Friday, February 27, 2009

New Pictures—Lucky Man

I'm often reminded that I'm a lucky man. Reflecting on the fun we've had as a family this past month is one of those times. You can try to catch a glimpse of our adventures by looking at our pictures (just updated)—click here.

Maryann recently told me of some old LDS television ads—and I really mean old—that I hadn't seen. I stumbled upon them the other day, and while the contrasting approaches to parenthood shown in some may be discouraging, I really liked one that asked a lot of "remember when" questions (it starts at about 5:00, below) and ended with, "You know something, Dad: You're doing just fine." While watching the series of ads I related too well with the bad examples, and the "doing just fine" one really cheered me up. (Until I saw the final one {starting at 6:31—you can just skip that one altogether} which was too detailed, too long, and I didn't have much experience with, gratefully).

As a bonus, check out "I'm trying to!" at 4:00. Maryann sometimes mimics this sweet broken-hearted boy, and does a remarkably good job at it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


This entry is part of my general conference application series.

I rode home from work unplugged today. In the solitude of reflection afforded, I found glimpses of conference talks coming back to my mind. Similarly to how a subtle scent can cause a distant memory to rush to mind, various landmarks along my commute caused me to re-live portions of conference talks, and the accompanied feelings they caused, in the same places I was when first experienced—and I didn't even know where I was when I heard those parts of the talks, but I realized that I did know somewhere deep inside me.

It was an interesting experience.

Have you ever had those people in your Sunday School class who seem to continuously refer to general conference talks from the last conference, including the seemingly obscure ones? It turns out that I've become one of those people. I always wondered how they could retain so much from so many talks so close together. While I've read and re-read conference talks for years, I guess I've failed to really apply the talks to my life (how embarrassing to admit!). I've really missed out.

It's been one week since I finished reporting on the general conference talks in my general conference application series (GCAS). I'm happy to report that I am frequently reminded of the principles I learned in the series, and I've identified personal themes. While reading the talks, I noticed that the topics of unity and Zion continued to resonate with me. In the past week, these same themes are frequently making their way to the forefront of my mind. I wonder if it is because with the application of conference's principles came a heightened awareness of marvelous blessings in my life. This awareness helped/helps me be reminded that they are largely due to the Lord's hand in my life, as manifest through the kindness of so many others. Recognizing the charity and compassion of others helps me strive to fulfill my personal goals at finding unity and realizing Zion and its principles.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Until We Meet Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Until We Meet Again, by President Thomas S. Monson

We had the greatest family home evening tonight. A few weeks ago, David asked if he could invite his friends from my work (my colleagues) to come for family night. Instead of persuading him otherwise or changing his mind for him, my wonderful wife went to work in preparing invitations, lessons, and other ideas for the visit. She told me of their plans, and I'm ashamed to admit that my reaction was one of "yeah, let's do that sometime" (note how I didn't plan for any specific time).

Working entirely out of love, she chose a date and asked me to deliver the invitations. (Wow! What a wonderful woman! She amazes me in so many ways so frequently that you'd think I would get used to how great she is, but this is yet another example of how amazing she is.) With such a direct push in the right direction, I tried to reclaim my role in leading out in family home evening by inviting my friends.

Well, tonight was the night that they came. It was such a treat to have work-family in our home, sharing in our little family's traditions. We had a craft activity (Popsicle stick picture frames), and Maryann gave the cutest lesson on families—it was the perfect evening, and the children got so much attention that they were shining and bouncing off the walls by the time the evening was done.

I hope we can have our friends over again soon.

I tell this story because I read President Monson's closing remarks to conference tonight. At the end of each conference, I feel so full of love and happiness that I wish that general conference could be every week (or at least more often than twice yearly), and I long to meet again. I had a similar feeling after our friends left tonight; I wished that they could either stay longer or come again very soon because of the feelings of love we shared together (and the fun, too).

President Monson charged that we be "good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths, as well as to our own." I loved the fruit of the Spirit (see Galations 5:22-23) that we shared tonight: love, joy, peace. And the best part was that I can still feel those good feelings two hours later! (Yes, we don't have many visitors to our home; you probably aren't wondering why...)

President Monson also said:

May we ever be mindful of the needs of those around us and be ready to extend a helping hand and a loving heart.

It's wonderful that when we reach out in love, we find that we are all lifted together. This reminds me strongly of Paul's counsel to the Ephesians:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

Love leads to unity leads to Christ.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time"

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

"Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time", by Elder Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The title of Elder Cook's talk is something his three-year-old said after an ordeal. Cute as the phrase sounds coming from one so young, there is meaningful application to my life as I consider the truths that Elder Cook presents in his message.

I received a comment on my application of President Eyring's "O Ye That Embark" address (link) that came to mind while reviewing Elder Cook's words. The question was raised, in the comment, of whether or not life is fair. I still don't think life is fair, but I know that the plan of salvation is. When life is hard, when we're having hard times, it may be natural to think that life isn't fair, but there is little comfort in complaining.

So, then, where can comfort come from?

Before getting to the good news, I'd like to take a path through the perils of mortality, using Elder Cook's words as a guide:

Many of the trials and hardships we encounter in life are severe and appear to have lasting consequences. ... This life is not always easy, nor was it meant to be; it is a time of testing and proving. ... We are all subject to the conflict between good and evil and the contrast between light and dark, hope and despair.

Those quotes define the dark cloud; where is the silver lining?

Through revelation, we have the hope from the Lord: "Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you" (D&C 68:6).

While perhaps not of immediate comfort, the following are still true:

'We are not going to suffer any more than what is for our good.' [Brigham Young] ... Some trials are for our good and are suited for our own personal development. ... Every cloud we see doesn’t result in rain. Regardless of the challenges, trials, and hardships we endure, the reassuring doctrine of the Atonement wrought by Jesus Christ includes Alma’s teaching that the Savior would take upon Him our infirmities and 'succor his people according to their infirmities.'

We're reminded that bad as things are (or seem to be), the atonement of Christ provides a solution; really the only solution. Elder Cook testified:

I testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all of the trials and hardships that any of us will encounter in this life. At times when we may feel to say, “Hope you know, I had a hard time,” we can be assured that He is there and we are safe in His loving arms.

After we've found comfort in our hard times through the Atonement, is there anything we can do to help others? I enjoyed the final reminder of what President Monson suggested we give each other as a gift: "Find someone who is having a hard time, ... and do something for them."

I'm confident that as we look to Christ we will find comfort and peace. I know that as I help others, I better appreciate the help I've received. And perhaps helping others helps brace against the next storm of life that is on its way.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Testimony as a Process

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Testimony as a Process, by Elder Eduardo Gavarret
Of the Seventy

Imagine being asked to share a powerful spiritual experience you had while developing your conviction of Christ, and none came to mind. Sure, there were small steps along the way, but nothing profound or earth-shattering. I had such an experience this last week.

Our church group accomplishes amazing things through the use of our listserv (see an account of the listserv here). A friend sent an email request for help preparing a lesson she is to deliver tomorrow. She asked for accounts of personal revelation, and its effect on lives—similar to the situation above. Knowing that my daily life is influenced greatly by personal revelation, and wanting to help a friend in need (and thus help to build Zion), I prepared to send a reply. However, as I considered what I could say, I drew a blank.

My personal journal (and perhaps this blog) is full of such accounts, but I thought they might seem small and not impressive enough when taken individually. Now, I'm by no means discounting the miracle of personal revelation, nor am I showing ingratitude for the daily experiences and helps I receive, I'm just trying to relate that I was surprised by two things: 1) there were so many examples I could draw from, and 2) they all seemed so small when taken alone, but combined are something great. I agree with Elder Godoy that "all of these experiences together formed a set of experiences and feelings, most often small, that leave no doubt."

Should I be comfortable with my apparent lack of big, knock-your-socks-off experiences?

I think so. Elder Godoy taught:

Great events are not a guarantee that our testimony will be strong. ... [T]o receive the witness of the “still small voice” sometimes can have a stronger impact on our testimonies than the visit of an angel

I like the reminder that "small" experiences with the "still small voice" can be of great impact. But, there are some who have amazing stories to tell. Elder Godoy expounded:

A testimony then, for some people, may come through a single and irrefutable event. But for others, it may come through a process of experiences that, perhaps not as remarkable but when combined, testify in an indisputable way that what we have learned and lived is true.

Thinking of these quotes, I replied to my friend's request for help. I confessed that I didn't have any single powerful examples to share, but acknowledged that the daily experiences of personal revelation that may not seem life-changing in themselves, when combined together form an impressive manifestation of the Lord's hand in my life.

I'm grateful for the guidance I receive through the small (and possibly big) experiences of personal revelation that show the loving guidance of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and (especially) all-loving Father.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Returning Home

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Returning Home, by Elder Eduardo Gavarret
Of the Seventy

While living in Chicago, I attended a moving priesthood meeting where the power of invitations was discussed. I remember a program that had been developed where less active men were invited to meet with a member of the stake presidency (or bishopric) where they were lovingly welcomed and asked to prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. While most of them felt unworthy for such, the invitation to prepare opened a door for the priesthood leader to discuss what needed to be done to prepare. Often, all that was needed to get these men back to church was a loving invitation (read about a similar program in Omaha here).

I was reminded of this when Elder Gavarret said:

They accepted the invitation made by priesthood leaders, full-time missionaries, and others who took upon themselves the responsibility to help them return to Church and come unto Christ. To each one of them, we say, "Welcome. Welcome home!"

Before He ascended into heaven, Christ gave the charge: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). While we often think of those who have not yet heard the truth, this charge also includes a call to help those who have fallen away.

As a teenager, I was teamed up with one of my role models for home teaching. Kimball Boone had recently returned home from his mission, and he taught me much by his example of Christ-like love. On one home teaching outing, he gave me a hand-written quote on a note card, explaining that our work together reminded him of that particular quote. While I cannot find the source (maybe I can later), to the best of my knowledge, the quote was from Joseph F. Smith (or was it Joseph Fielding Smith?), and it read:

Truly the 'worth of souls is great in the sight of God' (D&C 18:10). To save the souls of those who have strayed from the fold is just as worthy and commendable, and causes just as much rejoicing in heaven, as to save the souls of those in far-off parts of the earth.

Elder Gavarret gives a new spin on this principle when he shared an interaction he had with a man who had been away from the fellowship of the church for many years. He related:

When I asked him why he had decided to return, he replied, "My friend Fernando and this good bishop invited me to come, and I did. I found the Church many years ago, and I have a small flame still burning within my heart. It may not be strong, but it is there."

I concluded, "Well, as your brethren, we shall blow that flame together to keep it alive."

I loved the imagery of the small flame being fanned and kept alive through love. As we love others, we are showing love for our Father in Heaven. Closely related to Mosiah 2:17 is the following:

The interest, attention, and care towards our brethren are profound manifestations of love for our Heavenly Father. In fact, we express our love for God when we serve and when this service is focused on our neighbor's well-being.

I credit a large portion of the good aspects of who I am to the loving care of others, including their bold invitations to improve. I hope I can likewise help others, in love, to come to higher ground (while I'm continually being lifted by others, too).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gospel Teaching—Our Most Important Calling

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Gospel Teaching—Our Most Important Calling, by William D. Oswald
Second Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency

I had a professor whom I didn't know at the start of the semester. However, he impressed me in that he never seemed to ask any student their name; he knew us all. While I know that the professors have picture directories at their disposal, I was still impressed that he knew each student by name in his large class.

There really is a difference in being called by name—in fact, I recall hearing recently that each person's favorite word is their own name.

Knowing that gospel teaching in our most important calling, and teaching is a gift of the Spirit (see Moroni 10:9-10), I wonder the reason why being called by name has such an influence on me in teaching situations. While I may not be able to satisfactorily dissect the question and get at the answer to the question, "Why?", I have been reminded of great examples of "how."

Brother Oswald taught:

When we look for a model of the ideal teacher who can show us how to teach the gospel, we are inescapably drawn to Jesus of Nazareth. His disciples called him “Rabboni; which is to say, Master” or “Teacher.” He was and is the Master Teacher.

I can think of scores of examples of Christ calling those he was teaching by name before he taught. Particularly, I recall the first thing that the resurrected Christ said to the boy Joseph Smith in the grove was "Joseph." In addition, the angel Moroni likewise used this pattern:

Joseph Smith said that when the angel Moroni first appeared to him, Joseph “was afraid; but the fear soon left” him. What was it that Moroni did to help dispel this fear? Joseph said, “He called me by name.” Teachers who love their students and call them by name are following a heavenly pattern.

As I'm loving called by name by those who teach me—following that "heavenly pattern"—I want to remember that Christ did/does the same thing. As I look forward to Him calling my name, I'm reminded of the chiasmus poetry of king Benjamin (see Mosiah 5:7-15), where he explained that covenants lead to a change of heart, which leads us to be "found at the right hand of God, for [we] shall know the name by which [we are] called; for [we] shall be called by the name of Christ" (v. 9).

What can I do to be called in the name of Christ: to truly take His name upon me? Many things, including king Benjamin's charge to:

Be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. (v. 15)

I commented earlier that each person's favorite word is their own name. I think I have to take that claim back as I proclaim that I much prefer the name of Christ to my own name.

What's in a name?

There is power in His name.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Celestial Marriage

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Celestial Marriage, by Elder Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

While shopping at an arts and crafts store this weekend, a picture frame caught my attention. It simply said, "Families Are Forever." I pointed it out to Maryann, commenting that it is interesting that the truths of the gospel that we've enjoyed for years and years are just now beginning to be marketed. I thought of how grateful I am that, as Elder Nelson reminded, "when a family is sealed in the temple, that family may become as eternal as the kingdom of God itself" (note the word "may").

All at once, Elder Nelson's talk came flashing back to my mind. It was fresh on my mind because we had recently used an adapted version of his "homespun" parable of the shopper in trying to help our five-year-old understand that in order to receive dessert, he had to qualify for it—he couldn't be a dessert shoplifter. He understood the concept, but still wanted the dessert without dinner.

I thought it appropriate that the memories of the parable of the shopper were triggered by an item whose message is based on celestial marriage—the title of this talk. It seems that many today are trying to force the blessings of the plan of salvation, without having authority. I've heard that the recent trend in civil (not temple-) marriages is for the person officiating to declare that the couple are married for eternity. This is quite the change from the traditional "'til death do us part" wording. Whereas the older saying is actually in line with the authority of the official (outside of the temples' sealers), the newer trend suggests that there is a desire for marriage and family to endure forever.

I shouldn't be surprised by this; after all, eternal marriage and family is the whole purpose of the whole program:

The earth was created and this Church was restored so that families could be formed, sealed, and exalted eternally.

So, the next time I'm asked, even hypothetically, what the purpose of life is, I'll have a solid answer: to be exalted as an eternal family.

I recall that many, many times as a missionary I was told by those I was teaching that they had always believed that families can be together forever (exalted eternally), but that their church never taught such. With this in mind, it makes sense that the picture frame said what it said: it is in our nature as children of God to want what our Father has. Given all that I know, love, and appreciate about the nature and potential of my marriage and family, I still understand that there is much more in store. Elder Nelson taught:

The full realization of the blessings of a temple marriage is almost beyond our mortal comprehension. Such a marriage will continue to grow in the celestial realm. There we can become perfected. As Jesus ultimately received the fulness of the glory of the Father, so we may “come unto the Father . . . and in due time receive of his fulness.”

Because "Celestial marriage is a pivotal part of preparation for eternal life," I'm grateful for the love and peace I find in my little family and loving wife. I'm grateful for the guidance we receive from our loving Father, for He, too, is a part of our family: "a temple marriage is not only between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God." And if we can all work together, I know we will succeed.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Baptism and Remembering Jesus

We put this video together for use in family home evenings to teach about baptism, showing Christ and the example He set. The video has two songs we love, one about baptism, the other about remembering Jesus.

If you're interested, you can download the full-size version from our family website (click here).

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Test

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Test, by President Boyd K. Packer
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

When I was fairly young, I always wanted to watch the old television series, Law & Order. It seems that my parents watched it, but I was too young, and it came on too late. Nevertheless, I still had the desire. There's something alluring to me about the solving of mysteries, and the acts of civil justice. On a related note, in the past year, I read or re-read all of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works. I was thrilled by the tales of observation and knowledge (wisdom) saving the day, without the aid of advanced gadgets.

Some time ago, I had a thought while riding to work. "If I were put on trial for being Christian (or LDS), would there be enough evidence to convict me?"

While most are looking to not be convicted of things, I found a guidebook for LDS conviction in President Packer's words. I used my Sherlock Holmes-like observation skills to find these nuggets threaded in the tapestry of historical faith stories.

Well, not really. I actually felt that there was much in his historical talk that was important to me, Sherlock Holmes had nothing to do with it.

After a fascinating detailed account of nineteenth-century patriotism among exiles, President Packer said:

If you can understand a people so long-suffering, so tolerant, so forgiving, so Christian after what they had suffered, you will have unlocked the key to what a Latter-day Saint is.

What was the key? He continued:

Rather than being consumed with revenge, they were anchored to revelation. Their course was set by the teachings still found today in the Old and the New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

I hope that I can still be "anchored to revelation" in the midst of adversity and trial.

What other "keys" can we find in his address?

If we are to be safe individually, as families, and secure as a church, it will be through "obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" (Articles of Faith 1:3).

While there were many other points and themes of his address that touched me, I enjoyed the summary of these points found in President Packer's conclusion:

We will stay on course. We will anchor ourselves as families and as a church to these principles and ordinances. Whatever tests lie ahead, and they will be many, we must remain faithful and true. ... "The standard of truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing."

Again we find the word "anchor." If my family and I are to weather life's storms, we need to be firm, steadfast, and true to the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we do this, I'm confident that there will be more than enough evidence against us to convict us of being Christ-like LDS Christians. I can hear it now:

We, the jury, find the Siler Family guilty of multiple counts of Christ-like living. They were, indeed, "so long-suffering, so tolerant, so forgiving, so Christian;" they remain "faithful and true." They are to be remanded to the custody of Christ.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finding Joy in the Journey

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Finding Joy in the Journey, by President Thomas S. Monson

I think I've always wanted to be a loving husband and father. As a small child, I remember often being asked the favorite question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always struggled with that question (I probably still do) because it never seemed satisfactory to say, "I want to be a good daddy." As I grew, I realized that someday I would need to choose an additional answer to that question, but I've always secretly held on to the desire to be a good daddy. I've been trying to realize that goal, but I can still improve in many, many ways.

President Monson's talk title encapsulates something I've been striving (sometimes successfully) to do: to find joy in the journey. President Eyring's talk, O Ye That Embark, reminded me of this (my thoughts here), but in a more tangential way. President Monson's talk was right on target. The whole talk seemed to scream to me: Family! Family! Family!

I want to share some of the quotes that were of particular importance to me, without much commentary. (However, I am trying to live the message of the talk: I'm holding my little Benjamin and giving him kisses and cuddles after every word.)

Among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.

There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today.

Make the most of today, of the here and now, doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for the future.

These are just a few quotes, but they are what I needed to hear—how I need to live.

As a side note, while thinking of this talk's message, and while typing, the hymns "Today, While the Sun Shines" (link) and "Have I Done Any Good?" (link) kept coming to mind. In fact, I started to hum/sing an amalgamation of both that was quite fun (too bad you weren't here to hear it!).

As I think of enjoying life now (and later), I swell with gratitude for Christ, who makes joy (and eternal joy), a reality now, a possible way of life, and a viable future.

The Atonement really is infinite—in its power to save, as well as in its day-to-day real-life applications.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Truth of God Shall Go Forth

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Truth of God Shall Go Forth, by Elder M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As full-time missionaries, we would stand and recite various scriptures and other quotes in our missionary meetings. In addition to the missionary staple D&C 4, were Ezra Taft Benson's statement on missionary work (from this talk), the Idaho Boise Mission Standard (based on 3 Ne. 5:13), The Standard of Truth (from the same letter as the Articles of Faith), and others. I recited these so often, and with such feeling, that I cannot help but think of my missionary service when I hear one repeated again.

Such was the case with Elder Ballard's address (but it would be quite difficult to not think of missionary work in this talk!), particularly when he read The Standard of Truth:

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done. (History of the Church, 4:540)

It was exciting to hear the general and personal accomplishments in moving the work of the Lord forward—made even more exciting when I considered that I had helped in some small way through my service. Elder Ballard reminded that while we have had great successes, they weren't without challenges and difficulties. "Still, we moved forward in faith."

Yet, the work continues! President Monson started this conference with a charge for us to pray for the spreading of missionary work (read my reaction here) to penetrate continents, visit climes, sweep countries, and sound in every ear, as the Standard reads. Of this, Elder Ballard reminded:

This is God’s work, and God’s work will not be frustrated. But there is still much to be done before the Great Jehovah can announce that the work is done. ... We cannot afford to be comfortable or content.

What then should we do? Speaking of those faithful many who paved the way before, Elder Ballard proclaimed:

We need to believe as they believed. We need to work as they worked. We need to serve as they served. And we need to overcome as they overcame.

As we think of the pioneers and the legacy of faith they left us, we may find difficulty relating significantly to their hardships and trials, simply because our lives are so vastly different from theirs. Nevertheless, despite the contrasts, Elder Ballard offered insightful comparisons: defamation instead of mobs; various substance abuses and spiritual apathy instead of harsh weather and hardship; marriage and family under attack instead of uprooting of homes and loved ones.

The comparisons continued with a list of what we're being asked to do, compared to what was asked of those who went before. All were insightful, but the last resonated with me:

He isn’t asking us to die a martyr’s death; He’s asking us to live a disciple’s life.

As I contemplated on this last comparison, I remembered the thoughts that the works of C. S. Lewis stirred within me some time ago (read them in context here). After some thought, my conclusion and application remain the same, namely: sacrifice is significant if it is founded upon everyday decisions to do what is right and needful while striving for perfection (see Matt. 5:48). Christ is the perfect example of this—his infinite sacrifice would have been meaningless if not for his a perfect life.

I'm willing to die for many things. Does my life evidence a willingness to live for these same things?

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Return to Virtue

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

A Return to Virtue, by Elaine S. Dalton
Young Women General President

We have a credit card that pays cash back that accumulates. It also gives the option to upgrade to a higher valued gift card at various stores. For some time we've enjoyed getting the card for a large-chain bookstore and finding fun books for our family, particularly from their clearance section. We made a special trip to the bookstore for this purpose today. While there I/we had an interesting experience.

We had just started looking in the childrens' books clearance section when we noticed that the song had changed to an intrusive song with a peculiar beat and style that seemed to bore its way into your cognizance. We became uncomfortable.

A short time later, I walked around the corner to the adjacent isle to see what was there. I was greeted by a variety of books, but a small cluster caught my attention. Right at child's-eye-level were graphic adult-themed books (probably disguised under the topic of health). I was first shocked, but then felt a distinct desire to discreetly reach out and see if the inside was as bad as the cover—after all, I reasoned, I am married.

I'm happy to report that the temptation died a violent death shortly after its inception; the thought was thrust out of my mind with extreme force. Nevertheless, as I walked away, I realized that the store's music had changed to a new song, one with heavy sexual undertones. In addition to feeling very disappointed by the surroundings I had placed my family in, I wondered how the music's mood had influenced my thoughts. I also noted how difficult it had been to be virtuous in that environment.

In her talk, Sister Dalton reminds us of the definition of virtue: "a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards." In application, she said, "Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost."

I am grateful that despite the awful background music, I somehow was able to hear the quiet guidance of the Holy Ghost in that bookstore today. The progression of my temptation experience reminded me of Alexander Pope's poem, which Sister Dalton referred to:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

While I may pat myself on the back at having showed courage and virtue, I need to ask: What could I have done to not even been tempted in the first place?

Sister Dalton related the account of Lehonti, from the Book of Mormon, who came down from his protected place on the top of a mount after only "four tries, each one more bold than the previous." Where is my protected mount? I'm sure it is not in places where the quiet whisper of the Spirit is nearly drowned out by loud, lustful, lascivious lyrics.

The sharing of a marathon champion's words seems appropriate; he is quoted as saying, "The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare." I can say that I want to be clean and virtuous all I want, but if I don't take the first steps (or, in the bookstore case, not take the first steps into a less-than-ideal environment), I won't win. Sister Dalton continued:

Now is the time to prepare by exercising more self-discipline. Now is the time to become “more fit for the kingdom”(see “More Holiness Give Me,Hymns, no. 131). Now is the time to set our course and focus on the finish. A return to virtue must begin individually in our hearts and in our homes.

The crux of the call to virtue lies in the "Savior's example and the 'infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice'" (see The Living Christ). I want to be "purified, even as [Christ] is pure" (Moroni 7:48); that is the protected mount where I want to be with my family.


I enjoyed a video I saw today that puts a visual spin on Sister Dalton's questions:

What could be more deceptive than to entice women, young and old, you and me, to be so involved in ourselves, our looks, our clothes, our body shape and size that we lose sight of our divine identity and our ability to change the world through our virtuous influence? What could be more deceptive than to entice men—young and old, holding the holy priesthood of God—to view seductive pornography and thus focus on flesh instead of faith, to be consumers of vice rather than guardians of virtue?

Dream, Revisited

Yesterday morning I was in bed, calmly content that it was the Sabbath. Once again I was excited to partake of the sacrament. As I lay there recalling my recent dark/light dream (read about it here), I must have slipped off to sleep again, for I found myself in the same room once again.

This time, however, I started my visit in the clean, white room, made white through the blood of Christ. I felt calm and peaceful, yet excited and grateful for the cleansing power of the Atonement, commemorated by the sacrament. After enjoying the room for a time, I stepped backward and nearly tripped over some object in the room which I thought was empty. As I turned around, I saw a small black box that looked clean and polished, as though someone had taken special care of it.

This box was starkly out of place in the intense whiteness of the room, and I wondered what it was and who put it there. As I was about to kneel to inspect it closer, at once I realized what it was:

The box represented my favorite sins.

All at once, I felt ashamed of the little pet-like transgressions, impure practices, and downright sins that I had, apparently, taken such care of (the box was polished, after all). As I wondered what I should do—hide the box, take a peek inside, try to get rid of it—I felt a voice in my heart that simply said, "It's time."

At this point I awoke, finding my heart racing—quite a difference from the peace which started the whole episode. The message to me was clear: I need to focus more on those things that I've put off changing, correcting, or otherwise eliminating. I'm sure it will be hard (they are my favorites), and I don't think I can do it alone. Nevertheless, I know that I need to "give away all my sins" (Alma 22:18) if I want to be who I ultimately want to be.

Despite the hesitancy I may feel at giving up those pet sins, at the same time, I feel excited to. I recall the heart-wrenching call to repentance issued by Christ, where he mentions the suffering he endured (see D&C 19:16-19), coupled with the exciting conclusion at the end of the section:

Behold, canst thou read this without rejoicing and lifting up thy heart for gladness? ... Be humble and meek, and conduct thyself wisely before me[.] Yea, come unto me thy Savior (D&C 19:39,41)

I'd like to rejoice and be glad. If I come to Christ, he can help me to give away all my sins, even the favorite ones.

It's time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

God Loves and Helps All of His Children

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

God Loves and Helps All of His Children, by Bishop Keith B. McMullin
Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric

I worked for a professor at BYU for a few years, and even though some time has passed, I still refer to him by his title, Dr. Jones, even though he is known to my colleagues by his first name, Norm. I sometimes wonder when I can drop the name he was known by in the years he was my professor and boss; I also wonder if I should. I don't want my respect for him to become casual if I adopt a casual reference style.

I enjoyed Bishop McMulin's talk (for content and listening pleasure; he has one of those voices that I enjoy listening to), but his concluding testimony really caught my attention:

It is with great reverence and awe that I bear witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. In doing so, I am reminded how careful we must be in the use of His name. While His influence, teachings, and deliverance endear Him to us, we would do well not to speak of Him as though He were the friend next door.

He then concludes powerfully, yet humbly, by reminding of many titles, roles, and names of Christ.

It breaks my heart when I hear friends and colleagues mistreat the name of God. I always want to cry out as President Kimball did, "Please! Please! That is my Lord whose names you revile" (link to talk). Taking the name of the Lord in vain in this manner is showing no respect. However, another application of Bishop McMullin's words is the too casual attitude some adopt, particularly in their prayers. I recall a talk by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (link) where he decried the temptation to try to develop a "special, personal relationship with Christ." He said,

It is true that there may, with propriety, be a special relationship with a wife, with children, with friends, with teachers ... But the very moment anyone singles out one member of the Godhead as the almost sole recipient of his devotion, to the exclusion of the others, that is the moment when spiritual instability begins to replace sense and reason.

... Those who truly love the Lord and who worship the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit, according to the approved patterns, maintain a reverential barrier between themselves and all the members of the Godhead.

Now, I can understand how some feel that they have a buddy-buddy relationship with their Lord, especially considering the immense gratitude that we have for the salvation and exaltation He made possible; Bishop McMullen reminded that "His influence, teachings, and deliverance endear Him to us." However, at least for the time being, let's remember the many titles, roles, and even names of Christ. These all signify the reverence we should place on Him, and His name.

I'm reminded of a verse that caught my attention while we studied in our couple scripture study recently: "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me" (D&C 19:23).

As we learn of Christ, listen to Christ, and walk in meekness, I'm confident that we'll find awe, reverence, and respect, instead of the brazen relaxed casualness we might show to a neighbor.

After studying Bishop McMullin's words, I want to reexamine how I treat the names of deity. As I work to increase the level of respect shown in how I use names and titles, I think I'll find related increases of appreciation and gratitude. I hope I'll remember this when I conclude a talk, lesson, or testimony, and do so, with greatest respect, "in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."