Monday, October 22, 2018

We are Children of a Heavenly Father who Loves us

We all know well the primary song lyric: "I am a child of God, and he has sent me here"

The relationship between God the Father, and myself is one that I have often pondered .  Are we literally his offspring? Are we each individually important to him? Does he know me personally and is he invested in my successes and failures?

Its not hard to realize the awesomeness of God through observing nature. The amount of detail and beauty in everything around us.  The complexity of the human body and all of its perfectly balanced systems and organs each playing a role to give us life.  The uniqueness of each kind of animal and the variety within them. Evidence of God is everywhere as the Divine creator.

Science explains away the creation as a simple act of randomness.  An explosion which created this world with all of its complexities in a dice roll, all totally random and by chance. Then impossible odds on top of impossible odds created life... one in a billion dice rolls and eventually we came evolving from single cell organisms.  The probabilities are far too great.

If you filled a jar with cut out letters, and few pictures, then dumped it all onto a blank book... what are the chances that all of the letters and pictures would perfectly fall into place and become a copy of "Hop on Pop" by Dr suess? Not very likely... I would conclude that it is impossible... yet the chances of this happening are greater than the complexities and probabilities the scientific scholars and intellectuals presents to us as evidence for creation.  It takes just as much, if not more faith to believe these theories as it does to believe in God and the creation.  Their faith is just placed in scientists taking their word for it because they hold a degree, have written a few books, perhaps made a few small discoveries, and are widely accepted by the secular world.

Most of them I believe are just intertwined in crowd thinking or "mob psychology" and popular belief.  Christians today are made to look like naive uneducated bottom of the totem pole human beings. A friend of mine once said to me, "The great war in heaven never ended, it just changed places" I tend to agree.

in the scientific world, Giant conclusions are drawn from small discoveries and a handful of evidence.  A lot of science is the philosophies of men mingled with science.

For me its not hard to believe in the existence of God.

now lets make this more personal...

How can I know and love God?
How does God show me that he knows and loves me?

and Are these things important? Jesus taught

"...Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Joseph Smith taught that in order to have Faith in something you needed to have a belief and understanding of their characteristics.

We can learn more about God through reading the scriptures and discovering those characteristics.  Through learning his Characteristics we start to better understand Him, and get to know him by being able to recognize him and realize his presence.  Here are some of the things the scriptures teach us on the Characteristics and Attributes of God.

He is the Creator.  He is our Father.  He is merciful gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness.  He does not change, neither is there any variables with him.  He is the same forever.  He cannot Lie.  He is no respecter of persons.  (Every person of every race nation position or class has an equal privilege) He that fears God (fears disappointing him or not having his approval) and works righteousness is accepted of him.  God IS Love.

Some of his attributes are Knowledge, Faith, Justice, Judgment (he is Justice, Just), Mercy, and Truth.
(4 mins)

I feel like a lot of us have faith in a God that has a handful of these qualities but sometimes tend to falter in faith on the others.  For example, I can believe that God knows all and does good, but maybe I dont think he is patient with me because I often struggle with sin.  Or maybe I believe he is Just like a judge in court but that he is a little cold and disconnected.  Maybe I believe he is most of these things but I dont believe he is the creator of the world...

where doubt is faith has no power

We must work on developing a belief and having faith in ALL of his characteristics.

In the lectures on faith, it states the question:

What object had the God of heaven in revealing his attributes to men?
and answers it:
That through an acquaintance with his attributes they might be enabled to exercise faith in him so as to gain eternal life.
Q. Could men exercise faith in God without an acquaintance with his attributes so as to be enabled to lay hold of eternal life?
They could not

I remember as a teenager I used to get a pimple here and there.  I used to believe that it was God who was punishing me for falling short and sinning.  I used to beat myself up and tell myself God was upset with me, or disappointed in me.  I believed in God, but didnt understand his characteristics.  Had I had a better understanding I would have realized that God is Love and was not punishing me for falling short, but knew my struggles and knew I would sometimes fall short.

In a talk by Joy Jones from the October 2017 conference she shared the following:
Let me point out the need to differentiate between two critical words: worth and worthiness. They are not the same. Spiritual worth means to value ourselves the way Heavenly Father values us, not as the world values us. Our worth was determined before we ever came to this earth. “God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever.”3
On the other hand, worthiness is achieved through obedience. If we sin, we are less worthy, but we are never worth less! We continue to repent and strive to be like Jesus with our worth intact.
learning the characteristics of God and applying your faith in him accordingly is something I am still learning and understanding, and part of why reading the scriptures regularly is so important.  Its a process.

It seams to be human nature to blame God for all of the bad things that go on in our lives.  Its not really fair though... especially when we neglect to give him credit for all of the amazing and good things that we have and enjoy every day.  For example, you dont really appreciate how much of a blessing it is to be healthy until you are sick.  When we get sick, should we blame God? Or should we use the occasion to realize how blessed we are most of the time with a healthy body and thank Him.

In Moroni chapter 7 verse 12 it reads "Wherefore, all things which are agood cometh of God"

Do we realize the truth and magnitude of this statement?

If God is Love- and God Gives all good...  Might I assume that every time you give a heartfelt hug and feel that love an joy, that God is the author of those feelings.  And as such, he is part of that hug, too?

Some of the most emotional feelings of joy I have ever felt have been at the births of my 6 children.  That Joy was God.  God was present at those moments.  He was there making me feel good when I was proud of something I accomplished, he was there at a concert when my favorite band played my favorite song and I was filled with joy.  He is always there. Recognizing these feelings are God manifesting in your life is what it means to know God.  The more you are able to recognize and appreciate and thank him for his influence the better your relationship with him becomes.

It is important to pray often and to thank him for his influence in your life.  When you pray
"Talk like you are addressing your most intimate friend and have nothing to hide. Tell Him about your regrets, hopes, frustrations, concerns, fears, and confusion. Before long you will discover that whatever you care about God also cares about. He can give perspective that changes everything. Prayer should not recognize the distance between us and God, but should become the way we close that distance."

God is the still small voice... but to me being a visual and a literal learner, I dont think voice is the right word.  I think still small Influence is a better word.  Ive never heard an audible voice, but am constantly bombarded with thoughts, ideas, and influences, both good and bad. God Persuades men to do good while the devil persuades men to do the opposite.  The adversary is the one mixing up words like worth and worthiness in our minds and telling us we arent lovable or important.  If thoughts are coming to your mind that are not lifting you up but pushing you down, you can rest assured that that is not coming from God, and dismiss them.  Easier said than done... but it is a true principle.  We will be better off the quicker we learn and apply it.

Its hard to distinguish my own ideas between Gods influence... sometimes we debate with the voices, or justify a way to do a portion of both ideas.  This is something we must work on in our lifetimes.  We show God that we love him by following HIS voice, or influence.  This is what it means to keep his commandments, in addition to following the commandments in the scriptures.  If God tells you to help up a man who fell down with the thought of "I should help this person" is this not a commandment?  The consequences are less severe if we ignore them or justify with "but he looks drunk" or "I dont want to get dirty" and brush it off.  Sometimes the only consequence is lack of progression.. but God will never give up on us and will continue to give us opportunities to serve him and follow him.

I once read a story, I dont remember what it was or what the source was, but there was a man who was looking for a great treasure.

He searched the tops of the mountains, crossed oceans, and valleys, swam to the depths of the seas, but returned empty handed.  He vented to a wise man of his journies and returning empty handed, and the wise man said you have done all of this searching, but have failed to search within. It is there where the greatest treasure is found.

I feel like this applies to our relationship with God.  God is so good to us, and loves us more than we understand.  We have been given so much, more than we can comprehend.  Whatever questions we have that damper our relationship with him, I challenge you to study and ponder and resolve them.

We are Children of a Heavenly Father who Loves us.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Light and Dark, White and Black

The parable of  the two wolves has many versions, and the origin is unknown.  It is believed to be attributed to the Cherokee Indians, but there is no real proof of this, however.  The lesson it teaches remains the same. One version goes like this:

A wise grandfather talks with his grandson and explains that there are two wolves inside of every one of us.  One black, and one white.  The two wolves are always at war with one another. 
The white wolf is a good wolf, full of kindness, bravery and love. The black wolf is a bad wolf, full of greed, hatred and fear.
The grandson ponders his story, then looks up at his grandfather and asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather quietly replies, "The one you feed."
I love this parable.  It can be interpreted on many levels.  The fact that one is white and one is black, in and of itself, carries with it some deep meaning and symbolism.  The battle of light vs dark is an eternal battle that never ends.  The black and/or the white never dies.  There is no end because it is the process by which progression is achieved.  This is why in the story one wolf never kills the other wolf.  One can just be neglected and malnourished and the other can thrive and be healthy at the extreme.

Further digging into the significance of the color of the wolves is also interesting.  Science tells us that the reason black is black, and white is white, is due to the properties of the two colors.  White reflects all light which it encounters, and black absorbs all light that it encounters.   

Another interesting observation about light... light chases away all darkness.  Darkness cannot exist where light is, it must always lurk in shadows where the light does not touch.  It is there... lurking, and once the light dims or goes out, it is always there to take its place. (once the last stick burns out and the last ember goes cold...)  

Now to apply the parable into life, and spirituality.  How do we feed the white wolf? How do we feed the black wolf?  There is an undeniable parallel between the nature of God, and Satan the adversary here.  If you think about what God does, and what it means to be God, we see complete selflessness.  Serving and love endlessly.  Then on the contrary what is satanism...  it has many different degrees, but on the surface it is serving the self, self love,  hoarding money and riches, building your own kingdom and taking care of your own.  Isint this interesting? 

So white reflects all it receives...  it shares, it selflessly gives.
Black absorbs all it receives, does not share any and selfishly keeps.

So how do we feed the white wolf?  We need to be more like the color white.  More like God.  We need to be selfless, share what we have without cares.  Follow Christs teachings, give, love, serve.  I also believe that educating yourself is a great way to feed the white,  reading "The best books"  asking questions and seeking the answers.  Learning more about the nature of God.  Unraveling the secrets and mysteries of God in the scriptures.

Now how do we feed the black wolf?  There are lots of obvious answers here... hate, lying, stealing, cheating, fighting, breaking the commandments etc.  These ones are easy...  but anything that we do that is selfish is also feeding this black wolf.  Anytime we absorb and refuse to share what we have been given.  Wither it be our talents, excess money, food, love and affection...  anytime we withhold what we have for any reason, wither it be lack of motivation, selfishness, fear, laziness...  These are the not so obvious things we do to feed the black wolf.

what if food was time.  How many hours a day do we spend doing things to bring us closer to God vs serving ourselves and our own carnal desires and appetites?  I am as guilty as anybody else here... I have binge watched full seasons of shows on Netflix in a weekend....  when was the last time I binge-read the scriptures?  Its been a while...

I fear at times I have allowed the white wolf inside of me look close to death, like this neglected malnourished dog.

What if the battle of light vs dark really does boil down to selfishness vs selflessness?  Love and service over fear anger and hate.  It is said that God is love, and I believe that he is.  Satan in opposition to God is fear and hate.  Like darkness cant exist where there is light,  fear and hate cannot exist where there is pure love.  

We need to love ourselves.  We need to love and serve others.  We need to look for good in people, not judge, and get uncomfortable a little bit in the service of others and ultimately our God.  To be over-comfortable is selfishness...  please yourself first.  I do what I want. "I gotsta get mines"

This is not an easy task, and I know it is something I need to be better at.  Hopefully anybody who reads this gets a re-kindled fire and a desire to feed the white wolf within us and make the black one hide in the shadows.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Do I believe..."

A week ago I was given the assignment to ask somebody to teach Elders Quorum, and to use the talk "Do I believe..." to use as the lesson.  I then went home, and it slipped my mind.  Sunday morning in EQ presidency meeting, the EQ President asked who I had assigned.  I remember I had neglected to assign it and I decided that I would teach it.

I then retired to my room and listened to the talk twice.  I had a hard time with this talk, and disagreed with the delivery a little.  To me this talk felt like it was promoting blind obedience, which I believe is wrong.  It felt like it was trying to discourage critical thinking, which I also disagree with.  When it states the claim that the LDS Church is the only true church on the face of the earth, I dont disagree, but I do believe it is not the only way to heaven, or the Celestial Kingdom. Christ taught: " I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6 and surely the LDS Church does not own rights to Jesus.  People of all walks of life can and have experienced him, and his love.  His atonement is for us all.

I believe that we should learn what we actually do believe in.  I think its important to know the church history, to know who we are, from whence we came.  Its important to learn from past mistakes to avoid making them again.  Its important (in my opinion) to know the good and the bad, so that we can weigh them together, and seek spiritual confirmation for ourselves and establish convictions of these things rather than settle with beliefs.  Also, I believe it is important for when we are faced with the bad in conversation, or links sent to us from people with bad intentions, we can already have a knowledge and opinion of such things.  If we hide all the ugly under the rug, when it comes out to a teenager who does not have knowledge, but just beliefs, it may be too heavy to handle.  There are gads of youth leaving the church because of such things.  It is an important issue.

I also disagreed slightly with her order of operations, she states "We have a knowledge of these things, but do we believe them?"  I felt it should be, "We have a belief of these things, but do we know them?" I agree it may be silly to debate this, because its practically saying the same thing.  I just always was taught that belief comes first, then confirmation, and knowledge.

I really did not know what to do, or how to teach this talk.  Part of me wanted to pretend a kid was sick and stay home, but then I didnt feel right about doing that to somebody.  I then realized I was being overly critical, and that I was looking at the talk wrong.  I listened a third time, and this time tried to have a different perspective. I looked for good things, things I agreed with and believed.  I did so, and there was a lot there.  I was actually a little surprised by the contrasting difference.  I decided to focus on these things and teach the lesson accordingly.

I planned on the lesson going like this:

  • Talk about the claims of the Church.  Admit that I have had questions before, and that this is ok, that we should seek further light and knowledge and truth, and find out if you truly are converted.  Questions lead to study, which leads to answers.  Surely studying it out in doctrine / scripture is better than not questioning and just obeying or believing because thats what the Church claims. True conviction comes from study ("you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right" D&C 9:8)  You do the work, God gives you the answer.  We dont get something for nothing.  
  • Talk about true conversion.  Focus on the story of King Benjamin's people and their change of heart.  What does "no more disposition to do evil" mean? 
  • Talk about how to keep from Drifting, discus what drifting is.  "...Are we ever guilty of being complacent..."
  • Bear Testimony
This is not quite how it went, however.  As I started the lesson, I admitted that I had a hard time with this talk.  Maybe this is where it all started to go downhill, because as I understand it, it made people feel rather defensive.  I was not out to get anybody, or to say the church was wrong.  This was not my intention.  I started to get into the first bullet point above, and then discussion started, and remained in this bullet point for most of the meeting, when I never meant for this to be the focal point of the lesson. 

I did try to promote discussion.  I addressed the fact that church history is not squeaky clean.  I addressed that because I felt its important to know about, have an opinion on / understanding of, for reasons I mentioned previously.  I then tried to illustrate that there are things that are just anti-Mormon, that is deceitful and malicious and full of lies and bitter people who are out to tear down a good thing.  There is plenty between the lesson manuals and that Anti-level however that is worth knowing about and learning from.  I labeled it as "controversial" because it is stuff that gets you to think critically, form an opinion on, and decide what you believe.  You can then ponder it, and take it to the Lord.

I think that the understanding some people had was that I was suggesting we read anti-Mormon literature.  This was not at all what I was saying and I tried to clarify as much.  Things that make us question and think in this controversial section to me are not anti-Mormon.  There is lots of facts in here.  Polygamy is controversial.  Blacks in the Priesthood is controversial.  In deep doctrine a lot is found that could be labeled as controversial.  Birth Control, second comforter, 'calling and election made sure' are all things that are considered controversial. Joseph Smith, Bruce R. McConkieHugh Nibley, John Pontious, and other great men often force you to delve into this controversial area to learn wisdom.  There is great value in it.  Surely there is much more value in the blue area than the yellow as illustrated above, but this is the weighing of the good and the bad that I talked about.  I  believe there is value in both.  The teachings of Prophets are often times uncomfortable and unpopular. Its supposed to be that way.  We are to stand out and not be part of Babylon. (or the world)

The comment was made near the end of the lesson "My mission president told us to avoid Anti-Mormon literature as if it was pornography" and I agree!  That red area should be avoided! Its malicious! 

The comment was then made "The Church is perfect but the members arent" which I countered with "The Gospel is perfect but the church is not."  This ruffled a few more feathers.  I believe this comment may have made people feel uneasy, but unfortunately it is true.  If the church were perfect, Christ would not need to come and set it back in order.  If the church were perfect, we would be living in a zion society.  All men would know Christ, and there would be no room for error.  The church is not perfect.  We as a people are under condemnation for rejecting the law of consecration.  That is in the scriptures.  We put all of our trust in the arm of the flesh, and dont focus on personal relationships with the savior nearly enough.  We allow others to do the work, and we lay back and live the easy gospel.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to be easy.  It takes work, it takes study, it takes time invested daily in the scriptures.  A comment was made "We need to be reading the book of mormon every day." and I agree! "Every day, every day, every day!" 

I then stated that the church is run by men, who are imperfect by nature.  Mistakes are made from time to time.  Men are weak.  Men have opinions and beliefs that may from time to time vary with one another.  We are imperfect beings.  The comment came (rather loudly) "The Church IS perfect!" and at this point I sensed that people were really getting defensive here.  I tried to simmer it down, but people were on edge.  I guess people dont like to be challenged, they dont want their view of this perfect church to be altered.  

Cognitive Dissonance is a real psychological event that takes place in our brains.  When we hear or read something that agrees with or supports our beliefs we feel good.  When our beliefs are challenged, we are met with a resistance, a bad feeling, a conflict.  We then at this point must weigh the evidence, and decide based on evidence, or ignore evidence and choose which belief we will keep.  Faith definitely plays a part here as well. It is never easy to have a root belief challenged.  If you sincerely believe the church is perfect and find out that its not, that there have been mistakes, Prophets saying past Prophets were wrong, etc. then you feel this uneasiness.  I believe that this explains what these people were feeling.  I was trying to get them to be open minded and think critically as I believe this is important.

2 Nephi 28 reads: "21: ...others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell."
"24: wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!"

I believe that this false security that the church is perfect is dangerous.  

There was some more commentary, and it went to and fro.  There was a short debate over wither going to the Mountains was an appropriate replacement of going to Church.  9/11 was brought up. Somebody shared that all of his acquaintances who took to learning deep doctrine ended up leaving the church over petty things.  I cannot accurately recall everything that was said and discussed, but there was some very off-topic discussion. I had little to no control over this.

In an attempt to get back on track and end the lesson with somewhat of a conclusion and hit the other points on my agenda, I read a few verses in Mosiah and closed with a quick testimony.  At this point I felt tension in the room.  Part of me feels I succeeded in getting people to think critically, and to maybe be a little more open minded.  I hoped to renew in them a desire to study and learn and know truth, and seek true conversion.  I fear, however, more people got caught up on their interpretations of what was said and did not allow themselves to leave defensive mode.  Some of the comments made were more at me trying to give me advice, suggesting I was off.  Some people said there is no value in study, that we are happy in the green area and we have a Prophet and that as long as we heed him we are ok.  I believe this is dangerous. I believe this attitude itself is not following the prophets.  We can receive confirmation and revelation just as Prophets do, and are commanded to do as much.

Joseph Smith said this: "A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world."

 “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him … from the least to the greatest"

I believe that being idle is dangerous.  I agree with the talk that we need to have the experience that King Benjamin's people had.  We need to have a mighty change of heart and no more disposition to do evil.  We need to wake up, and really have our feet planted on solid ground.  We need to be wise and have our house built on a sure foundation.  To do this, we need to realize that this really is all true! We really are in a probationary state to prove ourselves to God.  We really do need to know what we believe, and to KNOW through the spirit.  Great challenges are ahead.  We are in the last of the last days.  Our Prophets have told us as much.  We need to be spiritually ready, we need to know what we believe, and we need to know the Lord.  This is my testimony.

"I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of godliness." - Joseph Smith

Friday, April 15, 2016

Learning to Trust the Lord

I wanted to post an analogy i read recently in a book called "What it means to know Christ" by George W Pace.

“The man of whom we speak in this analogy is representative of those who see themselves as quite bright, well educated, emotionally stable, doing well in a chosen vocation or profession and in general feel they have prospered according to their own genius. (Alma 30:17)
                Our Friend is challenged by an associate to run a thirty mile marathon which, if he does successfully between sunrise and sunset, will receive many prestigious honors.  However, this is no ordinary marathon for it covers an area where there are many different types of terrain- some gently rolling, some quite steep, (including a sizable mountain) plus an area dotted by swamp-land.  Although he is mindful that it will be a tremendous challenge, our friend doesn’t know that it is virtually impossible for any human being t successfully cover the distance prescribed within a day – he has accepted the challenge on good faith that it can be done.  His situation is somewhat akin to Adam and Eves predicament in the Garden of Eden where they were given the dual commandments to multiply and replenish the earth and were forbidden to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil- two commandments which simply could not be kept simultaneously.
                Having great confidence in his own ability plus enjoying a lot of spunk and determination (two ingredients that are good in and of themselves and so necessary to survive the challenges of mortality) he accepts the challenge and the following morning is ready at the crack of dawn for his great adventure.
                As the sun slips up over the eastern horizon, the starting gun is fired and he is on his way.  His optimism is high, as he runs swiftly over the gently rolling landscape – he’s convinced, in fact, because of the miles he covers in the first hour, that it will be quite easy to achieve his goal.  However, the terrain steepens and his pace slackens.  As he climbs higher on the mountain itself he is no longer running but struggles in a slow, laborious way to negotiate the steep cliffs.
                Eventually, after great effort, he reaches the summit and commences his descent down into the valley but he is deeply disturbed because it took him much longer to get to the summit than he hoped it would.  He makes good time, however, going down the mountain, and again feels confident that he can still reach his goal.  However, as he enters the valley he is troubled because he must now work his way across a sizable area of swampland.  He glances toward the sky and is disappointed that the sun has crossed well past the mid-point of its journey.  Now, more than ever, he must take great care to stay on solid ground and not step into areas where there very well could be treacherous quicksand.
                After spending some time carefully crossing the swamp, he again checks the position of the sun and is startled to realize he has only a few hours at most to reach his goal.  Having initially been very careful crossing the swamp, he becomes a little careless, even reckless as he hurries faster and faster.  Almost before he realizes what he has done, he finds himself walking on ground that appeared safe but is now quivering under his feet – he frantically reverses his direction to seek more stable footing but the ground gives way and he is caught in quicksand.
                Although he realizes his predicament is quite serious and he is somewhat angry to have used poor judgement in allowing himself to be trapped, because he has always been a man of great confidence and self-assurance, he is totally convinced he can remove himself from his predicament on the basis of his own power.  He calmly attempts to move his feet forward but to no avail.  He then vigorously attempts to thrash his legs but the faster and harder he tries to extricate himself the quicker he sinks deeper into the quicksand.  Sensing for the first time the awful seriousness of his predicament, in a fit of total irrationality he reaches down into the quicksand, takes hold of his boot straps and proceeds to pull and pull for all hes worth!  He then realizes how foolish it is to try to free himself by pulling on his own bootstraps!  His embarrassment is heightened as he remembers his extensive academic training and his remarkable ability in times past to be calm and controlled at all times.
                Finally, our friend admits that on the basis of his own ability he simply cannot free himself.   He knows he must have help from some other source and the help must be found quickly.  For the first time he becomes aware that just inches ahead, a strong branch of a tree is within reach.  (In our analogy the branch and tree represent the combined wisdom and strength of mankind.) With tremendous effort our friend inches forward and finally grasps the thick branch with both hands.  Oh, what a relief it is to him, what an assurance to have hold of something that seems so solid and so sure!  After resting for a few moments, he begins to pull himself up on the branch- it takes a great deal of effort, but the more he successfully pulls his body onto the branch, the more confidence he has that surely the branch will be the means of his salvation from the quicksand.  In fact, even before he has managed to lift himself out of the muck and mire of the quicksand there returns his familiar feelings of independence and self- confidence, even a pride that is akin to arrogance.  Finally, with one great lurch, he hears a terrifying crack and the limb snaps off, plunging him back into the quicksand.  Having expended so much energy and effort, having placed so much confidence in what he was sure was his sole source of redemption, our friend is intellectually, emotionally and physically wiped out – he continues to struggle, but he now knows in a way he has never known before that his predicament is totally and completely hopeless.  There is no way on the basis of his own strength or the strength of the combined wisdom of men that he can be freed from imminent death.
                As he sinks deeper into the quicksand the panorama of his entire life passes before him.  Things which had once seemed so important now seem so puerile or childish.  His lifelong ambition to be acknowledged as unusually bright and the most successful in his profession, to own the finest home and the most expensive car – all of these ambitions fade into utter insignificance.  He begins to realize that his relationships with others, especially with his family, are of utmost and supreme importance.  He is utterly desolated with the clear realization that he has allowed his appetites to be abused and debauched by relentless unethical advertising campaigns that artificially stimulate men’s appetites.  He begins to sense the eternal verity of God and Christ and the hereafter.  He is very uneasy about the prospect of death, for he is only now appreciating the significance of life and oh, how he wants to live!  The hills in the distance, the trees, the sky, the sun – all things seem to take on a greater beauty and significance.  During what appear to be the final moments of his life there arises from deep within his changed heart an indescribable confidence that somehow there is a divine purpose in life; that through the intervention of a higher supreme power he can find deliverance from death.
                The sand has covered his shoulders and is gradually oozing up his neck.  He is reaching, still reaching upward, hoping against hope that somehow, something will happen.  His face is turned upward that he might breathe as long as possible, when much to his astonishment, there appear an arm and a hand extending toward him – an arm and a hand actually within reach!
                He recognized immediately that the arm and the hand are powerful.  Because of his predicament, our friend doesn’t rationalize for a moment.  He doesn’t intellectualize how an arm and a hand can be hanging from mid-air! He simply realizes that if there is any hope for redemption it will be in that hand and arm.  He reaches upward and clasps the extended hand.  As soon as he does he feels a kind of power like hes never felt before.  He feels a power coming into his hand and whole being that generates a confidence, a trust, a faith, a perfect assurance that in this new power he can and will be freed from his predicament.  He hangs on with all the strength and determination he can muster.  He feels himself being lifted out of the mire – oh, what a struggle!  Having waited so long to acknowledge his incapability’s, having waited because of a proud heart, he now knows that the process and experience of becoming freed will not only require a supernatural power, but it will require all the courage and strength he can rally to hold on to the extended hand.
                As he struggles to hold on he feels his hand slipping, not because of a lack of power in the other hand, but because of a lack of strength in his own.   Try as hard as he can, he isint able to hold on, his hand slips out, and he falls back into the quicksand.  But (and this is a great message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ), our friend quickly looks up to where the hand was and the hand is still there!  He quickly takes hold again.  The struggle again ensues, and in time, using all the persistence, determination, strength and faith he can muster, he is able to avail himself fully of the means of redemption that is afforded him.  Ultimately, he is raised out of the quicksand that almost became his tomb, and placed on solid rock.
                He soon realizes that he was not only delivered from the awful possibility of death but he is a different person.  He is clean from the effects of the swamp water, mud and sand.  As the full realization of his deliverance and the tremendous change that has come over him sinks into his heart, he falls upon his knees and with profound expression of gratitude he acknowledges that it was a power greater than any and all other powers on earth that enabled him to be delivered – oh, the expression of joy; the ecstasy that fills his being as he contemplates the loving kindness and tender goodness of his God and his Redeemer!  The psalmist wrote, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of mire clay and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Psalms 40:2).
                We are, then, totally dependent upon the Lord to be reclaimed from our fallen condition.  All the combined wisdom and learning of man cannot change our nature and free us from our predicament.  Rather than simply stressing self-sufficiency in Christ.  We need to reach with all the energy we possess to make contact with the Lord, but it is his power that changes our lives.”

                I don’t know where I am in this analogy.  I think I am stuck in the mud.  I realize that I have trusted my own merits/wisdom or even other people and their ‘testimony’ or ‘experiences’.  I’ve sought the nice things, the big house, nice clothes, big tv etc.  These things mean much less to me now.   I don’t know that I have connected with God entirely yet, but I do know that I need to, and I have the desire to.  I hope Ill soon figure out how to hear and listen to his still small voice.  For people who have figured it out, Ive read its like this “Ah ha” moment in which it all clicks, and they realize how easy it is, or how it was always there.  I still pray and sometimes feel there is a brick wall between Him and me.  I still at times have a hard time not picturing Him on some throne on some planet far far away across space and time, and that my one prayer is inaudible by the time it reaches Him, and is one of billions, and He only has time to answer the ones from His most loved ones. (And I assume I am not one of these...)  In reality though, I know He is probably closer than I think .  Closer than I give Him credit for.  He is probably right behind me, whispering to me, and my own unbelief or self-sufficient attitude, or pride and arrogance is keeping me from hearing his voice, or at least acknowledging it as His voice and not my own good nature or ideas.  

At least I know I can, and will figure it out.  I am finally learning how to break down the wall, and see past the illusion of a distant, unsympathetic Father.  I know He is there and knows and loves me.   Maybe I first need to learn to know, and love myself as He does.  I will continue onward in Faith and look forward with hope for that perfect day, in which my belief may turn into a knowledge, and I can connect with him.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Who's on the Lords side who? NOW is the time to show

In the LDS church hymn "Who's on the Lords side?" the chorus reads:

Who's on the Lords side? Who?
Now is the time to show.
We ask it fearlessly.
Who's on the Lords side? Who?

Now really is the time to show.  We are all in a state of probation.  A time allotted to proving to our Heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally that we, too, love him more than our own carnal "natural man" desires.

One might ask, if God wanted us to prove we would be obedient, why would he give us a body with such unrighteous desires? Why make it so tough?  Why put us in a body that wants to sleep in, eat more, be constantly entertained, receive things here and now, get by with doing the least amount of work possible, fulfill selfish desires, etc. The natural man truely is an enemy to God as we read in Mosiah 3:19

19. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child,submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

After reading this one might think, surely we were set up to fail.  Right? Wrong! Why? Because we aren't JUST our body.  We aren't JUST a natural man.  We are so much more than that! We are an eternal being, a son of God, the living Father and Creator of all things.  Our body is just a temporary vehicle that we are expected to proficiently pilot and eventually master. Notice the word "UNLESS",  its saying that unless we overcome it, conquer it and master it.  It would not say that if it was not in our power to do so.  Every single one of us has within us that power, to conquer the natural man, and to be the amazing James Bond maneuvering our Aston Martin through alleyways drifting and cutting sharp turns truly mastering its full potential in order to escape danger.  We may not all master it to that same level, but that is the goal after-all.

In that same chapter of Mosiah we read:

"5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay... "

This prophecy was fulfilled.  Christ came, and he dwelt in a tabernacle of clay.  He received a human body; a body of a "natural man".  To go along with my former analogy, he was given the keys to a car, same as all of us.  Notice the word "Dwell" - surely if we are to dwell in our house, we don't become a house.  If we dwell in a tent, we don't become, nor are we a tent.  To dwell in something is to stay in something, to reside in or take residence in, not to transform into.  We are not our bodies.  We are so much more than that.

So if we understand this principle, then it is easier to understand and accept that the Natural man is an Enemy to God, and that we, in our current "dwelling" are compelled to be (because of the nature of the vehicle) natural men. God did not create us to be his enemies, nor should we feel unworthy or evil because of our instincts and weaknesses.  We should see them as obstacles, things that we need to improve upon and work on so that we might make them strengths."

Continuing with my same analogy, some of us drive slow.  Some of us drive too fast.  Some of us have a hard time reading traffic signals, while some simply ignore them.  Some are easy to anger and frequent the behavior of "Road Rage" while some are easily distracted and meddle with their phone while they drive.  etc.  So it is with us and our vehicles of "clay".  Some of us suffer with Pride, while some of us on the contrast suffer with feelings of depression and worthlessness.  Some of us indulge in too much or bad forms of entertainment, and some of us don't read our scriptures like we know we aught to.  The list is seemingly endless, and often times haunts us and makes us feel ashamed to be "who we are", but the truth is, none of those things is "who we are" for who we are is a Son (Daughter) of God, simply dwelling in a vessel that houses these weaknesses that we must overcome.

In a talk given by Dallin H Oaks in the October 2015 general conference he shared the following:

Our Savior experienced and suffered the fullness of all mortal challenges “according to the flesh” so He could know “according to the flesh” how to “succor [which means to give relief or aid to] his people according to their infirmities.” He therefore knows our struggles, our heartaches, our temptations, and our suffering, for He willingly experienced them all as an essential part of His Atonement. And because of this, His Atonement empowers Him to succor us—to give us the strength to bear it all.

Is that not awesome? He suffered it all... why? So that he could succor us.  So he could have "empathy" for us.  It is not possible to empathize for somebody who is going through something you cannot understand,  The only way to truly empathize is to have had a similar experience or problem yourself.  This is not to say that Christ was an alcoholic, or had a potty mouth, but it does mean that he suffered the temptations to be and understands how compelling and hard to turn away from that they are.  Christ was tempted with food, with money, with power and authority, with pleasure, with laziness, with procrastination, with anger, with depression and sadness.  Every emotion you could think of, any mortal challenge you could ever suffer with, Christ too suffered so that he could comfort you and help you through it.

Knowing this, who would not want to be on his side?  Who would not want his unwavering endless love support, his Succoring.  I believe all of us have this desire.  It is part of who we are, that part that dwells within our current tabernacle of clay.  The sons of God within us want to be on the Lords side.  That is why we are here after all, and we all agreed to be here because we believed we could and would be on his side.  I believe this, and I believe that you all believe this also.  The spirit confirms to me that this is true.  There is a dilemma here, however.  How do we SHOW whose side we choose to be on?  It is not enough to simply desire to be on the Lords side, but we must also show it.

Dieter F Uchtdorf said the following:

"...are we making our discipleship too complicated? This beautiful gospel is so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime—even an eternity—of study and discovery to fully understand it."

I believe it is human nature to over-complicate.  Most of us know the story of Moses and his staff with the bronze "fiery serpent".  The children of Israel were plagued with   poisonous snakes, and many were bitten.  One had to simply look at the staff, and they would be healed and live.  Many did not...and perished.  We scratch our heads and wonder... "Well WHY NOT?!"

We do the same thing...  The Gospel really is simple.  The fundamentals are easy to understand.  We over-complicate.  We expect something miraculous or wait for signs. Its not really all that complicated.  In the primary song "I know my Father Lives"  the first verse reads:

I know my Father lives.
And Loves me too.
The spirit whispers this to me and tells it is true.

And that's it!  The Spirit whispers it to you.  The Spirit.  I think the Spirit is one of the most over-complicated principles in our day.  I know I over-analyse the Spirit,  and I have questioned wither a feeling was the spirit or something else.  There have been books written about it, and there seams to be conference talk after conference talk about the spirit.  It really is so simple though.  The Spirit is the staff.  We may not peel over and physically die if we don't follow it, but we will slowly perish spiritually and fall deeper and deeper into the "Natural Man" vessel we posses.  If we follow the spirit we will live.  If we follow the Spirit, we will be on the Lords side.  But how do we know we have felt the spirit? how do we know what the spirit is? This is something that we constantly work on and get better at over time. I believe that we have all had at least one experience that we KNEW we felt the spirit, and it impacted us.

Elder Vern P Stanfill shared the following in his October 2015 Conference talk:

"We must act, expecting that the Lord will fulfill His promise to lift us from the darkness if we draw near unto Him. The adversary, however, will try to convince us that we have never felt the influence of the Spirit and that it will be easier just to stop trying."

I was once tricked by this lie.  I was once asked if I had ever felt the spirit and I answered stubbornly and a little discouraged "No... I havent."  I told myself this because I never had heard a voice in my head tell me to drop everything I was doing and visit a friend who was on the verge of suicide, or I never had the spirit tell me to slam on my breaks moments before a speeding drunk driver ran a red light and potentially ending my life.  I read the "Latter Day Voices" stories in the ensigns and allowed them to leave me feeling discouraged instead of uplifted because I naively thought my experiences stood in the shadows of theirs.  I sometimes found myself feeling envious of them and their experiences.

After some thought, however, I realized how immature and silly my response was.  Of course I have felt the spirit! Of course I have had answer to prayers! Of course I have felt its influence in my life.  I was simply being lied to, and shame on me for believing that lie, even if only for a moment.

The adversary is a very good liar.  There was an article in the October 2009 Ensign titled "Truth and Lies" that talks about some of his lies.  I would like to share the first couple paragraphs from that article (I highly recommend you read the full article.)

"Satan regularly lies to us about the nature of God and of ourselves. But we don’t have to listen. Some of the greatest battles in my life haven’t been literal battles but struggles in my own heart and mind against feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness, and fear. President Ezra Taft Benson taught that this would be the case in the latter days: “Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” 

1 One way that Satan attempts to overcome us with such feelings is by telling us lies about our worth and about God’s feelings toward us. These lies may originate as simple thoughts that, repeated many times in our minds, can develop into entrenched habits of belief... 

...Whatever their source, Satan’s lies can take root in our minds and develop into feelings of depression, low self-worth, and inadequacy."

We are in the latter days.  We are Latter Day Saints.  We need to be on the Lords side.  Every week we partake of the sacrament and take upon ourselves the name of the Son, and promise to always remember him, that we may always have His spirit be with us.

With his spirit, we are guided.  We are led and taught, challenged and uplifted.  We receive succor and support.  The Spirit is not as complex as satan tells us it is.  We have all experienced it, and can continue to have its influence in our lives every day.

I have come to learn and realize that every-time we have the thought of "I should do that..." or "I should change this" so long as it is a good thing, this is coming directly from the Light of Christ, which is the Spirit.  This spirit is magnified when we take the sacrament.  It is magnified even more when we worthily live our lives in a manner that is not offensive to the Lord.  If we take upon ourselves his name, and then live our lives in a manner that is offensive to Him the next day, we are taking his name in vain.

So if we take the sacrament; taking upon ourselves His name, and live in a way that is not offensive to him, striving to be good; repenting when we make mistakes, trying to be better each day than the day before; than we will always have his spirit to be with us.  This is a promise.  His Spirit will prompt us every day to do things.  It will say "you should do the dishes."  it will say "you should get out of bed"  The talk "What Lack I yet" gives a whole plethora of examples of things that the spirit might tell you.  When we learn that this is in fact the spirit and not just some good idea you have, it sure makes it harder to push it aside.  When we realize it is the light of Christ, or in other-words, Christ himself prompting you to do something; that should make us think twice before responding with "I don't feel like it." or "I am too tired." or "maybe tomorrow."

Yes, it is really that simple.  We have all experienced this.  I often get a few of these "I should..." thoughts during general conference, or sometimes during a church talk or elders quorum lesson.  I am sure we all have.  In conclusion, the Sacrament helps amplify these experiences, and increase their frequency.  It helps us draw closer to the Savior so that we can better follow him.

D&C  88:63 reads:

63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

This is how we show who's side we are on.  Let us choose to be on the Lords side, to fearlessly ask what we lack, or what we need to improve, without fear or reluctance to accept the answers that may come. Let us show whose side we are on by following the Spirit, which is the Light of Christ.

Who's on the Lords side? Who?
Now is the time to show.
We ask it fearlessly.
Who's on the Lords side? Who?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

One or the Other

Today I was reading 2 Nephi: 2  which is a letter from Lehi to his sons trying to urge them to make good choices and believe in God.  His arguments are very compelling and clear, however we know they weren't enough to persuade Laman and Lemuel to fear God and believe.  Neither were angels.  A few verses stuck out to me. 

  1. 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. …I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and CHOOSE ETERNAL LIFE, according to the will of his holy spirit;
  3. And not CHOOSE ETERNAL DEATH, according to the WILL OF THE FLESH and the evil which is therein,  which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

I found that last bit pretty powerful.  Satan wants to reign over us… and those souls he is cunning enough to trick into following him he will rule over for eternity and make slaves of them, and torment them.   It is a sad realization to think about and accept!  But it really is as simple as "one or the other".  All choices can influence and move you forward in following one or the other.  Sure they are not as drastic always- for example on a Saturday morning I can decide to lay in bed and sleep in, thus giving in to my will of the flesh, being lazy and slothful, or I can hop up and read my scriptures, or play with my kids, or get busy doing yard work, or cleaning the house.  It doesn't seem like this decision is life changing or eternal, but it is a baby step in either direction.  Line upon line.

As I was reading in "Zion: Seeking the City of Enoch" a paragraph stuck out to me that I remembered as I was reading my scriptures this morning. 

In a conversation the main character of  the book is having with his father, his father counsels him:
"Beware of your enemies."
"Which?" he responds
"Poverty and ignorance," he said.  "They're the worst.  Ignorance is a conqueror's doctrine because an ignorant people is an easily controlled people.  The wicked use ignorance to enslave.  Ignorance shackles people to poverty, and poverty deflates hope."

I found this council to be invaluable.  Knowledge really is power.  The adversary would have us remain ignorant and stay complacently engaged in the meaningless entertainments of the world, never progressing.  There are more forms of entertainment and ways to get distracted today than ever before with games, tablets, smart phones, netflix, hulu, unlimited streaming wifi etc.  . We need to read, study, and learn. We need to stop watching movies and sitcoms that eat away those precious hours of each day, and crack open a book, or the scriptures.  Each day we don’t move forward… we move backwards.  If we remain ignorant we will become blind.  If we don’t open our eyes we will find ourselves in deep poverty.  Not necessarily from things of the world… money shelter and food, but spiritually our stores will dwindle and be found empty.  We will start to lose our hope.  It takes hope to nurture faith.  It takes faith to kindle and feed our fires which are our testimonies.  It is a lifelong task, not a once and done. 

Each day is filled with choices that will be baby steps forward or backwards.  It is up to us to listen to the internal voices of our conscience which is the Light of Christ, or to give into the "will of the flesh" and coast through life.  Its time we give notice to the  "I should's" we have been putting off and procrastinating, and muffling under the noise of our television set.  Take action.  Wake up.  It really comes down to us, and it is really as simple as "one or the other."