Saturday, January 31, 2009

Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship, by Elder Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have great colleagues at work who have varied backgrounds and religious beliefs. When we discuss religion, which happens more frequently than one might think it would, we do so openly and honestly without arguments or malice. However, my good friend, who works elsewhere, has an almost opposite work environment. He often feels looked down on and the end of jokes and ridicule because he lives what he believes and chooses to follow Christ.

Day. Night.

As I listened to this talk, Elder Hales' words seemed to be the perfect answer to my friend on how he can respond to accusations and ridicule he receives at work. He agreed. It was while studying the talk subsequently that I found specific applications to my life as well. It's nice that inspired words can teach and instruct in near-opposite situations. Elder Hales even acknowledges these differences. I love the following paragraph:

As we respond to others, each circumstance will be different. Fortunately, the Lord knows the hearts of our accusers and how we can most effectively respond to them. As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.

While I knew that the Lord knows our hearts, I don't think I had put that knowledge in the context of conflict resolution, standing as an example, and showing Christian courage before. Furthermore, I felt a bit chastened by the last line—Do I really respond appropriately when I feel challenged?

Probably not.

Should I?

If I want to be like Christ, I should.

Along the same vein, Elder Hales taught:

We must never become contentious when we are discussing our faith. ... More regrettable than the Church being accused of not being Christian is when Church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way! May our conversations with others always be marked by the fruits of the Spirit—"love, joy, peace,
longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance" (Galatians 5:22–23).

When I talk with others, including responding to criticism and accusations, I don't want to adopt a patronizingly superior attitude; I want to genuinely love them. Elder Hales reminded me of this, and what my motivation needs to be:

How we should respond to our accusers[?] I reply, we love them. Whatever their race, creed, religion, or political persuasion, if we follow Christ and show forth His courage, we must love them. We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ. His way leads to the gate of baptism, the strait and narrow path of righteous living, and the temple of God. ... Only through [Christ] can we [all] inherit the greatest gift we can receive—eternal life and eternal happiness.

When I'm next having a religious conversation, whether friendly or hostile, I want to remember Elder Hales' reminder to show love. I don't want to just find a way to end the conversation (when it's hostile), like I've done at times in the past; rather, I want to show Christian courage and remember that I'm not just talking about what I believe, I'm testifying of the Truth.

I loved how I felt when Elder Hales taught that the way of Christ leads not just to baptism, as important as baptism is; not just to a righteous way of life, as important as our devotion is; but that the way of Christ leads to the temple of God, to eternal life, and to eternal happiness.

With so much on the line, I don't ever want to respond without the guidance of the Spirit; I want to help others come to Christ, as others have lovingly helped me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Our Hearts Knit as One

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Our Hearts Knit as One, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

I was thinking of President Eyring's words this last Monday when we had family night. David, my five-year-old, wanted to help me with the lesson, so I guided him to recount a story from the Friend which we had read the night previous. He was hesitant at first—suddenly shy—but warmed up when it came time to testify. The lesson was on listening to the Spirit, and he told of a time when he left a room at a Christmas party when the other children were watching a "bad movie," because he was uncomfortable. He had the greatest smile on his face as he told of how he had done the right thing by following the example of Jesus.

Of this, President Eyring remembered,

Every lesson in family night ... I would find a way to encourage someone to testify of the Savior and His mission. Sometimes the parents did it. On our best nights we found a way to encourage the children to do it, either by presenting the lesson or answering questions. When testimony about the Savior was borne, the Holy Ghost verified it. On those nights we felt our hearts being knit together.

I distinctly remember the Spirit that came into our home when my sweet, pure boy testified of the Holy Ghost and of Christ. We, too, felt our hearts being knit together as a family.

I think this kind of unity can heal our world. President Eyring reminded that "we see increased conflict between peoples in the world around us." What can we do to have this unity? Multiple solutions were discussed in his address, but I really liked the charge to "speak well of each other."

I've been thinking of something I overheard before a stake conference meeting the Saturday after voting (08 Nov 2008). While seated in the chapel, those sitting near me were complaining against a group of people of a particular political persuasion (how's that for alliteration?). In particular, they were trash-talking LDS members who are affiliated with, or vote after a certain manner. Not a very unifying conversation.

Just then, a great friend and local religious leader walked by, who happens to be a known voter of the political party discussed. He was there to be taught from the Spirit, but was instead greeted with a sarcastic, biting question, "Are you excited that your boy won?"

His reply gave me a living example of President Eyrings charge to speak well of each other in unity. After stating that he wasn't in the chapel to talk politics, he said, "If we'll support him as the Articles of Faith teach, I think we'll be surprised at what we can all do together."

As he calmly walked away after this, carrying the same love and spirit that he had before the interchange, I knew that I had been taught. Not only was I shown a powerful example of how to react to conflict, but I was taught the importance of unity and support. Reflecting on this relates to President Eyring's address. He said,

I can promise you a feeling of peace and joy when you speak generously of others in the Light of Christ. ... It will be because the Lord will let you feel His appreciation for choosing to step away from the possibility of sowing seeds of disunity.

While President Eyring was discussing unity in a church unit, I think we can extrapolate to our lives in general. As we remember and apply the old: "If you can't say anything good about a person, don't say anything at all," we'll find that we can more readily live together in unity.

We need not accept things that are wrong, mind you, but we can, and should, be loving, kind, and supportive of things that are right—even if we don't agree fully with some things about the person/group in question. I hope to be more unified in my family, unified among my friends, and perhaps most significantly, unified in righteousness with those whom I don't fully agree on some points.

It may be hard. It will be worth it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To Learn, to Do, to Be

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

To Learn, to Do, to Be, by President Thomas S. Monson

I did something unprecedented on the commute home today—I rode unplugged (no iPod). It was time to have some alone time with myself. About half-way home, I realized that my thoughts had been simply wandering without any conscious or seriously directed effort; I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what I had been thinking. I recalled the question, "What do you do when you don't have to do anything?" and wondered: What do I think about when I'm not thinking about anything? I liked the results of my question, and, surprisingly, they apply to President Monson's talk.

Perhaps it was just because I usually listen to them while riding, but I realized that I had been reflecting on the general conference talks I've written about. I was thinking about what I've learned, what I need to change, and who I want to become, particularly as a father. (Did you catch the title of this talk in my questions?)

Now that I was aware of my thought process, I took it up a notch. It may sound strange, but I started doing mental practices of how I could greet my family when I arrived home. You read it right: I was practicing what I would say, the expression on my face, my body language, everything. I figured that having been away all day, my family deserved to get the best me I could give. And that takes practice.

Let me try to force a relationship to President Monson's words. Along with other things, he counseled us "to be prudent in [our] planning." The next paragraph begins with:

Let us make our homes sanctuaries of righteousness, places of prayer, and abodes of love that we might merit the blessings that can come only from our Heavenly Father. We need His guidance in our daily lives.

With the wonderful blessings promised, I need as much practice as I can get! Nevertheless, I know that I can't do it alone. In addition to my children who actually remind me to be nice when I slip and my dear wife who is both a great example and loving coach, I have my eternal Father who is quite concerned about my future as well as my little family. President Monson counseled:

I would urge all of us to pray concerning our assignments and to seek divine help, that we might be successful in accomplishing that which we are called to do. ... No such sincere, prayerful effort will go unanswered: that is the very constitution of the philosophy of faith. Divine favor will attend those who humbly seek it.

If I can count fatherhood (and husbandhood) as an assignment, and I think I can—the Proclamation to the World on Family states, "husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children" (link)—then this is applicable to my goals of being a loving husband and father.

I continue to learn; I strive to do; I want to be like Christ.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

O Ye That Embark

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

O Ye That Embark, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

We are familiar with what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. As a student, I have some experience with this, but even more so, I catch myself living project to project, paper to paper, or exam to exam.

What does this mean? I start out thinking "I'll devote my time to this task for now, and after I'm done, then I can relax," only to find another task waiting just over the horizon. The end result of this mentality is that I continue to put off recreation or family activities thinking that I'll have time for them later, only to find that they've slip away. This reminds of President Monson's oft-quoted line from The Music Man, "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays."

As a new graduate student, my advisor said something in passing that changed my life. He was reminiscing on his student days, describing a lifestyle similar to above, when he said that he decided to change—to actually enjoy his family and take time away from tasks (occasionally). Following this pattern, I decided that there is more to life than classes, research, and grades. It turns out that there is a lot more!

I was reminded of all of this when President Eyring discussed men at various stages believing that priesthood service would become easier when they were older. Apparently this is not the case, as President Eyring reminded, "the more faithful service you give, the more the Lord asks of you." Not wanting us to be discouraged, he assured, though, that "[Christ] increases our power to carry the heavier load." But there is a catch:

The tough part of that reality, however, is that for Him to give you that increased power you must go in service and faith to your outer limits.

I'm reminded of President Packers address, The Candle of the Lord, where he taught:

Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.

The truth that we are given increased strength is found in the scriptures, in the story of Alma under the dominion of Amulon (see Mosiah 24:14). We are not surprised that there is a price; we must qualify for the blessing, as have countless before us.

I hope that I can have the courage to "go in service and faith to [my] outer limits." I'm sure that as I do, I will find the increased power to carry heavy loads, as President Eyring taught. In addition, President Packer's words remind, "As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!"

Preceding—and along with—this growth, we may feel overwhelmed. President Eyring givesthe solution: "When those feelings of inadequacy strike us, it is the time to remember the Savior. He assures us that we don’t do this work alone."

While much is required of us, much is likewise given (recall D&C 82:3).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lift Where You Stand

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

Lift Where You Stand, by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

Here are known and little-known facts about me: All of my degrees end in the letter "S." When we watch a film together and Maryann asks me what I want to watch, I often suggest one of our many Jane Austen-type films—Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility; Persuasion, etc.

What's the point? Despite being an engineer with training in the sciences (not the arts, mind you), I serve on a cultural arts committee. I mentioned my film choices to suggest that despite being an engineer (and a male), I enjoy perhaps non-intuitive entertainment.

President Uchtdorf gave instruction that seemed to resonate well with me when I first heard it (I marked it with a star when I took notes while watching the talk live), and seemed even more applicable upon review now. He observed:

You may feel that there are others who are more capable or more experienced who could fulfill your callings and assignments better than you can, but the Lord gave you your responsibilities for a reason. There may be people and hearts only you can reach and touch. Perhaps no one else could do it in quite the same way.

Isn't that exciting? When I catch myself thinking that there are many others who could do my job better than I can, I hope to remember that regardless of the accuracy of that thought, I was chosen for a reason. I know that I've been blessed by serving in similar situations many times before, and the benefit of hindsight confirms it. I want to serve, lift, love, and bless, even when it seems that what I do is so small compared to others' service.

President Uchtdorf shared the account of John Rowe Moyle (grandfather of Henry D. Moyle), who helped build the temple. Interest was added when we learn how he would walk six hours each direction to serve every week. The story is made especially interesting by the account of how he continued to make the journey after his leg was amputated and he carved his own wooden leg. After completely drawing you in with this narrative, President Uchtdorf sealed the message by revealing: "His hands carved the words 'Holiness to the Lord' that stand today as a golden marker to all who visit the Salt Lake Temple."

This picture is of the same phrase at the San Diego Temple. The significance of the statement was impressive to me when I visited there last year (so I took the picture). I hope I never forget this story of faithful service. I hope I never forget how unknown it was to me. I hope I never forget what President Uchtdorf reminded: that service, even not-readily-known service, "is just as pleasing to the Lord."

I want to remember to faithfully life where I stand.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winning the War against Evil

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

Winning the War against Evil, by Elder James J. Hamula
Of the Seventy

I have a problem with how prevalent pornography is in today's society. As a high school student, I recall listening to a talk on mission preparation by John Bytheway where he cautioned that there are places in the world where saints need to guard against where they look because of pornographic images. I found this hard to believe, but now our own neighborhoods may reflect the same peril. In fact, in a letter to the editor in BYU's newspaper today, a student expresses disappointment by the prevalence of cleavage shown on campus.

This theme reminds me of Elder Christofferson's phrase, "the vicarious immorality of pornography," from his talk in this conference. Also, I recall when Elder Oaks counseled young women against dressing immodestly and becoming pornography to some men (link to talk). Apparently this problem, and other related problems, are real.

In discussing winning the war against evil, Elder Hamula quoted from President Packer:

I know of nothing in the history of the Church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances. Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds in wickedness and depravity that which surrounds us now.

Instead of becoming depressed by the comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah, let's remember the enthusiasm and optimism of President Hinckley, who often reminded that never before has the gospel been as available to so many people. Also, I try to remember that in the end, the Lord is going to win; we simply need to decide whose side we're going to be on.

So, if we want to win in the war against evil, here's how to do it:

There is only one way to win the war against Satan, and that is to win it ... by (1) faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, (2) testimony of [Christ], and (3) consecration of oneself to the Lord and His work.

It's comforting to know that as bad as the world seems to be getting, the same old basic answers remain effective in preserving and protecting ourselves in winning the war against evil.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Arms of Safety

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

Arms of Safety, by Elder Jay E. Jensen
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

I took a drafting course as an undergraduate at BYU where we formed groups and worked on a final CAD design project for much of the semester. While other groups worked on hotels, recreation centers, casinos (at BYU?), etc., we chose to recreate the Kirtland Temple. We enjoyed reviewing the history of the first temple of this dispensation while we made two- and three-dimensional representations.

As part of our presentation, in addition to showing items of architectural interest, we discussed visions and revelations, and showed where they occurred in our 3D rendered images. These included the vision of the Celestial Kingdom shown to Joseph Smith where he saw prophets of old and his elder brother Alvin (see D&C 137), the visits of Moses, Elias, and Elijah who each restored priesthood keys (see D&C 110), and, most impressive of all, the visit of the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the temple (see D&C 110).

I thought of that semester's experiences as Elder Jensen made a connection between the sacrament and these Kirtland experiences which I probably hadn't made before. He reminded that it was after having administered and partaken of the sacrament that the visits of Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah occurred.

As part of sacrament preparation, we do our best to become clean through repentance and mental preparation. How fitting, then, to have the Savior's words pronounced upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, moments after the sacrament, a cleansing ordinance:

Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice. (D&C 110:5)

I'm grateful for the privilege of having sins forgiven through the power of the Atonement. I'm grateful for the reminder of Christ and the covenant of the sacrament. I'm grateful for the charge to "lift up your heads and rejoice," and I hope to rejoice in Christ more now, and every week through worthily partaking of the sacrament.

Incidentally, the rejoicing aspect of sacrament reminded me of the sacrament preparation dream I had two weeks ago. Feel free to read about it here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well

This entry is part of my general conference application series.
Priesthood Session

Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well, by Elder Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

One of my fears conflicts with one of my greatest goals: I'm afraid that an outside observer may read some of my blog posts and think I'm looking for self-gratification in a "look at me" sort of way. At the same time, one of my greatest goals is to be a righteous, loving, Christ-like husband and father, and when I have successes (and some failures), I like to share the news to keep me going—the way a person on a diet may give daily reminders of how much weight they've lost, etc.

However, I noticed while reading Elder Scott's address that I'm much more willing to share success stories than failures regarding important questions he asks.

We all love the series of questions that Alma issues to church members, as recorded in Alma 5: Have you remembered the captivity and mercy shown towards your fathers? On what conditions are the saved? Is His image in your countenance? ... and the clincher: "If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (v. 26)

Imagine the excitement mixed with fear when a living prophet gave an even longer list of questions to the men of the church.

I loved that I answer positively to questions regarding marital fidelity and loyalty; family support; household chore assistance; expressions of love. (Feel free to leave comments debunking any of my claims, Maryann.) These answers coincide with my goals. However, I must point out that I did leave some questions off of the list—both good and bad; I'm not ready to publicly share my [many] faults and weaknesses, so I'll leave the specifics a mystery.

The questions have purpose, and the course is clear regarding weakness: "Take corrective action now. ... Without attention they will likely get worse."

Returning to my fears/goals: Regardless of what I share and what I withhold, at the end of the day, I know that I can hide nothing from the Lord; He can and will see each of my weaknesses and failures (along with every success). Despite the great revealing power of Christ, I am and will be infinitely grateful for the infinite Atonement.

So, while I can hide nothing from the Lord, I choose to keep some things from you.

No offense.

Pray Always

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Pray Always, by Elder David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My children, David and Rebecca, have started praying for their baby brother, Benjamin. In an inconsistent pattern, but at frequent prayers, they will ask that Benjamin will be a good boy when he grows up.

While this is very cute and sweet, it causes me to think about two things:
1) I may think that because Benjamin is a very mild, quiet baby, he doesn't need prayers to help him be a good boy. At the same time, perhaps one reason why our little one is such a peaceful child is because of the faith and prayers of his siblings. After all, the prayers of children can be quite powerful.

2) Where did my children learn to pray for their brother? Sure, we may pray at meals, in morning and evening, and every time before we leave the driveway, but I think my children haven't heard me praying for them individually often enough in our family prayers. Because of this, I'm simultaneously reticent and pleased to report that my tender children have taught me to pray for them in our family prayers more often. This point came to mind when Elder Bednar asked:

Do our spouses, children, and other family members ... feel the power of our prayers offered unto the Father for their specific needs and desires? Do those we serve hear us pray for them with faith and sincerity? If those we love and serve have not heard and felt the influence of our earnest prayers in their behalf, then the time to repent is now.

My children reminded me of this, but Elder continued with: "As we emulate the example of the Savior, our prayers truly will become more meaningful."

As embarrassing as it might seem to admit that my children taught me powerful lessons about prayer (I'm actually quite tickled inside that they taught me), I'm reminded that pure, loving children are Christ-like, and that we must become as little children (see Matt 18:3).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Come to Zion

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Come to Zion, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Our ward (church group) has an email listserv that many use often. We use it to share information, request help, or offer free items or services. This means of communicating and sharing has been the means for answering many, many prayers.

Having a concern about pediatric dentistry, I sent an email to the listserv asking for recommendations. I followed this email with another email to a friend who just happens to be a pediatric dentist (and a great one, too, I'm sure). By the time I had finished the second email, I had a handful of replies from ward members in my inbox.

By the way, their recommendations, coupled with my dentist friend's advice helped me find answers and make resolutions for what to do.

With this experience fresh on my mind, I reviewed Elder Christofferson's talk on Zion, remembering that "Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens." I was particularly interested in the story of the young single adults from Moldova (which I just learned is between Romania and Ukraine in Eastern Europe) who traveled more than thirty hours by bus to attend a conference. Putting their personal interests aside, they divided and conquered, ensuring that at least one of their group was at each workshop taking copious notes from which they could teach each other and others in Moldova when they returned home.

Of this, Elder Christofferson said:

In its simplest form, this exemplifies the unity and love for one another that, multiplied thousands of times in different ways, will "bring again Zion" (Isaiah 52:8).

If ever I'm tempted to bemoan society as not being Zionesque enough, I hope I'll remember the small example of dental concern and the corresponding solution I found "because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness" of my friends who are trying to be "of one heart and one mind, and [dwell together] in righteousness" (see Moses 7:18).

And this is just one small example of many that could be shared.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Way

This entry is part of my
general conference application series.

The Way, by Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge
Of the Seventy

I recently changed the route I take while I ride to work because I was getting bored with it. I was listening to conference, but was losing my motivation to push myself up a hill the last time I took the old route. I was tempted to simply downshift and take the exercise out of the ride, when I heard Elder Corbridge powerfully say:

Don’t think you can’t. We might think we can’t really follow [Christ] because the standard of His life is so astonishingly high as to seem unreachable. We might think it is too hard, too high, too much, beyond our capacity, at least for now. Don’t ever believe that.

Although I was struggling with a physical hill, the relation to my spiritual journey was too clear to mistake. I recalled the charge that Christ gave to "be ye therefore perfect" (Matt. 5:48), which sometimes seems quite hard. Luckily, Elder Corbridge continued: "While the standard of the Lord is the highest, don’t ever think it is only reachable by a select few who are most able."

As I pushed up the hill with renewed strength, the comparison between physical exertion and following Christ took an interesting turn. Elder Corbridge pointed out that "life's experience misleads us." Instead of this high achievement being reachable for the few strongest, as is the case with mortal endeavors, this is God's work, and we have the help of Christ. With His help, we can make it.

While the Lord’s invitation to follow Him is the highest of all, it is also achievable by everyone, not because we are able, but because He is, and because He can make us able too.

I love that as I try to follow Christ and be perfect, as He is perfect, that I have the help of the very person I'm trying so hard to be like.

For example, I was struggling up a steep hill, worn out and tired. But, after having my thoughts turned to the Lord and his help (through the words of Elder Corbridge's talk), I found that I had reached the peak unknowingly. Whereas I was tempted to give in to a temptation to take the easy way out, I found that as I turned to the Lord, my burden was made light, and I reached the top of the hill without noticing the trial.

After this small instantaneous practical application of the message I was then listening to, I found renewed strength as I pushed on to my final destination. I hope to, likewise, push on to the greatest destination with renewed strength, made possible because of Christ.

Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Even a Child Can Understand

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Even a Child Can Understand, by Elder Gérald Caussé
Of the Seventy

In a conversation on future plans for our families, my friend, James Taylor, shared that one of his goals is to have a large glass sliding door adjacent to the family dining table in his home. He elaborated by sharing that he wants to have whiteboard markers on hand (they work on glass, too, you know) to make breakfast time a time for learning for his children. He figured that algebra, geometry, and even calculus would be a breeze for his children under his tutelage.

I think he was probably right.

Besides, if Elder Eyring's father kept a blackboard in his basement for use in teaching his children (reference here), the whiteboard/sliding door approach must be a good idea. Most importantly, though, James is a wonderful and loving teacher. I thought of him when Elder Caussé shared the quote from President John Taylor:

It is true intelligence for a man to take a subject that is mysterious and great in itself and to unfold and simplify it so that a child can understand it.

"Mysterious and great" as math is, let's talk about the gospel. I love the connection that Elder Caussé makes between our Father in Heaven and us, his children, through this quote by Joseph Smith:

If He comes to a little child, He will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child.

I think of my understanding of God and the things of God. It's marvelous to consider how much this understanding has changed over the years. In addition, it's quite fun to imagine how it will continue to grow, deepen, and become even more vibrant in days and years to come.

We've all had the experiences in our scriptures where we read a passage and see words that couldn't have possibly been there before because of how perfectly they apply to a question/problem we've been dealing with. While I know that the Spirit can enlighten our understanding and use the scriptures to teach us, perhaps another reason is related to this fascinating remark of Elder Caussé:

God would indeed be unjust if the gospel were only accessible to an intellectual elite. In His goodness, He has ensured that the truths regarding God are understandable to all His children, whatever their level of education or intellectual faculty.

The truths of God are as available to my small children as they are to my University colleagues. As I grow in understanding and intellectual faculty, perhaps the truths of God I need to learn are made available where they would have before been unnoticed.

I'm grateful for my growing understanding of God and the things of God. However, despite whatever advanced understanding I think I have now compared to when I was a child, I take comfort in knowing that we're still told that we must "be converted, and become as little children" (see Matt. 18:3). Isn't it wonderful that as great and glorious as the things of God are, even a child can understand.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Ministry of Angels

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Ministry of Angels, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Some time ago, I needed to discipline David because of something he was doing. Instead of issuing punishment or pain, I had the distinct impression that I should ask him a question. "David," I said, "would you like a spank, or a hug?"

Not surprisingly, he chose a hug.

This interaction taught me, and him, that love can be a better teacher than force. Perhaps through this method the training aspect of discipline will remain (discipline comes from the same root as disciple, after all). Now when our children do something they know is wrong, they often show near-immediate penitence and request a hug. It turns out that it's hard to get or stay upset at a small child who asks for a hug with tears in their eyes.

What does this have to do with the ministry of angels? Elder Holland shared an experience of a Brother Clyn D. Barrus, who, as a seven-year-old, had an interesting experience where he had placed himself in harms way, knew he had done wrong, prayed fervently, and received help from an angel: his father. I won't repeat the story, but a question came to mind: How do I respond when my children make mistakes and need help and love? When they need a hug?

Perhaps the answer lies in how I would like to be received when I am in the same situation. Elder Holland taught:

On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.

When I make mistakes, the thing I want more than anything is forgiveness, and a big hug. I'm grateful for the comfort that comes from the Holy Ghost, from unseen angels, and from seen angels who walk among us, giving hugs when in need. Speaking of angels, I'm grateful for my personal angels: my dear wife, my tender children, and, of course, my always-loving mother.

I hope that I can remember to respond in love, to lift those who are down, and to give hugs freely. I love Elder Holland's concluding charge:

May we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves—with a kind word, a strong arm, a declaration of faith and “the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted" [see D&C 90:24]. Perhaps then we can be emissaries sent from God.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Come What May, and Love It

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Come What May, and Love It, by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Today was one of those wonderful days that you wish could be the normal for all other days. We celebrated our five-year-old's birthday, and loved every minute of the day. As I think about the reason why today was so great, I acknowledge that part of today's success is because of this address by Elder Wirthlin.

Every life has peaks and shadows and times when it seems that the birds don’t sing and bells don’t ring. Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result.

Why was today so great? Because I've tried to implement Elder Wirthlin's teachings ever since I had a dark, dark day, not too long ago.

While on vacation in Houston recently, we had a glorious morning of visiting the temple and then touring the Downtown Aquarium. However, good feelings were soon replaced by their antitheses.

While trying to follow the street signs pointing us towards the desired interstate, we became lost. For some reason, I chose to get upset and angry. I dealt coldly with my sweet wife, who was acting as navigator and trying to console our now scared children simultaneously, and I wasn't driving very friendly anymore. As bad as these symptoms are, perhaps the worst part is that I had the distinct crystal-clear memory of this very talk and the counsel to "learn to laugh," especially the examples Elder Wirthlin gave of laughing while lost in the car, but I chose anger over enlightenment.

In the days since that experience, I've really tried to put to practice the counsel found in this talk (and other things, too). I've seen a difference in my life, with today standing as a shining example.

Thank you, Elder Wirthlin, for your meaningful advice. I agree that "the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life." I hope to choose to be happy—to learn to laugh—and have fun stories of laughter and love to share in the future.

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Sustaining of Church Officers, President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

Shortly after we were married, Maryann and I were in a ward with only other young married students. We had a wonderfully spiritual and social time with our friends. For some time, all the talks in sacrament meeting were form the most recent general conference, where those speaking chose whichever talk they felt impressed to share and delivered a message from it. I really liked those talks, but I will always remember one in particular.

David Porcaro took the stand and announced that the talk he had chosen was not really a talk at all; he was going to speak on the sustaining of church officers. Based on the laughs that followed, we all must have thought it was just a little joke at the start of his talk—after all, who can fill a ten-to-fifteen minute talk on such a short portion of conference? He wasn't joking, and he helped to open my eyes on the importance of sustaining in the Lord's church.

Each time since then—twice a year for at least five years—I've thought of his talk, the things I learned from it, and the Spirit I felt as a result of it. In other words, I've never thought of the power and opportunity that come from sustaining the same again. Sustaining really is important; President Eyring concluded with a sincere:

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your sustaining vote, your faith, devotion, and prayers.

Sustaining. Faith. Devotion. Prayers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Infinite Power of Hope

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Infinite Power of Hope, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

I remember when I learned something significant in my first calculus course. While reviewing some basics—two points define a line; three non-collinear points define a plane—the professor pointed out that the latter (three points defining a plane) is why milking stools have three legs. I recall that a generational divide became apparent when some students didn't know what a milking stool was. Now I not only know what a milking stool is, but I know why it is stable.

The three words, faith, hope, and charity, just roll off the tongue; they are used so often together that they often seem a sort of package deal. President Uchtdorf reminded me of my calculus memory when he observed that "hope is one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity." With the stable milking stool now in mind, he continues: "These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time."

While the focus of his talk was, indeed, on hope, I really got stuck on the relationships between the three, as symbolized by the three-legged stool. I know my life can benefit from some more spiritual stability, akin to the trusty milking stool.

Besides rolling off the tongue, in what other ways do faith, hope, and charity go together? Focusing on hope, President Uchtdorf taught that "hope is critical to both faith and charity."

How is hope critical to faith? "When disobedience, disappointment, and procrastination erode faith, hope is there to uphold our faith." It sounds like hope is our faith insurance policy. This makes sense when we consider that "hope is ... the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us." Even if disobedience diminishes our faith, hope can provide the trust that increases faith, which grows hope, and so on.

How is hope critical to charity? "When frustration and impatience challenge charity, hope braces our resolve and urges us to care for our fellowmen even without expectation of reward." If we truly "hope in Jesus the Christ, in the goodness of God, in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, [and] in the knowledge that prayers are heard and answered," then we will be more willing to be merciful, compassionate, and, of course, charitable to others.

In summary: "The brighter our hope, the greater our faith. The stronger our hope, the purer our charity."

President Uchtdorf reminded me of the stability of a milking stool and encouraged me to have more spiritual stability by hoping for a better tomorrow through Christ, and hoping in "Jesus the Christ, in the goodness of God, in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, [and] in the knowledge that prayers are heard and answered."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament, by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I recall when a woman asked me, "When did the sacrament start having real significance for you?" While I was thinking, trying to isolate a time, she continued, "I'll bet it was when you started passing the sacrament at twelve; I think that would really compound the significance."

My true answer was, "I don't know," but I think that is when something started to change. I remember feeling something special when the sacrament was seen from the other side of the tray, if you will. I can also still remember the very day—even right where I was—as a missionary when I made the connection between something I was teaching and the sacrament. I understood that the bread and water could, respectively, represent the two barriers that separate us from God: death and sin. This realization, which may seem juvenile, had real power in adding yet another connection between me, Christ, and the sacrament.

Of course, I think I'm still learning and growing in understanding, appreciation, and gratitude for the sacrament and all it represents. That's one reason why I really liked Elder Oaks' talk: it was directed to me. He said,

The things I feel impressed to teach here are addressed to those who are not yet understanding and practicing these important principles and not yet enjoying the promised spiritual blessings of always having His guiding Spirit to be with them.

While I do have some understanding and I do enjoy spiritual blessings, I'm willing to have more of both.

The instruction and teaching on preparation and practice in and for sacrament meetings were meaningful and beautiful, but there was a certain word that caught my particular attention. As I listened to the message, and also when I read it, that word seemed to ring louder / jump off the page. He said it four times. [Are you curious what the word is?]


Some time ago, a man at church explained that when people talk of earning blessings, opportunities, or privileges, he would much prefer the use of the word "qualify" over "earn." You may argue that qualify and earn are synonyms, but there seems a higher connotation, at least in my mind, with "qualify." To me, the difference is related to the difference between "eligible" and "deserve." I'm more comfortable saying that I'm eligible for spiritual blessings than I deserve them—can you feel a difference, too?

Enough semantics.

Perhaps the message of the talk is encapsulated in the context of the four occurrences of "qualify." Let's see (I'll highlight the word in the following):

By participating weekly and appropriately in the ordinance of the sacrament we qualify for the promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77).

Note the use of "appropriately" as well as the magnificent promise.

When we join in the solemnity that should always accompany the ordinance of the sacrament and the worship of this meeting—we are qualified for the companionship and revelation of the Spirit.

Here, conditions that qualify us are set forth.

We need to qualify for the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We do this by keeping His commandment to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and in that wonderful weekly meeting partake of the emblems of the sacrament and make the covenants that qualify us for the precious promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77).

In a lesson last Sunday, I realized that one recurring problem I struggle with is the temptation to try to use the Atonement on credit. By this I mean that I will actually catch myself thinking, "Well, I can always repent later." Luckily, I [usually] change course and desist when I think those words, but this attitude represents a cheapening of the Infinite Atonement. The final quote (with a double measure of qualify) reminds that the cleansing power of the Atonement is not something that is cheaply given away without conditions or terms; I need to qualify for it.

I'm grateful for the cleansing power of the Atonement. I'm grateful for covenants. I'm grateful for Christ who makes both possible. I'm grateful for the trust I've been given, that I can qualify for remarkable blessings. I'm grateful that I'm reminded of all of these things weekly through the sacrament.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Because My Father Read the Book of Mormon

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Because My Father Read the Book of Mormon, by Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis
Of the Seventy

This talk reminded me of the love I have for my parents. While I like to think that I come from a long line of Mormons, I'm sure that the line isn't as long in some places as in others. While it wasn't my father and mother who first embraced the gospel, they did embrace it, nevertheless. Their personal and collective decisions of faith influenced who I am today.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Just as Elder Aidukaitis asks and answers the following series of questions, I too love and honor the name of my father. Elder Aidukaitis said,

Why do I love and honor the name of my father? Because my father read and acted on the promise of the Book of Mormon. Why do I love and honor the name of my father? Because he did not recoil from the answer he received, even while facing great challenges. Why do I love and honor the name of my father? Because he blessed my life, even before I was born, by having the courage to do what God
expected him to do.

In addition to the family love evoked by his message, I loved Elder Aidukaitis' stated chain of verification that links a testimony of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith, to the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, to the need of one faith and one valid baptism, to a living prophet today, to the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God the Father lives and loves us, and finally to the desire we have to do what is right.

A wonderful chain of verification from reading, pondering, and praying about the Book of Mormon. And you and I can do the same thing! Aren't the power and knowledge that result from the answers to prayers wonderful?

You Know Enough

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

You Know Enough, by Elder Neil L. Andersen
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

The second paragraph of Elder Andersen's address cut me right to the heart:

While there are many experiences ... full of spiritual power and confirmation, there are also days when we feel inadequate and unprepared, when doubt and confusion enter our spirits, when we have difficulty finding our spiritual footing. Part of our victory as disciples of Christ is what we do when these feelings come.

While the internal question of "What do I do when I feel inadequate and confused?" makes me wonder if I'm good enough, the concluding sentence presupposes success with the enforced word "victory." In addition, I always feel a little tingle when I consider myself as a disciple of Christ. In a lesson for the young men, whom I used to teach, I was reminded "that a disciple of Christ is one who not only believes or follows but also acts and lives his life in harmony with the Savior’s example" (link). Therefore, our victory in trials of doubt or confusion lies in our ability to not only believe in Christ, but in the we way strive to live like Christ.

If I can consistently do this, then I know enough; "enough to keep the commandments and do what is right," Elder Andersen adds.

Staying on the disciples theme, and returning to the choice to be happy (or angry) (see commentary on Elder Perry's talk, here), Elder Andersen teaches:

Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision. ... As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have enormous spiritual reservoirs of light and truth available to us. Fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time. In our days of difficulty, we choose the road of faith.

Faith is a decision (like choosing to be happy), and I know that I need practice making the choice to have/show faith. I want to choose the road of faith in my life. As I do, I will have less fear, more faith, and ultimately find victory as a disciple of Christ.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go Ye Therefore

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Go Ye Therefore, by Silvia H. Allred
First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

I loved how Sister Allred tells of how she and her sister loved reading the Book of Mormon after being introduced to it: "Every day after school, we would race home to get to the book first. ... Such was the excitement we felt."

What makes me that excited?

I know that I love coming home from work to see my cute little family, but do I love the scriptures that much? I think I might.

Maryann and I recently started reading the Doctrine and Covenants for our couple scripture study (we just finished the New Testament). I get so antsy to study with her because I love the insight that comes when we read aloud and discuss scriptures. Even now, after studying the scriptures for years and years (but not nearly as long as some have!), I still get new and meaningful inspiration from the same words as before, often verses I never even noticed.

Of her conversion, Sister Allred said: "My life changed forever, and the gospel of Jesus Christ became the compelling force in my life." This month's First Presidency Message from President Eyring (link) reminds of D&C 88:81: "Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor." The responsibility we have to share the compelling force in our lives (the gospel) is a common theme in the restored church, as it should be. I echo her summary of her full-time missionary labors:

My mission had a great impact on my life. I learned to rely more on the Lord, to seek the guidance of the Spirit, and to feel an overwhelming love for God’s children. My knowledge of the scriptures and my understanding of the doctrines increased. So did my desire to be obedient and to keep the commandments with exactness. My testimony of the Savior and His infinite Atonement was strengthened. My missionary experiences became part of who and what I am. Missionary work became my passion. It has impacted my life and that of my family more than anything else.

I love the gospel and I loved my mission, but it's hard for me to imagine the impacts of my service on the lives of others. I know that my life was forever changed by my service—like President Hinckley, I can trace every good thing in my life to the decision I made to serve a mission—but, like Sister Allred observed, "I don't know if missionaries realize the far-reaching impact of their work." It's easy to see impacts in my life, and I hope my efforts blessed others, too.

But what now? What am I doing to share the gospel now? I'm trying to "be a good neighbor and a good friend. Set an example of righteousness and kindness. Let [my] smile radiate love, peace, and happiness. Live a gospel-centered life" but, as a recently-returned missionary noted in his talk in our ward today, these things are planting seeds; the scriptures note that the field is white already to harvest, not brown already to be planted!

Sister Allred continues with the charge to be more specific in our missionary efforts, and includes a nice list to pick and choose ideas from. Luckily I have wonderful children who teach me how to be a good missionary when they tell me that they want to invite their neighborhood friends to come to church with them. My children don't stop at setting an example of a gospel-centered life—they want to give the all-crucial extra push at inviting, challenging, lifting, and loving.

"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:3).

Dark / Light Dream

I awoke this morning thrilled that I would be taking the sacrament in a few hours—I was really excited. I rolled off of the bed to my knees to pray, and slipped into a dream:

I was in a large, dark room that felt like it had recently been emptied of many large items. It was dark, dusty, and felt like it needed a cleaning.

I suddenly realized that the room represented my life. It was supposed to be clean, and I had done my best to get rid of many large items (sins, etc.), but I couldn't do any more alone.

I stayed there looking around in the dim/dark room, when I suddenly remembered my excitement for the sacrament. All at once, the room lightened, the dust, dirt, and debris flew away, and the walls, ceiling, and floor glowed with an intense white brightness. I also realized that my clothes were brilliant white, and my skin, too, was glowing.

I remembered the message of D&C 5:19, where unclean things are destroyed by the brightness of the coming of Christ.

The message was that through Christ, and through Christ alone, can my life be made clean, white, and brilliant.

I liked this meaningful dream and its message of personal preparation for the Sabbath and the sacrament. I'm grateful for Christ and that through Him, I can be made clean. After my efforts alone, I am still left dirty; only Christ can make me clean.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let Him Do It with Simplicity

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Let Him Do It with Simplicity, by Elder L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

"Walden Pond was our special place to pause, reflect, and heal."

As Elder Perry walked us around his—and Thoreau's—special place: Walden Pond, I felt the call to live a simpler life, "to experience the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle."

One of the challenges of this mortal experience is to not allow the stresses and strains of life to get the better of us—to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic.

This quote reminds me of the life-changing (hopefully) observation that Elder Robbins made in 1998: "Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!" (link to talk)

The problem with Elder Robbins' quote is that after reading it, we can no longer honestly say "He made me mad!"; instead we have to admit, "I chose to become angry." Hopefully Elder Perry's call to a simpler life will help us to remain positive, optimistic, and anger-free.

After expounding on the simplified lifestyle aspects found in Thoreau's four necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and fuel, I had the powerful realization that I already have an incredible help in having a simplified life. It struck me as a poetic (and true) couplet:

Simplified life — Wonderful wife

I'm grateful for my wonderful wife who helps our little family "experience the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle." Regarding the four necessities, she:

-encourages us to "eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep," particularly the last item. (Food)
-teaches our children the blessings of modesty (in word and deed), including that through modesty, we "invite the Spirit of the Lord to be a shield and a protection to us." (Clothing)
-helps us "not to live beyond our means." She lovingly helps us to "practice and increase our habits of thrift, industry, economy, and frugality." (Shelter)
-follows the principle that "if we choose the right way, we are sustained in our actions by the principles of righteousness, in the which there is power from the heavens." (Fuel)

In other words, because of who she is, and all she does, my sweet wife helps our little family live the gospel and find lasting happiness through simplicity.

Welcome to Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Welcome to Conference, by President Thomas S. Monson

After mentioning a few cultural events produced in conjunction with new temple dedications around the world, President Monson remarked, "I am an advocate for such events. They enable our youth to participate in something they truly find unforgettable. The friendships they form and the memories they make will be theirs forever."

I recall a few roadshows from my youth. With the swiss-cheese-like memory I have from my youth, I'm surprised I can recall so much from the small contributions I made as a young child. It turns out President Monson was right!

In addition to cultural events for youth, I participated in a play on the Prophet Joseph Smith about a year ago that I was reflecting on recently. As part of our recent family vacation to Houston, we visited the George Ranch Historical Park (link here). Here we enjoyed touring a bit of history where actors were in character from times that corresponded, remarkably, with events from early church history. I had fun meeting a Mr. Jones in 1830 on his stock ranch where he lit a fire with flint and steel and told us about how hard it is/was to make coffee from raw beans. While Texas (then Mexico) is quite far from Fayette, New York, where the church was organized in 1830, it was still fun to see how life on the frontier may have been for many early saints.

You can see Mr. Jones' tool and tanning sheds in the background of this picture.

This is where I admit to a huge failure. President Monson also charged for us to pray for the spreading of the joy of the gospel in many parts of the world. While I was at George Ranch talking to Mr. Jones (in 1830, remember), I wanted to talk to him about the organization of my church that happened that very year. However, I was afraid that because he was "in character," and at work, that my comments and discussion wouldn't be appropriate. (Note the key "I was afraid.") So, while I did openly discuss the time of the church's organization with my children minutes later in Mr. Jones' back yard, I didn't talk about it with Mr. Jones himself (I had an "in" with the coffee and the 1830 connection!). I don't think that my prayers to help spread the joy of the gospel will be very effective if I ignore opportunities that are placed right in my way.

President Monson's talk reminds me of the joy of church cultural arts, and the need to both live and share the gospel in concert with our prayers for the work to move forward.

Watch out, Mr. Jones, next time we visit the George Ranch, I've got an amazing story to tell you!

General Conference Application

While watching the most recent general conference for our church (back in October), I decided that I wanted to do something to help me remember and apply the ideas and feelings from the various talks. I decided that in addition to reading (and re-reading) talks, and listening to talks on my commute, I would briefly record some thought, memory, or application spurred in my mind by the talk.

Many of the subsequent entries will be in my general conference application series.

Photo by Tim Whiteaker

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Pictures

Despite the stresses of the end of another semester, we had a fun month (December). Pictures and brief commentary can be found here.

December 2008

Also, our little family took our first vacation that didn't involve extended family. We drove to Houston, which we've wanted to do as long as we've lived in Austin. We had an amazing week of family fun. You can share in the fun vicariously by looking at some pictures, here.