -- that we are nothing.

The Savior, however, teaches us a different way.

In Mark 4:39, the Master showed us exactly what to do when the storms of life are beating upon us:
“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
This was the literal fulfillment of Psalm 107:29
"He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still."
He also used the phrase “be still” to comfort the Saints as they were enduring great persecution:
“Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16)
Moses understood this concept, too.  In Exodus 14:13, he said
"Stand still, and see the salvation of God."  
Right after that, through the power of God, he divided the Red Sea.

There’s something god-like about stillness.  Indeed, we read in 1 Kings 19:12, in 1 Nephi 17:45 and in D&C 85:6 that the Spirit speaks to us how?  With a STILL, small voice.
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So, HOW do we hear the still, small voice?  Do we just switch it on?  Do we just wait for it until it decides to say, “Hi, how’s it going?”

No.

D&C 52:14 says God will give us a pattern in all things.  And in this case, He definitely did.  We can find the pattern for enjoying stillness in the lives of Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Enos, the Brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, the Savior and more.

What did they all do to enjoy stillness and obtain God’s help?

They physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually left behind the world.  They emptied their cups.  And that made room for them to receive more that the Lord wanted to give them -- greater ability to aim higher, reach farther and attain greater than we think possible.

This process recently led Pres. Monson to ask,
"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation – even thoughts of timeless truths?" ("The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference) 
Did you catch that?  Pres. Monson gave us a key word that summarizes this whole process.  Let me give it to you one more time:
"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation – even thoughts of timeless truths?" 
Meditation!  Not chanting mantras or sitting in a corner or bowing to something.  Instead, just going off somewhere quiet and secluded, emptying your mind of thoughts and emotions, and listening to God as He seeks to quiet our storms and replace them with peace and hope and love and enlightenment.

I quote Pres. David O. McKay in the June, 1967 Improvement Era:
“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.
In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation. 
Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82).
Let me repeat that last part: “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord"

That’s what Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Enos, the Brother of Jared, Joseph Smith and the Savior did.  That’s what our fellow ward members -- who had significant challenges -- did.  And in the process, some us saw our spouses re-embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we saw family members conquer their personal demons, we saw people rise above death and disease -- including terminal-stage cancer -- and those who have been hurt be healed again.

I started my speech by talking about “Rising Up and Continuing on the Path Toward Spiritual Goals.”

The pattern to do that is perfectly clear.  It’s what TWO latter-day prophets told us to consider doing:

Meditate.  For a few minutes everyday, empty your cup.  Shed yourself of all those cares and concerns and worries, and give them to Christ.  Do it until you feel calm and peaceful.  Be still.  Then let Him fill you up with thoughts and feelings and insights that will tell you ALL things that you must do.

And in so doing, you will find Him.

Yes, you will feel impure. Sinful. Wrong. Unclean. Unholy. Unrighteous.  In fact, you’ll likely think you're totally unworthy of His -- a God's -- personal attention.

You couldn't be more wrong, because when you are with Christ, He will not judge you.  He will not condemn you.  He will not guilt trip you.  Instead, He will calm the storms of your life OR He will calm you.  Regardless, like the woman caught in adultery, you will wet His feet with your tears...even before you hear Him say that your sins are forgiven.

You see, He has so much compassion, acceptance, understanding, positiveness and hope, that He will instantly exceed all your expectations, yet remain the humblest of all of God’s sons.  He will leave you without mortal words to describe His majesty and His unconditional love for you, yet testifying as I can (and I choose my words carefully) that:

I know that my Redeemer lives.

I know that He is so anxious to listen to you, to talk to you, to laugh with you, to cry with you, to take every one of those pains and burdens that you're carrying with you right now, and then strengthen you, uplift you, inspire you, elevate you -- and yes, to eternally save you...to heights you never thought you were able -- or worthy -- to attain.

And -- even more than that, and even in this life -- He is anxious to hold you again in His arms...to show you the things He did for you almost 2,000 years ago, and all the things that await you as you place Him first in your life.

You really can overcome the impossible, and know -- as I do -- that your greatest accomplishments are not behind you...as your destiny lies above you.

This is my invitation to you, and I leave it with you in the holy and sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stomping Our Way to Hell...One Grain At A Time

Richter Scales


I find it interesting that seismologists say Seattle Seahawks fans shook the ground under Seattle’s CenturyLink Field as the Seahawks rumbled past the New Orleans Saints, 23-15 last Saturday.

The scientists believe the fans may have jumped and stomped their way to a small earthquake during a Marshawn Lynch touchdown.  You can see the seismic graph here.

The University of Washington's Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) told The Seattle Times they'll know for sure in a few days.

It's also been true throughout human history that the louder we humans stomp, the greater the chances Mother Earth will say "Yep, I heard you."

At a time when wickedness is great in the world, so too will be the response.

Just ask those who lived during Noah's time.

(By the way, those are some nifty geysers at the 2:00 mark of that preview).


Ioccane Powder


Ironically, sports is not one of my primary mortal "indulgences."  It's watching movies with my family.

One of my favorites is "The Princess Bride."

In it, the "Dread Pirate Roberts" survived drinking a poisoned chalice of wine because he had spent the last few years building up an immunity to "ioccane powder."

(It's been said that "ioccane powder" is actually an anagram for cocaine, a commonly used drug during the time the book/movie were written (1973, 1987 respectively).

The whole practice of protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts actually has a name: Mithridatism.  The word derives from Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus, who so feared being poisoned that he regularly ingested small doses, aiming to develop immunity (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithridatism).

It's not fiction.  Among the few practical uses of mithridatism include zoo handlers, researchers and circus artists who deal closely with venomous animals.  It's been successfully used to render immunity to multiple bites of extremely venomous cobras and pit vipers.

Societally, we are no different.  Mankind has shown time and again that it is not only willing, but also eager, to ingest small doses of societal poison in the hopes that it can withstand the ramifications of what's ordinarily sudden toxic shock and death.  "Just a little grain here, and a little grain there, and we'll be OK" is a very common mantra these days.
"And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God-he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Nephi 28:8
"And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever." (2 Nephi 26:22)
True, Satan will never hook us with the poison chalice right off the bat.  That's ludicrous, because we'd just reject it.  But by giving us just a little grain here, and a little grain there, he's got us.  Right where he wants us.

If you don't believe me, then look for the statements (including newspaper Op-Ed pieces) that essentially say "Just a little grain here, and a little grain there..."



Thursday, January 2, 2014

17. Spiritual Land Mine #5: When Seeking Knowledge is Destructive

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 17th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".


Sometimes, I wonder how often we sound like Veruca Salt to God:
“Hey, Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa! I want you to get me an Oompa Loompa right away! “
“[singing] I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It's my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now!”
“I want it now! What's the matter with those twerps down there? “
“You promised, Daddy! You promised I'd have it [a Golden Ticket] the very first day!”
“Daddy, I want a boat like this. A beautiful paddle boat is what I want. “
We want so many things from our Heavenly Father.  And I'm inclined to think He wants to give them to us.  Yet in our pursuit of these things -- even good things -- we want them on our timetable, not His.  Bad move.  "Bad egg."

For example: many of us want knowledge, intelligence and understanding.  That's good.  Unfortunately, the way we often go about acquiring that knowledge can often condemn us.

History has shown time and again that military, financial, political and yes, even ecclesiastical power can be a seductive, corrupting influence.  The higher you climb, the greater the temptation to succumb to that temptation...even in minute amounts.

Knowledge is no different.

Your Knowledge + Your Wisdom ≠ Righteousness


Having a profound knowledge about God and His kingdom is no guarantee of righteous standing.  Just ask King Noah, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Scribes or even some of this dispensation's members of the Quorum of the Twelve or Seventy who persecuted Joseph Smith and the Saints.

Hence, Jacob warned us of those who
"when they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish." 
Then he added,
"But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God." (2 Ne. 9:28-29; emphasis mine)
Just how do we do that?

"All things must be done in order" (Mosiah 4:27)  


It's not enough to search the scriptures and say your prayers and read books/attend classes about advanced doctrines and, in fact, know the mysteries.

These things are for naught without God's wisdom.  Knowledge without heavenly wisdom is no different from politics without principle, industry without morality and science without humanity.

The key to obtaining God's wisdom -- including and especially what we learn, and when we learn it -- is found in humbling yourself -- really humbling yourself (D&C 112:10).  As Paul wrote, the things of God,
"...are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14).
This discernment is
"only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves" (D&C 76:116-17; emphasis mine).
To me, "purify themselves before him" sounds like a lot of repenting.  And "those who love him" sounds like those who want to do Father's will, not their own:
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (JST John 14:23)
(In the Greek translation, "manifest" is originally rendered as "emphanízo" (em-fan-id'-zo), which means "exhibit to view; to show one's self, come to view, appear, be manifest; to indicate, disclose, declare, make known.")

If you don't choose to be humble, then you're considered as one who is
"puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches-yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them." (2 Nephi 9:42.)
Indeed, choosing to be humble is far more preferable than having to be taught how to be humble.

Personalizing our Priorities


Frankly, it concerns me when I see people who place a greater weight (most often in time and meaningful attention) in acquiring spiritual knowledge above that of building and strengthening eternal relationships -- especially within families.  They forget that their ability to truly learn the things of God is contingent upon their faithfulness to the light and truth already received:
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256)
Does it please God when one's "gospel studies" diminishes their effectiveness in nurturing and magnifying their (possibly covenental) relationships with their husband/wife and/or children?

Does an incompatibility in such interests (for example, between a husband and a wife) justify further separation?
"If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)
Could those who are left behind (as a result of another's zeal for knowledge) develop a resentment towards God, who in turn could be partially (though unjustifiably) blamed for the relationship's decaying state?

How could such a person (who is zealously pursuing such knowledge) ever be entrusted to help build up Zion -- the very foundation of which is predicated upon what?  Exceptional relationships (Moses 7:18) where "every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, AND doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God" (D&C 82:19; emphasis mine).

Couldn't this imbalance -- if left unchecked -- leave the person more, not less, vulnerable to the enticings of the adversary?

If you find yourself even slightly imbalanced in this respect, then I urge you to humble yourself, love God and purify yourself.

An Invitation


As you rely "wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save" (2 Nephi 31:19; Alma 7:14), as you realign your covenental relationships back into their proper priority, as you seek and overcome other imbalances in your life, you'll discover something about yourself:

A renewed balance in your life (and perhaps in others), an increased feeling of spiritual satisfaction and wholeness reminiscent of a tuning fork which resonates with another...

...only this time, you'll be resonating with the Savior.

And yes, you'll be more prepared to not only speak, but also converse with Him "as one man talketh with another" (Abraham 3:11; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).