Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Three Rs of Choice

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Three Rs of Choice, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I always seem drawn to talks that discuss agency (or choice) for some reason; it's as if I have no choice on the matter. . .

I was asked to give a talk years ago on agency and adversity. I had a great time preparing the talk, but decided to leave a chunk of the talk out because it was too opinion-based; I thought it would be more appropriate in Sunday School, to throw the class off on an irreparable tangent. Because this is a blog, I thought I would revisit the omitted portion of the talk. It turns out that I found it in less than ten seconds! Here are/were my thoughts on agency, which I share to give some explanation to my fascination with the topic:

Before this life, while in the premortal council, Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3) with a proposed amendment to Heavenly Father's plan for His children. Agency is central to that plan, being requisite “otherwise there is no existence” (see D&C 93:30-31); the destruction of agency would ultimately make salvation impossible. While we do not know exactly by what means Satan sought to destroy agency, theories abound.

Many maintain that Satan’s idea was to force all the children of our Father in Heaven to live righteous lives, and somehow he (Satan) would have all of the glory. Personally, I feel that this idea is not in harmony with the many manifestations of Satan’s methods currently being employed to lead us astray. Rather, I propose that Satan wanted to somehow eliminate the negative consequences of agency. I imagine that his idea was that he would suffer—yes, there would be a Savior who would take all of the glory to himself—but he wanted somehow to alter the prescribed rules of the universe such that with him as Savior, his role would be sufficient to save all, regardless of their actions. This idea is seen too prevalently in today’s societies. Here are two examples:
  1. Many religions teach that all that is required is to confess the name of a savior, yet give no standard of living in everyday life (e.g. consequences of wrong choices cannot keep us from our salvation); and,

  2. Too often we try to somehow pass the blame of our actions to others; somehow trying to eliminate the consequences of our actions. This reminds me of the young man who came home with a quite pitiful report card. He finally shared the results with his parents and asked where they thought the blame lied, “What do you think the cause is: heredity or environment?”

I cannot understand how someone (Satan) who was so gung-ho about righteousness that he was willing to ultimately leave the presence of the Father with a third of the hosts of heaven could immediately begin teaching us on earth to:

Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Ne 28:8)

To me, this sounds more like the result of someone wanting to get rid of consequences, rather than force others to do right.

In his talk, President Monson categorized the various aspects of agency/choice into three categories:

The Right of Choice
This aspect was referred to earlier: agency is central to Heavenly Father's plan. In fact, President David O. McKay's famous quote reminds: "Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God's greatest gift to man." When Lucifer proposed his amendment to the Great Plan of Salvation, "he seemed not to recognize—or perhaps not to care—that . . . none would be any wiser, any stronger, any more compassionate, or any more grateful if his plan were followed."

Because the Plan includes the Atonement of Christ, this great universal gift of agency (or choice) is operational; "within the confines of whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we will always have the right to choose."

The Responsibility of Choice
President Monson is known for being well-read and using sometimes-humorous references in his talks. Such is the case with the responsibility of choice. Funny as the reference is, it is spot-on.

He reminds of the classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which many may be familiar because of the film adaptations (I am). When lost and at a crossroads, Alice meets the Cheshire cat and asks the cat which path she should follow. You'll remember the rest:

The cat answers, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”

President Monson provides the connection:

Unlike Alice, we all know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for by choosing our path, we choose our destination.

Decisions are constantly before us. To make them wisely, courage is needed—the courage to say no, the courage to say yes. Decisions do determine destiny.

The Results of Choice
Life can be thought of as one choice after another. Some have more significance than others. President Monson reminds of what is really important:

May we keep our eyes, our hearts, and our determination focused on that goal which is eternal and worth any price we will have to pay, regardless of the sacrifice we must make to reach it. . . Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is your goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose. As with anything really worthwhile, the reward of eternal life requires effort.

Despite what some individuals and societies may believe, decisions do have consequences, and we cannot escape them. Please note, however, that the use of the word consequences does not necessarily carry only negative implications; eternal life is a consequence of a lifetime of righteousness!

I'm grateful for agency and choice. While we may sometimes wish we could escape the immediate results of our mistakes or bad decisions, there is comfort in knowing that forgiveness comes through Christ, and that because of Him we can ultimately obtain eternal life through the right, responsibility, and results of choice!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Serve with the Spirit

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Serve with the Spirit, by Henry B. Eyring
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My son, Andrew, is named after two of his ancestors who first heard, accepted, and embraced the restored gospel.

Andrew Lafayette Siler was born in December of 1824 in Sweet Water, Tennessee, was baptized on Valentines Day in 1850, and died in Kanab, Utah in 1898. Between those times he lived a full life.

William Dickinson Pratt (elder brother of Parley P. Pratt) was born in September of 1802 in Wooster, New York, joined the Church and went through the temple in Nauvoo in December 1845, and died in Salt Lake in 1870. He, likewise, lived a full life among these few events.

What ties these men together is their connection to our family. They both served the Lord with the Spirit, helped lead their families in righteousness, and because of their influence (and others'), five generations later, my wife and I met in an English class, fell in love, and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple.

President Eyring tells the stories of two of his ancestors who accepted the gospel because missionaries served with the Spirit. These two met on the trail to Utah, fell in love, and were married. Unlike President Eyring, I don't know how many descendants the two in our family histories have, I am grateful for them:

I am among the tens of thousands of descendants of that boy and that girl who bless the names of two priesthood holders who brought the ministrations of the Spirit of God with them.

We named our youngest son after the two mentioned above (the others were also named from individuals in family history). It's fun to think that those two men set in motion part of something great the ultimately led to the creation of our little family (of course they were just two of many ancestors). I'm grateful for them and what the many things they did—much of their lives are a mystery to me! Despite the unknowns, I'm grateful for what I do know: that they had many times when they went forward doing what the Lord called them to do. The self-application of their example is President Eyring's message:

My message for us tonight is this: let us do whatever is required to qualify for the Holy Ghost as our companion, and then let us go forward fearlessly so that we will be given the powers to do whatever the Lord calls us to do.

I don't usually think of my accomplishments and my daily life from the lens of those five generations out, but if I did, I might imagine them looking back thanking me and my wife for what we did for them (along with others). This is a new and interesting way to consider service in the Church and doing what the Lord asks me to do!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pride and the Priesthood

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Pride and the Priesthood, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

As I saw the title of this talk, "Pride and the Priesthood," I thought of another P&P. I think I may be a strange husband in that I enjoy the Austen-esque films like Pride and Prejudice. Sometimes when we have an evening to share (a rarity), my wife will ask what film I would like to see, and I will pull one of our many films of this genre out of the cupboard (we even have multiple versions of some titles). She usually asks, "You really want to watch that?", and then she smiles at my sheepish grin.

Watching the effects of pride in others' lives can be painful, cathartic, or even funny, if put in the right plot line; however, recognizing pride in ourselves can be another thing entirely! While I don't remember the actual talk that President Benson gave in 1989, I did live through its aftershocks. I well remember the scorn and, well, pride shown by some whenever they heard another use the word pride in a sentence. "Beware of pride. . ." was a common reply, even in instances where the word was used entirely appropriately. President Uchtdorf noticed this, too:

For a while it almost became taboo among Church members to say that they were “proud” of their children or their country or that they took “pride” in their work. The very word pride seemed to become an outcast in our vocabulary.

President Uchtdorf listed scriptural examples showing good uses of pride. He also pointed out that "there is a difference between being proud of certain things and being prideful." The difference, he reminded, is in comparison. It seems that as soon our attitudes drift into the "therefore I'm better than. . ." area, we are flirting with being proud in a bad way.

I enjoyed the caution against pride:

It is a gateway sin that leads to a host of other human weaknesses. In fact, it could be said that every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride.

Realizing how dangerous pride is and can be, what can be done?

Here is the answer:

Pride is a switch that turns off priesthood power. Humility is a switch that turns it on. (See D&C 121:34-37)

The switch imagery makes it all seem so simple; perhaps it is. Here's President Uchtdorf's views on discovering humility:

We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.

The final comparison to pride and humility that resonated well with me had to do with a four-color pen. This is a kind of pen he used as an airplane pilot, and it's presumably the same kind my own father used for his work when I was a small child. I well remember the magic of this pen—when one color was selected, you just had to slide the lever for another color and the first would pop inside the pen just in time for the second to descend; hours of entertainment!

President Uchtdorf used this pen as a comparison to humility in that the colors had no preference to which was used for what or how frequently. Here's what he said of his pen and the comparison pride:

With greatest reliability it performed every task I needed, no matter how important or insignificant. It was always ready to serve.

In a similar way we are tools in the hands of God. When our heart is in the right place, we do not complain that our assigned task is unworthy of our abilities. We gladly serve wherever we are asked. When we do this, the Lord can use us in ways beyond our understanding to accomplish His work.

This was a great talk with many points that I found quotable. I've gone from the works of Austen, to the outlawing of saying pride, to its burgeoning reuse, to the peril of comparison, to gateway sins, to switches, and to four-color pens. That's quite a lot for one topic. In fact, I'm pretty proud of this blog entry. Don't worry, though, I don't think I'm any better than any other blogger because of it; I'm just grateful for the ride!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

He Teaches Us to Put Off the Natural Man

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

He Teaches Us to Put Off the Natural Man, by Juan A. Uceda
Of the Seventy

The bulk of Elder Uceda's talk centers on an experience when a family lost harmony in a scripture reading session because two members (the father and a daughter) made poor choices. Tempers were lost, and feelings were hurt.

Although our family scripture times are usually great, I can see something similar happening in the future if I don't learn the lesson that Elder Uceda wants to teach. The condensed message seems to be two parts: a quote, and two scripture passages.

The quote:

Our homes have to be places where the Holy Spirit may dwell. “Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”

The scriptures:

  1. King Benjamin's reminder that men can put off the natural man and become Saints through the Atonement (see Mosiah 3:19); and

  2. Part of the revelation Joseph Smith received in response to his plea for help in Liberty Jail, where the Lord outlines that the priesthood should be used only in righteousness (see D&C 121:37, 41-42)

As much as I don't want to make mistakes as a parent, I seem to continue to do so (often the same mistakes over and again). Just as the father in the story that was relayed was prompted, I often feel the same counsel: "Go and say, 'I'm sorry.'"

I'm grateful for the words of Christ and the promptings of the Holy Ghost that teach me to put off the natural man. I want to continue to improve so I have fewer and fewer times when I need to apologize; in other words, I want to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. I'm happy that Christ teaches me how to do this and to have peace in my home!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Come unto Me with Full Purpose of Heart, and I Shall Heal You

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

“Come unto Me with Full Purpose of Heart, and I Shall Heal You”, by Patrick Kearon
Of the Seventy

Imagine living in the Arabian Peninsula as a child. Life there may have been quite different from where you were actually raised. For example, I remember running around the neighborhood barefoot; however, Elder Kearon tells of a time when he learned the importance of obeying his parents' consistent warnings to always wear shoes. While camping, he "wanted to go exploring, but [he] did not want to bother with putting on [his] shoes." He tells of rationalizing and wearing only flip-flops.

As he went off alone, he felt a sting in the arch of his foot and saw that he had been stung by a scorpion! Calling for help and rushing to the two-hours-away hospital, he thought he was going to die. He said:

I disregarded what I knew to be right. I ignored what my parents had repeatedly taught me. I had been both lazy and a little rebellious, and I paid a price for it.

As you can tell, this story has the makings of a great analogy to obedience and safety. In fact, my wonderful wife recently put together the felt board pieces shown above (and below) and presented this story in our family home evening!

Telling of another powerful story, Elder Kearon shares an experience of an old WWII veteran. This man survived a mine blast (but the driver of the vehicle they were in was killed). The moral of the story:

He learned that to survive in a minefield, you must follow exactly in the tracks of the vehicle moving ahead of you. Any deviation to the right or left could—and indeed did—prove fatal.

Have we, through rebellion or justification, been stung or wandered off of the path of safety? I take comfort in Elder Kearon's words, "Not one of you has thrown away your last chance. You can change, you can come back, you can claim mercy."(Compare to D&C 112:13)

I'm grateful for the safety and protection provided by the Atonement. I'm also grateful for the healing after stings and blasts which result from our own wrong choices. Even when we think that we're going to die (perhaps spiritually), there is a way back to safety.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Be Thou an Example of the Believers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be Thou an Example of the Believers, by Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Just this morning, before reviewing Elder Nelson's remarks, I shared a status on facebook. Here it is:

Although it's no surprise that "I'm a Mormon," what makes it timely is that in his talk, Elder Nelson encouraged us to do just that! Look at this optimism for technology:

Now in this day of the Internet, there are new and exciting ways you can do missionary work. You can invite friends and neighbors to visit the new Web site. If you have blogs and online social networks, you could link your sites to

For those of us that are nervous about vigorously proselytizing among our neighbors and friends, here is an additional way to share the gospel: through blogs and facebook!

We like to feed our local missionaries in our home. Not only does it expose our children to full-time missionaries, but it's fun to get to know them and get tips and advice on how to be better missionaries ourselves. When we fed them this month, they echoed Elder Nelson's charge to create a profile on (but we didn't realize they were echoing him). My wife and I did, and we also linked our profile to our blogs (you can see it here; look to the right, underneath my written testimony). Here is another link, just for fun:

I'm a Mormon.

In addition to encouraging us to use the new, Elder Nelson reminded us to "extend a hand of fellowship to at least one person you did not know before" each Sunday at church. I've been doing this, and it's great fun! I like when others ask to know more about me, and it turns out that I also enjoy asking.

There are two scriptures that were shared in this talk that I would like to repeat here:

Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you (1 Pet 3:15).

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim 4:12, emphasis added).

I enjoyed the reminder to stand as an example and always be ready to share my belief with others. I don't need to wait for full-time missionaries to find, teach, and baptize others so I can simply get to know them at church. I can share what I believe and who I am with others, every day, in fun and exciting ways!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Transforming Power of Faith and Character

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, by Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

What is character? One may define it as moral or ethical strength, but how is it developed? More on that later.

Elder Scott reminds that "the exercise of faith is vital to Father in Heaven's plan of happiness." But what kind of faith is it important to exercise? As a young boy, I remember that every lesson on faith mentioned one of three things: seeds, lightbulbs, or sunrises.

It's important to note that faith that saves is not faith in a seed. . .

. . . nor is it faith in lightbulbs. . .

. . .and it's not even faith in sunrises.

Elder Scott echoed what I've since tried to emphasize every time I teach a lesson on faith: "True faith, faith unto salvation, is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ."

All this talk of faith may raise a question: Why does the title mention both faith and character?

In my previous post (link), I asked about looking to God for answers and only finding silence. I used Abraham, Noah, and Joseph Smith as examples, and suggested that it was their faith that sustained them in silence. Elder Scott continued on this theme:

Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes. That causes your faith to increase and your character to grow. . . Faith and character are intimately related.

If faith is a "principle of action and of power," as Joseph Smith taught, then how is it related to the moral and ethical strength we call character?

Your exercise of faith in true principles builds character; fortified character expands your capacity to exercise more faith. As a result, your capacity and confidence to conquer the trials of life is enhanced. The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith. You will discover how faith and character interact to strengthen one another. Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience.

I enjoyed this chain of faith and character.

Considering that we have faith in Jesus Christ and want to become like Him, and that we wish to have stronger character to face with courage the myriad challenges that will come our way, the way to find this success is given in a single sentence by Elder Scott:

We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.

It seems, then, that if we want to be pillars of faith and righteous character, then we should each day exercise faith, which will, in time, develop us into individuals of the character we desire!

Will it be easy? Of course not; however, Elder Scott has some concluding words of encouragement:

If you have determined to live righteously, don’t become discouraged. Life may seem difficult now, but hold on tightly to that iron rod of truth. You are making better progress than you realize. Your struggles are defining character, discipline, and confidence in the promises of your Father in Heaven and the Savior as you consistently obey Their commandments.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Never Leave Him

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Never Leave Him, by Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Have you experienced times of trial when you looked up to God for help and found only silence? Left feeling alone, what did you do? You may think of Joseph Smith and his similar experience in Liberty Jail where he prayed, "O God, where art thou?" (D&C 121:1) In his time of trial, he learned that he wasn't alone after all.

But there was still that time of trial.

As I rode home from work today, I listened to a Radiolab episode podcast titled, "In Silence" (link). This is an exploration of times of silence that Abraham and Noah may have experienced when they were asked to do hard things. The questions raised were interesting, but I was left unsatisfied because I know the answers and the presenter didn't! He was asking why these prophets would be willing to do what they did, but he asked from a standpoint of one who doesn't understand and appreciate the roles that prophets play/played; the faith component was definitely lacking (for a start to an answer, see Heb 11:7, 17-19).

What do we know that others may find troubling in these times of silence? Elder Andersen has an answer:

The Lord has not left us alone in our quest to return to Him. . . As we follow the Savior, without question there will be challenges that confront us. Approached with faith, these refining experiences bring a deeper conversion of the Savior’s reality.

Despite the promise that we aren't left alone, we aren't guaranteed that the road will be easy. In fact, Elder Andersen warned of "two words [that] signal danger ahead: the words are offended and ashamed." He then gave counsel to choose not to be offended or ashamed, citing encouraging examples from history.

The idea that we actually have a choice if we'll be offended or ashamed likely sounds strange to many others in the world. "As disciples of Christ, we stand apart from the world." We've been given much by way of knowledge and understanding. Elder Andersen recited some questions that may sound humorous if we forget the times we asked similar questions:

Some ask, “Do I have to be so different from others?” “Can’t I be a disciple of Christ without thinking so much about my behavior?” “Can’t I love Christ without keeping the law of chastity?” “Can’t I love Him and do what I want on Sunday?” Jesus gave a simple answer: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

In discussing our differences from others—even those of other faiths who love Christ—it's important to remember what we've been given, and what is required of us:

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having a witness of His reality not only from the Bible but also from the Book of Mormon; knowing His priesthood has been restored to the earth; having made sacred covenants to follow Him and received the gift of the Holy Ghost; having been endowed with power in His holy temple; and being part of preparing for His glorious return to the earth, we cannot compare what we are to be with those who have not yet received these truths. “Unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3).

NOTE: The scripture quoted uses the word required, not expected (despite its frequent misquoting).

When we examine the lives of the great ones who have gone before (think of Abraham and Noah from earlier), we realize that while much was ultimately required of them, they had been given much (they were prophets, after all), and they performed beautifully.

Was it easy for them? No. Was it worth it for them? Yes!

While things likewise won't always be easy for us, it will be worth it, and we can find comfort in knowing that "the Lord has not left us alone in our quest to return to Him."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Temple Mirrors of Eternity

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Temple Mirrors of Eternity: A Testimony of Family, by Gerrit W. Gong
Of the Seventy

Strawberry ice cream. Every time I see or think of strawberry ice cream I'm reminded of my grandfather; he was a big fan of ice cream (as am I). Elder Gong spoke of his grandfather and how he would tickle his boyhood imagination with sayings like "Blackberries when red are green." Here's a picture that may help (I had to think on this before I understood what it meant):

In relating the story of a young couple being sealed in the temple, Elder Gong reminisced on the mirrors found in the sealing rooms of our temples. Mirrors are placed on opposite walls; "together the temple mirrors reflect back and forth images that stretch seemingly into eternity."

These are the temple mirrors of eternity, which is the title of his talk. The visual illustration of eternity afforded by the temple mirrors reminds of many things, including the eternal nature of families, stretching in long, unbroken chains. Elder Gong mentioned First Dragon Gong—not only a person with a great middle name, but his 32-times-great-grandfather! My family history isn't up-to-date that far back. Reminiscing on his family history, he said:

In temple mirrors of eternity, I could not see a beginning or end of generations.

With this long family chain in mind, Elder Gong imagined family connections and family relationships in two directions. He thought of himself and the titles associated with the end of hte chain: son, grandson, great-grandson, and so on. From the other direction, he thought of the chain extending from himself: father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on.

I liked this way of picturing family history. I think that too often I consider myself as the end of the line—the product of the many who have gone before. While this is right in some ways, it adds a new dimension and responsibility to consider the generations that may extend beyond (and from) me. In this pedigree image, I purposely put the middle couple (father and mother) in the center. I thought of my wife and myself, both the products of many excellent examples, and both striving to likewise teach our children that they might be better than we have been.

I like the temple mirrors of eternity, and that seeing through them, we "find ourselves home, pure and clean, [with] our family generations sealed by priesthood authority in love."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Very Survival

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Our Very Survival, by Kevin R. Duncan
Of the Seventy

Elder Duncan's talk was given in the Saturday afternoon session of conference. Like Elder Costa (link), Elder Duncan used the word prophet many times (33 to be exact). To help our children pay attention to what is said during conference, they have packets of conference-related activities, but even more, they listen for a specific word each session. This word, which they choose themselves beforehand, if heard, entitles them to a piece of candy. They happened to choose "prophet" for this session, and they were enrapt in his talk. In fact, because they paid attention, our candy dish ran out of candy corns!

Elder Duncan reminded of the trials that the early pioneer settlers in the Salt Lake Valley faced their first winter after arriving there the previous year. Faced with difficulty and what looked like a barren desert, some of these pioneers were tempted to leave the proximity of the prophet and seek fortune in California where a few of their fellow pioneers had recently discovered gold (this was the beginning of the famous California gold rush; in fact, my children are watching a film outlining the efforts of the Mormon Battalion—including the gold discovery—as I'm typing this).

What would you do? Would you stay with the prophet of God, or try your luck panning for gold?

Despite their difficulties that winter, those who stayed and followed the prophet prospered:

The Saints prospered. The winter of 1848 was a great catalyst for the Lord to teach His people a valuable lesson. They learned—as we all must learn—that the only sure and secure road to protection in this life comes through trusting in and obeying the counsel from the prophets of God.

What legacy did these early saints leave for us? The film my children are watching is titled, "A Legacy More Precious than Gold." While we may not face the same challenges as those early pioneers, we do have a decision to make:

This world is full of so many self-help books, so many self-proclaimed experts, so many theorists, educators, and philosophers who have advice and counsel to give on any and all subjects. . . While some information has merit, as members of the Church we have access to the source of pure truth, even God Himself. We would do well to search out answers to our problems and questions by investigating what the Lord has revealed through His prophets.

Like Elder Costa, Elder Duncan quoted from President Benson's devotional, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet." In addition to listing the fourteen points, he reminded that "our [very] salvation hangs on" following the prophet.

Will we seek our fortune away from the counsel of prophets, or will we find a greater reward now and in the future by heeding their words and striving to do the will of God? Those early saints made the choice to stay and build His Kingdom and build His holy house.

I'm grateful for the righteous examples of those who have gone before. They teach us to follow the living prophets and give heed to their inspired words. Elder Duncan likewise testified that "there is no safer way to approach life, find answers to our problems, gain peace and happiness in this world, and protect our very salvation than by obeying their words."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Faith—the Choice Is Yours

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Faith—the Choice Is Yours, by Bishop Richard C. Edgley
First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric

In the talk preceding Bishop Edgley's, Elder Cook gave the feeling that embracing faith is on the outs among some people (link). Bishop Edgley shared a similar feeling, but ended placing the outcome in our hands:

The reality of the Savior, His atoning sacrifice, and its universal application for all of us is challenged and often dismissed as a myth or the baseless hope of a weak and uneducated mind. . . This might be the reality of our world, but we can still choose how we react to it.

The preferred reaction is to choose faith! (As I put this logo together, my daughter asked if we were going to open a store. . . a faith store, my son guessed.)

Choose faith over doubt, choose faith over fear, choose faith over the unknown and the unseen, and choose faith over pessimism.

We know that faith is the first principle of the gospel (see Articles of Faith 1:4), and we often hear the following scripture quoted regarding faith: "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove” (Matthew 17:20), but I think it's important to clarify two things that may frequently be shared in a Sunday School setting:
  1. The comparison of faith to a mustard seed is not "faith the size of a mustard seed"—it's the faith OF a mustard seed. A small seed can become a great plant (compare Luke 13:19).
  2. The ability to move mountains may not require a shovel. Almost every time the moving of mountains is mentioned, someone will say, "Sure, you can move mountains, but it might be a shovelful at a time." Yes; faith is a principle of action, but there is no indication that the brother of Jared used a shovel (or any other earthly tool) to move the mount Zerin (see Ether 12:30).

Have you moved mountains? Have you ever seen anyone who has?

Bishop Edgley gives three examples of ways he has seen mountains move—I had never considered these before and really like them (I threw comic representations together, I liked them so much):

I have never witnessed the removal of an actual mountain. But because of faith I have seen a mountain of doubt and despair removed and replaced with hope and optimism.

Because of faith I have personally witnessed a mountain of sin replaced with repentance and forgiveness.

And because of faith I have personally witnessed a mountain of pain replaced with peace, hope, and gratitude.

Yes, I have seen mountains removed.

Before his talk, I would have said that I've never seen mountains removed. I'm grateful for the reminder of those who have moved real mountains, and for the reminder of the other mountains that I have seen removed in my own life.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Let There Be Light!

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Let There Be Light!, by Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As I rode to work in the dark hours this morning, my attention kept drifting to the many city lights that I could see nearby and in the distance. I was reminded of the difference between looking up at the night sky in Chicago and middle-of-nowhere Idaho. While both star-gazing sessions were done in the dark of night, the light pollution from the big city made the majority of stars disappear near Chicago; I love seeing the Milky Way when I'm far enough away. In fact, when we visited my brother-in-law in Flagstaff, AZ, I learned that it was the first city to become an International Dark-Sky Community (link).

If you look at the earth from above at night, it's amazing the city-centers that are apparent simply by their light! Can you see your city in this map?

In his address, Elder Cook spoke of the bombing raids over British cities during World War II, where as a defense, the lights were darkened. "You can't hit what you can't see" isn't just a clever comment made by superheroes who move amazingly fast! In fact, he mentioned a song by Vera Lynn, "When the Lights Go on Again (All over the World)," that "reflected an optimistic hope that freedom and light would be restored.

Recent forays into family history have given me an increased awareness of the perils of war. The bulk of this impacted me as I saw a picture of my paternal grandfather in his military uniform, prior to shipping of to Italy to fight in WWII.

As many brave and valiant individuals fought for freedom and light, we too may feel like we are living in a battlefield. In fact, there seems to be a pessimism permeating the news and other media outlets. Despite this, Elder Cook speaks of his optimism that "light and truth will be preserved in our time." He also said, "some observers believe there is actually a global revival of faith."

You may argue against this because so much of what is heard and reported on is of the negative or God-less flavor. It's important to remember that "the power and influence of [evil and evil people] is very large even if they are relatively small in number. . . Still, the majority of people aspire to be good and honorable." (see Mosiah 29:26-27).

What can we do when so much time and attention is placed on the fringe—on the loud minority? Elder Cook has a point to make here:

Moral positions informed by a religious conscience must be accorded equal access to the public square. Under the constitutions of most countries, a religious conscience may not be given preference, but neither should it be disregarded. . . Let me be clear that all voices need to be heard in the public square. Neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced.

Here's my take on all of this: Although the view of the night sky is different between Chicago and farmville, Idaho, the stars themselves still exist and shine brilliantly regardless of the interference between them and our eyes. As Vera Lynn sang optimistically of a time when there would once again be light, we too can "do our best to preserve light and protect our families."

Yes, there will be loud voices that cry for our beliefs to be silenced, but we, too, deserve to have our voices heard! Remember the picture of the dark earth and its bright spots of light pollution? To me, this is a great analogy to people in general: the vocal minority fighting against what is right and good can be compared to those bright spots on the map (where you can't properly see the night sky). While the lights get our attention, they do not cover the earth. We should take comfort that "the majority of people are still respectful of basic moral values," but we shouldn't sit by, silently believing that we are alone.

As we climb the steps of the public square, it may be difficult and scary to speak for what we believe and know to be right; however, as we stand for what is right, we'll find that the view is beautiful, and more light can be seen and enjoyed!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life, by Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Have you ever heard someone passionately talk about something they believe in, but you've had little to no idea what message they were trying to convey because they kept using a word you either didn't know, or in a way you didn't understand? Perhaps this short video will help:

Elder Hales tells of when he corresponded with an old friend, but the conversation was hindered because the friend didn't understand the "Mormon jargon," particularly the word agency. The problem was confounded when he realized that "of the 10 definitions and usages of the word agency [in an online dictionary], none expressed the idea of making choices to act." To add clarity, I'll repeat the definition he gave:

We teach that agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and 'to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon' (2 Nephi 2:26).

I love the topic of agency! Elder Hales reminds that it is an essential element in the plan of salvation, and central to our progression and happiness.

Choice. We can choose. But what of the times we make bad choices? Elder Hales tells a humorous story of when, as a youth, he was given the task of varnishing a floor. Here's what he says:

I made the choice to begin at the door and work my way into the room. When I was almost finished, I realized I had left myself no way to get out. There was no window or door on the other side. I had literally painted myself into a corner. I had no place to go. I was stuck.

We, likewise, become "stuck" whenever we knowingly disobey the commandments of God; we become "captive to our choices."

But there is a way back!

Like repentance, turning around and walking across a newly varnished floor means more work—a lot of resanding and refinishing! Returning to the Lord isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

Wherever we are in life, we will make mistakes. These mistakes are the result of our choices—our agency. Successive mistakes leave us spiritually painted into a corner. The invitation to enjoy the blessings of the Atonement again is extended to all:

Come back! Come out of the dark corner and into the light. Even if you have to walk across a newly varnished floor, it is worth it. Trust that “through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind [including you and me] may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (Articles of Faith 1:3)

I don't want to be stuck in a corner, painted in, either physically or spiritually. To remain in such a corner when there is a way out—even if it will take work to get out—is, for lack of a better word, inconceivable! (And, yes, I know what that word means.)

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

This is one of my favorite actions in the church: [raises right hand]

This simple action carries more weight on the mind and heart than is outwardly apparent. As we raise our hands, we show support for those who have been called of the Lord to serve in His Kingdom. In addition, we express our faith and testimony in the power of revelation.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Of Things That Matter Most

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Of Things That Matter Most, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

The focus of President Uchtdorf's message was to "slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials."

Today was a snow day for the elementary school and the university. It would have been the perfect opportunity to slow down and enjoy life, but I was at work! I usually go to work quite early (3 a.m. this morning), and I was at work when the officials decided to close the schools for the day.

Imagine my excitement upon hearing this, because I had the perfect opportunity to be shut up in my office without any distraction; I had the perfect chance to speed up and get loads of work done! And this is what I did.

Fast-forward a few hours: after a colleague came in (a likewise crazy person who works on canceled days). While catching up and looking out at the rare snow on the ground, we decided to take a walk to investigate an unusually white tree some distance away. I was going to resist the distraction from work, but decided to take a break anyway (and a few pictures, too).

We found that the tree was in the direct line of a combination of recent wind paths and water dripping off of a water tower, resulting in a frozen tree. As we stood in the cold, examining the effects of winter, the desire to rush and the detailed tasks melted away (strange as it sounds for something to melt in below-freezing temperatures).

There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci

The call to take a break is accompanied with a return to the basics. President Uchtdorf lists "the basics" as four key relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with our families, our relationship with our fellowmen, and our relationship with ourselves. While we may ask, "What other interpersonal relationships are there," it's hard to deny the importance of these key relationships.

Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace.

After sharing a moment of simplicity and peace with a friend and a frozen tree today, I returned to my work tasks and seemed to see them through new eyes. Somehow, slowing down helped me find a clarity and purpose I had been missing in the frantic rushed hours before the change of pace.

I hope I can find peace and remember what matters most as I take time to slow down.