Sunday, April 21, 2013

A little peanut butter on the face...

Anyone who has observed kids knows that kids can be messy--especially when food is involved. The peanut butter on the sandwich somehow manages to get smeared all over kids' faces. It's like the peanut butter is attracted to the face like magnets on a frig. And yes, generally these messes are imperceptible to kids. In surprise they wonder how parents knew that they had been sneaking putter butter out of the jar!

I wonder how different we are from children. Yes, we may notice the bread crumb on our shirts or the salad dressing on our lips more readily than children. And yes, we probably take action to deal with these messes more generally than children.

But how readily do we notice spiritual stains? How often do we detect our own imperfections and make needed changes to correct these? How often do we recognize the need to repent? In this respect, children have the upper-hand. They are more spiritual receptive than we are (which is one reason Jesus Christ commanded us to be like our little children).

How do we then perceive our spiritual weakness so that we can improve? While personal experiences and/or hardship are good teachers for us, as well as the observations of devoted friends or family members, our very best teacher is the One who knows us the best, even God, our Heavenly Father. He who created our bodies understands us best and is best-situated to help us improve better than any other.

This fact shouldn't be shocking or surprising. After all, isn't God our Father in Heaven? As His children, does He not know us better than any other? If we accept the fact that parents understand best the strengths and weaknesses of their children based on thoughtful observation of their behavior and that parents are the best-situated to help their children to improve than any others, should it be any different with God?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Daily Help

I had spent hours on a particular homework assignment for my graduate class. The assignment was not necessarily challenging, but did require use of a computer program that was really challenging my patience. The software just would not solve the problem; something about my inputs into the program were giving it difficulty. Though I had reached out to my professor and to another student, neither were available or helpful. I was left to figure it out myself.

I offered several prayers during these long hours. Frequently after each prayer, a thought would come into my mind--a suggestion for the next thing to try. After many of these, I finally got the program to work around 10PM, giving me about two hours to complete the assignment (which I was able to do).

I am grateful for the Lord's goodness. He provides strength and help on a daily basis to those who ask for it. We can rely on His mercy in every aspect of our lives.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Perilous times

As I traveled to work this morning, I heard that the Boston Marathon would be taking place today. The thought of those runners doing something extraordinary lifted my spirits. As a casual runner, I appreciate what running does for me. Running has helped unify us as a family and has become a defining feature in our family.

I was saddened when I learned that two explosions occurred at the marathon today at the finish line. While the situation is under investigation, suspicions are that it was an act of terror. While this would be quite tragic, I would not be wholly surprised.

We live in perilous times. This is not anything new. Only our faith in God and our shear tenacity to move forward, combatting those would seek to instill fear within our hearts, will give us the power to keep going. Our love for each other must abound.

We must never define ourselves through the lens of fear. We are powerful and strong. We rise when we fall. And we never succomb to the threats of cowards or let their taunts disrupt our joy. Above all we place our faith in God and He will deliver us from our afflictions or strengthen us to endure them. And should we die? All is well. All will be made right in the end.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

God's gifts of mercy

As I held a sleeping child in my arms this morning in church, I thought about how much I am like a child before my Heavenly Father and how much I need Him to navigate through this mortal journey. As I reflect on the Lord's goodness in supporting me each day, I think on the gifts that He has provided to help me on my journey. Because the mortal journey is treacherous, He has provided all of us with the following:
  1. The light of Christ, which helps us to know right from wrong
  2. The atonement of Jesus Christ, which allows each to be resurrected after death and forgiven of our sins.
In addition, to His faithful sons and daughters who make covenants (promises) with Him through baptism into His church on Earth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, He provides the gift of the Holy Ghost. This supernal gift spoken of by Christ in John 14:26-27 can be a constant guide for us through our mortal journey on Earth.

Additionally, He allows each man the opportunity to hold the priesthood, which is no less than the power of God. This unique endowment allows each man the opportunity to practice using His power to bless His sons and daughters on Earth.

I am grateful for these gifts and others that flow therefrom. They provide the tools required to succeed on this journey through life.

And as I reflect on these things, I wonder what single gift I could give to help each of my children on their mortal journey. I suppose that this would be to ensure that each child received baptism at the appropriate age (eight years of age) and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost can then guide them through all of the perils of this life successfully.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A broken toilet: thoughts on homes as places of refuge

Homes need to be places of refuge. There are few places that parallel the peace and joy that can emanate from a righteous home. It is a place where I want to be.

Sometimes though in the hustle and bustle of life, I give little heed to the state of our home. Graduate school has significantly hindered my ability to attend to our home over the past couple of years. Nothing gets fixed until it becomes a huge problem. So since I am not at home very often, I don't think about the kind of place it is or what needs to be fixed. I am not continually frustrated by a broken toilet in our master bathroom (hey, we still have a second one, right?) because I am not here 24 hours a day. I go to work.

As I left home for work this week, I thought about the state of our house (it has been a little chaotic this week) and how I didn't have to deal with broken toilet today--at least not for another ten hours. Not so for my wife, though. She wouldn't be able to leave the chaos of our home to go to a place that she has more control over (e.g. an office), where messes are made fifteen minutes after cleaning up the last one and where food and toys are not continually brought to her. Our home is her world, as it is for our kids as well. What kind of place is it for her? Where is her place of retreat?

I wonder how insensitive I have been. So much of who she is--her successes, her thoughts, her shortcomings--are evident in our home. I could do better to make it a place of retreat for her as well as for me and our children.

Like Father, Like Son

As I snacked on some almonds and raisins this morning as the boys were getting up, I expected some requests to have eat some almonds as well from my boys.

Though no one asked for any, I thought about what my boys observe and how that influences their choices. Jesus said, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19). The Son observes His Father and does the works of His Father.

As a father, I wonder how much my sons observe me and my behavior. Do they see someone that they are proud of and want to be like? Do they see me serve them and their mother? Do they see my testimony moving me to action? Much of their outlook on life will be influenced by my behavior and action. What example am I setting?

As a son, I wonder how much observing I do. If I am to become like my Father in Heaven, how often do I seek to see Him in my life? How often do I try to see His mighty works bless my life and the lives of my family and friends? How willing am I to follow the patterns established by the Son of God?

As I observe my Father in Heaven, I will naturally desire to serve others. As I serve others, I know that I will likewise bless my children as they see my example. This is the way of happiness.

The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Some thoughts on Easter and the Atonement

This is a talk that I gave in church on Easter Sunday, March 31:

It had started with the best of intentions. My dad and I were going up into the mountains near Palm Springs, California, to experience the wonders of nature. The scorching heat of the Palm Springs summer cooled as we climbed 1000 feet up the side of the mountain in a trolley. The welcome relief of the cooler air brightened our prospects for a great afternoon’s journey and night out under the stars. Equipped with a pair of sleeping bags, we set out on our journey.

After hiking down several hundred feet along mountainside trails, we left our sleeping bags in the hollow of a tree and ascended to the lodge for dinner before descending back down the then darkened path. The cheap one dollar flashlights gave out quickly, plunging us into the quiet stillness of the cooling night as we groped along our way.

We hiked back to the spot where we had placed our sleeping bags. We were eager to jump into our sleeping bags—especially since we were not appropriately dressed for temperatures in the low 50s—but could not locate the hollow of the tree. We retraced our steps over and over again, looking for signs of familiarity. With the easily-identifiable tree now bathed in blackness, we could not locate it—or the sleeping bags housed within it. Nor could we go back to the lodge, for it was now closed. We were stranded.

It was a rough night. We huddled together to keep warm. We tried to find refuge from the increasing wind. We awoke every few minutes thinking that hours had passed, only to be disappointed. We wished that daybreak would come.

In that long night, many prayers were offered that we would be kept safe and warm. We just wanted to make it through the night.

I suppose that our experience may have mirrored that of the ancient apostles on the Sea of Galilee. A storm had arisen and the apostles battled mightily against the fury of the elements. In desperation, they awakened the Master and cried, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” He came to their rescue, calming the storms and their fears.

I testify that the Savior can do likewise in our extremities.

My purposes today are to testify of the hope and promises of the Atonement, the saving power of the Atonement, and the enabling power of the Atonement.

First, Christ’s Atonement brings us hope. President Boyd K. Packer explains:

It was understood from the beginning that in mortality we would fall short of being perfect. It was not expected that we would live without transgressing one law or another.

“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.”2

From the Pearl of Great Price, we understand that “no unclean thing can dwell [in the kingdom of God],”3 and so a way was provided for all who sin to repent and become worthy of the presence of our Father in Heaven once more.

A Mediator, a Redeemer, was chosen, one who would live His life perfectly, commit no sin, and offer “himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”4

I testify that Jesus Christ fulfilled that role in every respect. He lived as man, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind so that He might know how to succor His people, according to their infirmities. He took upon Himself the pains and sicknesses of His people and gave His life so that He could take it again (Alma 7:11-12). His rising from the grave brought life to the lifeless and hope to the hopeless, having forever conquered death.

Perhaps the most comforting of all words in the English language are these, “He is not here, for He is risen.” Risen to what? Risen to life. Risen to hope. Risen with healing in His wings (2 Nephi 25:13). He banished death and the sting of death forever.

The triumph of Christ over death means that we can triumph over our trials, troubles, and afflictions as well. We all have moments of darkness, uncertainty, and infirmity. Some of these afflictions may be physical, as in the darkness of the night in the mountains near Palm Springs, or spiritual, as in the anguish that Alma the Younger experienced prior to receiving a remission of his sins. Some may be self-induced through sin or poor choices, while others may be heaped upon us through circumstance or by others’ choices. Whatever the source, Christ can rescue us if we turn to Him. This is the saving power of the Atonement that I mentioned earlier.

So what do we make of the Atonement of Jesus Christ? How do we make the Atonement an active and enabling power in our lives? Here are some suggestions on things that we can do:

1.       Repent our sins
2.       Press forward in faith even with an imperfect understanding

First, we must repent of our sins. We cannot truly come unto Him unless we continually put off the natural man. “The promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Atonement,” President Packer explains, is “to take anyone who comes, anyone who will join, and put them through an experience so that at the end of their life, they can go through the veil having repented of their sins and having been washed clean through the blood of Christ.”12 To become clean, we must repent.

Second, we must press forward press in faith, even when we do not have a perfect understanding of what we should do.

We all have our moments of indecision, of struggle, pain, confusion, and frustration. We may at times feel “helpless against the ferocious power of the elements.” We may struggle through terrible storms, wondering if the Master even cares if we perish (Mark 4:38). I testify that He does care and that things will work out in the end if we keep pressing forward in faith.

Sometimes we just won’t have the answers. We may struggle to understand God’s will for us or which direction we should go. We may wonder if there is a pavilion hiding God from us. If we will just keep moving forward, He will reveal Himself to us.

I had been in the mission for less than a year and was made a senior companion. Feeling the weight of this burden upon my shoulders, I hoped to see some success. I had not seen like I had with a previous companion as a new senior companion. Feeling downhearted, concerned and anxious about my worthiness before the Lord, erroneously believing that success and worthiness were inseparably connected, I pleaded for strength that I might continue my mission. I wanted some manifestation that God was aware of my circumstances and my plight. I wanted to know if I was worthy before the Lord since I had not seen any outward evidence of success. As I knelt by my bed, feeling that I was in my extremity, He did visit me with His Holy Spirit, provided assurance to me that He does care, and gave me courage to keep moving forward.

In our struggles, we have to keep pushing along, putting one step in front of another.

One of Liam’s favorite books this year is entitled Pete the Cate – I Love My White Shoes, by Eric Litwin. In the story a cat named Pete is walking along, singing his song, when he steps in a mound of strawberries, which stain his white shoes. He then steps in blueberries, then mud, and finally in a puddle. After each time he steps in something new, the narrator asks, “Did Pete cry? Goodness no! He just walking along, singing his song.”

We too have to keep moving along, singing our song—the song of redeeming love spoken of by Alma (Alma 5:26). Life is hard not because the gospel of Jesus Christ is hard. Quite the opposite. The covenants and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ make life much easier. It is easier because we are blessed with the Holy Spirit as we conform to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They provide direction and testify of a loving Heavenly Father.

The Atonement can be a real part of every part of our lives. In late December 2012 I was attempting to complete a project for graduate school. The work was challenging. I felt inadequate to deliver the required results. As I struggled to complete the necessary coursework, I wondered how it could all be done. In my moments of fear and anxiety, I felt that if I just continued to act, to move forward, an effectual door would be opened to me and that God would help me.

The gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to act. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explains:

At times you may not know quite what to do or what to say—just move forward. Begin to act, and the Lord assures that “an effectual door shall be opened for [you]” (D&C 118:3). Begin to speak, and He promises, “You shall not be confounded before men; for it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say” (D&C 100:5–6). It is true that we are in many ways ordinary and imperfect, but we have a perfect Master who wrought a perfect Atonement, and we have call upon His grace and His priesthood. As we repent and purge our souls, we are promised that we will be taught and endowed with power from on high (see D&C 43:16) (D. Todd Christofferson,"begin+to+act"+"effectual+door")

We must act, even without having all of the answers. If we choose not to act but remain in indecision, the tender mercies of the Savior cannot reach us. Our hearts become hardened and unworthy and unable to act.

Once when traveling with Elder and Sister Russell M. Nelson, we left our hotel in Bombay, India, to catch a plane for Karachi, Pakistan, and then on to Islamabad. When we got to the chaotic airport, our flight had been canceled. Impatiently, I said to the man at the airline counter, “What do you expect us to do, just give up and go back to the hotel?” He said with great dignity, “Sir, you never go back to the hotel.” We rummaged about the airport, found a flight, kept the appointment in Islamabad, and even had a night’s sleep. Sometimes life is like that: we are left to press forward and endure frustrated expectations—refusing to “go back to the hotel”! Otherwise, such “give-up-itis” will affect all seasons of life. Besides, the Lord knows how many miles we have to go “before [we] sleep”! (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) (Elder Maxwell,"sometimes+life+is+like+that")

Why do I mention these items in connection with Easter Sunday? Because they witness that Christ is the God of the empty tomb. Because He came to Earth, He knows our every heartache, trial, trouble, tribulation, and affliction. He came not only to save us from death, but to enable us to live again with our Father in Heaven, having life everlasting.

The Atonement is not a single event in our lives. It is the great enabling power that sustains us through our mortal journey. It is the light that lights our way. It provides meaning and hope to an otherwise treacherous and difficulty journey.

Further, the hope and glory of the Resurrection mean that we can trust in God, that He will deliver us from all sorrow, pain, hopelessness, and death. Being thus promised, we can go forward in faith, trusting that all good things will eventually come to those who believe. It will all be worth it in the end.