Saturday, March 26, 2011

Till We Meet Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Till We Meet Again, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

While we were shopping today, my older children started discussing which kind of candy they would like to have as a reward for when they hear certain words in the next general conference. I was excited by this for two reasons: 1) they were happy for general conference, and 2) it's in only a couple of weeks!

At the end of the last general conference, I produced a word cloud to see if there was an indication of the common themes that I picked up on from many talks (see it here). As I thought about doing the same for this conference, I really couldn't identify a theme—apart from being like Christ.

Because I'm a nerd, I decided to make a word cloud again. It was great fun to harvest the words from each of the talks, because as I saw the speakers and their talk titles, I would have fun flashbacks to the things that stood out to me from their talks (the things you may have read aout in the previous posts). Again, I couldn't isolate a consistent theme, but I was considerably happy.

So, while I'm not venturing any guesses at themes, do you have any in mind? What do you expect to "pop out of the screen"? Here are the most frequent 100 words from this conference:

I like that this particular representation shows the words of deity close together, seemingly increasing the impact! Other words that stand out (that are a bit larger than the others) are: life, faith, priesthood, children, know, and Church.

As you look at this representation of conference, you may have, as did I, happy feelings and pleasant memories triggered by certain words.

Are there any words that you were surprised to see? I was tickled when I noticed that the word "Mormon" actually appears in the word cloud. For ages it seems that members of the Church have avoided being labeled Mormon, but with the recent innovations to and the encouragement members have been given to create profiles there (see mine here), the feeling I got at seeing "Mormon" was different than I had hoped!

Okay; that's general conference as a whole, but what about President Monson's closing comments? After reviewing these wonderful general conference talks, and after considering all their words reminded me of, one paragraph of President Monson's remarks stood out the most to me:

How blessed we are to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It provides answers to questions concerning where we came from, why we are here, and where we will go when we pass from this life. It provides meaning and purpose and hope to our lives.

Knowing what we know, and feeling what we feel, we may sometime wonder, "Now what?" President Monson's closing provides an answer, and a succinct and poignant close:

May we show increased kindness toward one another; may we ever be found doing the work of the Lord.

I love general conference!

Friday, March 25, 2011

O That Cunning Plan of the Evil One

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

O That Cunning Plan of the Evil One, by M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Have you ever smelled someone who passed by or that you live/work with that was experiencing a time of bad body odor? Each time I do I wonder if I smell bad to others but just can't smell myself, and no one has had the heart to tell me about it.

As I ride my bike to/from work, I can smell if a person in a passing car is smoking, even if they travel by at 50 mph. Similarly, I can tell if a person smokes, or lives in a smoking home, even if they're not currently smoking by the tell-tale signs and smells.

I thought of these two things as I read Elder Ballard's talk. Sometimes what is readily apparent to others (e.g. bad smells or indicators of addictive behavior) is criticized or stigmatized quite heavily, when there is the possibility of much greater evils or addictions that aren't apparent.

It's fairly easy to determine if someone is addicted to smoking, but you may not know if someone else is secretly addicted to gambling.

You may pick up on the visible signs that someone is addicted to drugs, but will not know that someone else spends hours a day involved in addictive pornographic behaviors.

You may perceive someone who is apparently addicted to bad or unhealthy foods, but you may not recognize your own addiction(s) (say, addicted to a cell phone).

Addiction seems to be something that is readily despised in others, but hard to distinguish in self.

As he compared the addictive lures of Satan to the flies of a fly fisherman, video clips showed in the background of Elder Ballard's talk. I liked the combination of the allegory and the imagery:

The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception. The adept fisherman studies trout behavior, weather, the water current, and the types of insects trout eat and when those insects hatch. He will often craft by hand the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.

What a thrill it is to watch a trout break the surface of the water, inhale the fly, and resist until it is finally exhausted and reeled in. The test is the pitting of the fisherman’s knowledge and skill against the noble trout.

The use of artificial lures to fool and catch a fish is an example of the way Lucifer often tempts, deceives, and tries to ensnare us.

Like the fly fisherman who knows that trout are driven by hunger, Lucifer knows our “hunger,” or weaknesses, and tempts us with counterfeit lures which, if taken, can cause us to be yanked from the stream of life into his unmerciful influence.

When we think of addiction, we often think of those things that are harmful, dirty, evil, or generally shunned by society; however, is it possible to be addicted to something that seems good? To answer this, let's take a look at the definition, given here by Elder Ballard and followed by some useful application:

According to the dictionary, addiction of any kind means to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent on some life-destroying substance or behavior.

Researchers tell us there is a mechanism in our brain called the pleasure center. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our willpower, judgment, logic, and morality. This leads the addict to abandon what he or she knows is right. And when that happens, the hook is set and Lucifer takes control.

It seems obvious that regardless of the substance or behavior, as soon as we give up our agency, the road becomes downhill to a bad place. Later, Elder Ballard included the following:

Remember, brothers and sisters, any kind of addiction is to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent. Thus, video-gaming and texting on cell phones need to be added to the list.

So, what are you going to do now? Here is an apostle saying that video games and cell phones should be included with alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and harmful drugs (including misused prescription drugs).

A few days ago, I removed many games and other applications from my cell phone (read more here). I did this, in part, because of Elder Mazzagardi's words. The more motivating factor, though, was that my wife brought it up. It likely wasn't easy for her to do; how do you convince someone that what they think is harmless can be habit-forming and ultimately addicting?

If you're wondering how to know if something seemingly harmless is addictive, consider what you would do if a loved one asked you to give it up, or at least trim it back considerably. If you would react with disbelief (commonly called denial), chances are, you are on the road to addiction.

The bottom line seems to be that addiction is dangerous, despite its flavor.

If you are concerned about addiction—and you should be!—Elder Ballard has an answer:

To those who are dealing with an addiction personally or within your family, I repeat, fervent prayer is key to gaining the spiritual strength to find peace and overcome an addictive craving. Heavenly Father loves all of His children, so thank Him and express sincere faith in Him. Ask Him for the strength to overcome the addiction you are experiencing. Set aside all pride and turn your life and your heart to Him. Ask to be filled with the power of Christ’s pure love. You may have to do this many times, but I testify to you that your body, mind, and spirit can be transformed, cleansed, and made whole, and you will be freed. . .

And for those of you who have fallen prey to any kind of addiction, there is hope because God loves all of His children and because the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ makes all things possible.

Although not mentioned explicitly in this talk, be aware that some addictions need professional help in addition to faith and fervent prayer.

I'm grateful for the reminder of the very real powers of temptation and addiction. Scary as it is that something so tempting and appetizing, no matter what it is, can lead to addiction and ruin, it's wonderful to be reminded that the Atonement of Christ provides safety, protection, and a way back, if necessary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Have You Done with My Name?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

What Have You Done with My Name?, by Mervyn B. Arnold
Of the Seventy

Each of my children are named after ancestors. While I think I'm super, I doubt I'm named after Superman's alter-ego, Clark Kent; I don't recall why I was named Clark, but I don't think it's after anyone in particular (I called my parents for a reminder, but couldn't find them at home). My children have an advantage that I don't have: they can live up to the good names of those who have gone before.

Regardless of what your first name is, Elder Arnold reminds that you, too, can live up to a great name:

Each week as we partake of the sacrament, we covenant and promise that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. If we are willing to do so, we are promised that most wonderful blessing—that His Spirit will always be with us.

. . . someday each one of us will have to account to our Savior, Jesus Christ, for what we have done with His name.

This reality was captured in a song that I'm very familiar with. From the 1995 Especially for Youth album, Kenneth Cope's "What Have I Done With His Name" outlines a progression of names we could have been named after or called. Take a listen here:

It's one thing to remember those who have gone before and consider them asking what you have done with their name; it's another thing entirely to consider how our own names will be remembered in time. . . say in 600 years! The answer to this consideration may, in large measure, depend on the choices we make and how well we understand that choices have consequences. Elder Arnold shared a story from his wife's life that helped her understand that while we are free to make our own choices, we cannot choose the consequences:

As a 15-year-old, she was a typical teenager, upset to be working at her father's ranch instead of enjoying time with friends in the summertime. One of her tasks was to ensure that the cows didn't press the fence separating their grazing area from the tempting wheat field adjacent. As alluring as the wheat was, she had been taught that if a cow ate wheat—particularly too much wheat—it would bloat, suffocating and killing the cow. Because of this, she would regularly patrol the separating fence, keeping a watchful eye, particularly on one cow that seemed determined to get to the wheat.

The expected happened. The cow pressed through the fence, ate too much wheat, bloated, and ultimately perished because of it all, despite the frantic efforts of all to save the cow in time.

"We had provided her with a beautiful mountain pasture to graze in and a fence to keep her away from the dangerous wheat, yet she foolishly broke through the fence and caused her own death.

“As I thought about the role of the fence, I realized that it was a protection, just as the commandments and my parents’ rules were a protection. The commandments and rules were for my own good. I realized that obedience to the commandments could save me from physical and spiritual death. That enlightenment was a pivotal point in my life.”

While I don't have any experience with wheat fields and their peril to cows, I am grateful for this powerful connective story between choices and consequences. Do I stray from the pasture and sample the forbidden wheat, tarnishing my name(s)? I'm grateful for the reminder that "our Savior invites us on a daily basis to cleanse our names and return to His presence."

Something Elder Arnold said reminded me of another song, this one from my children's involvement in Primary:

Before you act, picture the Savior standing at your side and ask yourself, “Would I think it, would I say it, or would I do it knowing He is there?” For surely He is there. Our beloved President Thomas S. Monson, who I testify is a prophet, often quotes the following verse of scripture when speaking of our Lord and Savior: “For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts.”

The beautiful song this reminds me of is titled, "If the Savior Stood Beside Me" (read more about this song here). Here's a video:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Avoiding the Trap of Sin

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Avoiding the Trap of Sin, by Jairo Mazzagardi
Of the Seventy

I love when two adjacent conference talks flow together so nicely that it seems that the speakers consulted together and co-wrote each other's talks. It seems like such was the case with this talk and the previous (by Elder Malm, link). Central to both talks were trees. Where Elder Malm spoke of a hollow tree and the trash that filled it, Elder Mazzagardi spoke of two trees: the tree of sin, and the tree of life.

Elder Mazzagardi told of walking with a granddaughter and using their surroundings to answer her question of "what is sin?" Periodic stone posts provided a useful lesson on how sin can overtake us over time if unchecked by conscience and repentance. The strong stone posts crumble over time as vegetation and a small tree slowly push it aside out of its original place. "We must be alert because small choices can bring great consequences."

This afternoon I took time and cleared out many applications from my phone. Many were ones that I installed thinking I would use but never did. Others, however, were apps that I use all the time. Why would I get rid of apps that are frequently used? I did it in reaction to Elder Mazzagardi's talk:

We must be alert not to let sin grow around us. Forms of sin are everywhere—even, for example, in a computer or cell phone. These technologies are useful and can bring great benefits to us. But their inappropriate use—such as involvement in time-wasting games, programs that would drive you to carnal pleasure, or much worse things such as pornography—is destructive. (italics added by me)

I deleted many apps, including my favorite "time-wasting games." The imagery of a strong post slowly pushed aside by a "tree of sin" was strong enough for me to realize that when I'm home and trying to find a brief break through a cell phone game, I'm slowly being pushed away from my family; I love my family much more than bubble bursting, solitaire, or any other cell phone game!

Trees don't always have to be used to illustrate weakness or sin; consider the following:

Just as the tree I have described brought sadness, pain, suffering, and entrapment, another tree can bring the opposite. It is mentioned in 1 Nephi 8:10–12: [It is the tree of life!]

Tree of Life, by Choi De Choon (link)

I'm grateful for the opportunities that surroundings give to teach gospel lessons to inquiring children. I'm also grateful for the lesson that Elder Mazzagardi shared, and I'm excited to not be sucked into my now-removed cell phone games and instead spend more time with my family.

Perhaps we'll take more walks and find gospel lessons in trees and posts, too!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rest unto Your Souls

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Rest unto Your Souls, by Per G. Malm
Of the Seventy

We're all familiar with the cartoon images of hollow trees that house all kinds of creatures—owls, squirrels with their stockpile of nuts, Keebler Elves—but sometimes other things fill these trees' holes. Elder Malm tells of such a tree in Sweden that is surrounded by beautiful trees. However, this one tree, while hollow, is filled with all sorts of waste!

I've seen such trees here and there. It's as though some people cannot see a void without needing to fill it with their garbage. Sometimes there needn't even be a hole in the tree—have you seen chewing gum trees that have unwittingly become trash art?

Let's return to Elder Malm's hollow Swedish tree. Surprised that it could stand in its condition, he noticed that it was supported via a belt and wires that were anchored on the surrounding buildings. Without these helps, this tree could not stand.

As I considered the environmental impacts of such a tree, I started to wonder if I'm at all like this tree: surrounded by others who are strong and healthy, but inwardly hollow and filling up with junk. I wondered, if I were like this, what could the supports be? Surely I could find something to help me appear strong and tall.

As I wondered about these things, I thought of something else Elder Malm said:

If we choose to act contrary to the light and understanding that we have, we will experience a bad conscience, which of course does not feel good. But a bad conscience is a blessing in that we immediately are reminded that it is time to repent. When we are humble and desire to do what is right, we will be anxious to act promptly to change our ways.

I liked the idea of a bad conscience being an indicator of a need for change!

Expanding on the tree comparison, sometimes the trash on the inside can spill to the surroundings, weakening others. "What we say, how we act, and how we choose to react will influence not only ourselves but also those around us. We can build up, or we can tear down." This reminded me of a poem that I've committed to memory (read more here):

I passed one day through a lonely town,
and saw some men tear a building down.

With a "Ho, heave, ho," and a husky yell,
they swung a beam, and a sidewall fell.

I asked the foremen, "Are these men skilled?
The kind you'd hire if you had to build?"

"Oh no," he chuckled, "no indeed;
The common laborer is all I need."

"You see, I can destroy in a day, or
two what has taken builders weeks to do."

I thought to myself as I went on my way,
"Which of these roles have I tried to play?

"Am I a builder who works with care,
strengthening lives with rule and square?

"Shaping my peers to a well-made plan?
Helping them be the best they can?

"Or am I a wrecker who walks around,
content with the labor of tearing down?"

Speaking of tearing down, are you at all concerned about that hollow tree? Elder Malm shared a story of the tragic end of the tree; some young people filled the hollow with firecrackers which caught the tree on fire and ended its existence. He concluded with a powerful tie-together warning:

Beware of things that will destroy from the inside out, whether big or small! They can have an explosive effect and cause spiritual death.

How is my conscience? Am I a hollow tree that is filling with junk? These are helpful questions of introspection. Whatever the answers may be, there is always strength and help from "the healing Atonement of of Jesus Christ that we may have the strength to stand tall and strong and to have our souls be filled—with light, understanding, joy, and love."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Courageous Parenting

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Courageous Parenting, by Larry R. Lawrence
Of the Seventy

We have a park directly across the street from our home. Because of this, we can watch out our front window and see people when they think no one is watching. It's fun to catch glimpses of fathers with their young children being so gentle and caring as they play. We can see mothers gently helping their children learn to play new games and use the playground equipment in new and exciting ways. In short, we can see parents who love and care for their children.

Unfortunately, from our front window we can also see the effects of children whose parents are apparently out of the picture. We can see packs of youth with no parents or other adults involved being rough on the equipment, being violent to each other, and we can hear their loud abrasive language, riddled with swearing and derogatory words. When I see this, I cannot help but wonder about the absent parents.

For all I know, the parents of these wayward children can be loving and caring parents who trust their children to make good choices (and the children just aren't doing so). I like to imagine this scenario instead of uncaring parents who've given up in their roles and responsibilities. Elder Lawrence taught, "There are no perfect parents and no easy answers, but there are principles of truth that we can rely on."

I'm not concerned for the children whose parents are there playing with them and teaching them how to be kind and loving. I am concerned for the youth who seem to be on a path of destruction and ruin. As I think of how these youth would benefit from caring parents, I think of the powerful example that Elder Lawrence gave:

Imagine for a moment that your daughter was sitting on the railroad tracks and you heard the train whistle blowing. Would you warn her to get off the tracks? Or would you hesitate, worried that she might think you were being overprotective? If she ignored your warning, would you quickly move her to a safe place? Of course you would! Your love for your daughter would override all other considerations. You would value her life more than her temporary goodwill.

Challenges and temptations are coming at our teenagers with the speed and power of a freight train. As we are reminded in the family proclamation, parents are responsible for the protection of their children. That means spiritually as well as physically.

It does little-to-no-good to focus outwardly on the apparently missing parents of the youth at our park. Instead, I need to work on what I can do to be a courageous parent.

It takes courage to gather children from whatever they’re doing and kneel together as a family. It takes courage to turn off the television and the computer and to guide your family through the pages of the scriptures every day. It takes courage to turn down other invitations on Monday night so that you can reserve that evening for your family. It takes courage and willpower to avoid overscheduling so that your family can be home for dinner.

While I hope my children are never sitting on railroad tracks when a train is coming, I'm sure they will be tempted to do things that are even more dangerous. I want to be the kind of parent that uses courageous parenting to faithfully help my children to "be strong and of a good courage."

There were no trains on the tracks here!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Receive the Holy Ghost

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Receive the Holy Ghost, by David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As a full-time missionary I often heard other missionaries speak of, or pray to, use the Holy Ghost. A clever leader pointed out: "The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. You don't use him; He uses you!"

Clever as this statement is, you could say that its focus is on being acted upon (as opposed to acting). Those familiar with Elder Bednar will have immediately noticed his use of one of his favorite scriptures, 2 Nephi 2:14. (If it's not a favorite, it at least seems frequently used in his talks.)

If our desire is to act, and not just be acted upon, what about the Holy Ghost focuses on acting? The title of this talk gives us a clue:

I remember distinctly when I learned of the proper way to confirm someone a member of the Church and bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I was told to say, "Receive the Holy Ghost," (not "receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost") and I loved all that was suggested in that distinction. I've long loved agency, and the instruction to receive the Holy Ghost highlights choosing. Here's what Elder Bednar taught:

These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts.

It's one thing to know about receiving the Holy Ghost, but another thing entirely to actually do it. Here's Elder Bednar's suggestion:

We need to (1) sincerely desire to receive the Holy Ghost, (2) appropriately invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, and (3) faithfully obey God’s commandments.

About five years ago, I taught a group of 12- to 13-yr olds a lesson on the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Hoping to make it more meaningful, I prepared bookmarks that had a picture of a light bulb—suggesting that the companionship of the Holy Ghost is like a light—and a list of what to do to receive the companionship. Here are the two designs I let them choose from, along with the list I used:

  1. Desire the companionship of the Holy Ghost
  2. Learn more about the Holy Ghost
  3. Sincerely request guidance
  4. Live worthy of this companionship

I'm pleased to see that with the addition of learning more about the Holy Ghost, my list closely matches Elder Bednar's!

Tucked in the back of my scriptures are my own copies of these light bulb bookmarks. I feel good each time I use them or see them as I think of the good times I had with those young men and all that we learned together. Even more, though, I'm grateful that I can receive the Holy Ghost again and again and enjoy the blessings that come from that sacred companionship—from choosing to act, and not just be acted upon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Priesthood of Aaron

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Priesthood of Aaron, by L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As you enter many homes nowadays, the first thing you see is a large television central to the family's main living area. If you visit a park or playground, you will see children playing on the equipment, but the parents are glued to their smart phones or are talking mindlessly on cell phones. As you drive from here to there, you see many SUVs with blank-eyed children in the back seats, seeing nothing but a small screen in front of them showing a movie or television show (even on short trips across town).

Entertainment and media access have become more and more important in our lives—at least it looks that way by how we live. 25 years ago, Elder Perry spoke in conference, addressing his eldest grandson. Among other things, he took responsibility for the state of the world (along with his colleagues):

I believe we’ve greatly failed you in what we have allowed the conditions in the world to become. . .

We have brought into our homes radios, record players, and television sets. While each has the potential of providing wholesome entertainment, so much of what has been produced for our listening and watching pleasure is not of the caliber to inspire and encourage young men. In fact, most of what is produced is degrading. The flip of a switch right in your own home has the potential of destroying within you a sense of what is right and what is wrong.

In Sunday School two days ago, someone commented that there isn't much hope for the future generations because with iPhones and other devices, we hold in our hand the world's vault of pornography, accessible anytime, anywhere.

Yesterday I listened to a radio interview with an old-time stuntman who said that he cannot stand the recent use of computer graphics in stunts and action shots in movies. He preferred the real feel of stunts, performed by real people (interview here). As I considered this, I thought of something Elder Perry said: "The more things change, the more they stay the same—except for technology."

This morning we're going to take a family trip to the movie theater to see a film. This is something we don't usually do, but we wanted to have an adventure and see Tangled. I expect that there will be humor and an end-of-story good message, but I'm concerned that the way things are portrayed—even though it's a cartoon—will be too intense for my pure children.

The more technology advances, the more we can see fantastic things portrayed in films and other entertainment. (Remember the stunt man who prefers what can be done in reality.) Despite the innovations in presenting reality, altered reality, or science fiction, I'm thinking of something else that is truly fantastic; there are historical events that are linked although they are separated by centuries:

Central to the Book of Mormon is the account of Christ visiting the people in the Americas. From the Introduction, we read:

The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after his resurrection. It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.

1,800 years after this glorious appearance of the Son of God to faithful saints in what would become the New World, the same resurrected Christ appeared with His Father to Joseph Smith, ushering in a new dispensation of the fulness of the gospel. As part of the Restoration, Joseph Smith had the opportunity to assist in translating from ancient records what would become the Book of Mormon. While translating in 3 Nephi—where is recorded Christ's visit to the people—Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were thrilled by Christ's teachings of baptism and had questions. They prayed for guidance and John the Baptist, who had baptized Christ, appeared and conferred upon them the authority to baptize; they received the Aaronic Priesthood.

Later, Oliver recounted the event in these words: “But … think, further think for a moment, what joy filled our hearts, and with what surprise we must have bowed … when we received under his hand the Holy Priesthood.”

After mankind had been waiting for centuries for God’s authority to be restored, the power and glory of the holy Aaronic Priesthood returned to the earth.

We can talk of representations of things that are fantastic in films and shows, but I don't think they can ever match or replace the reality of events that are truly fantastic—events like Christ visiting people and the conferral of the priesthood (whether by angels or authorized mortals).

We can talk further of the perils of access to media that can degrade, influence for evil, and otherwise harm. Despite poor possibilities, I have hope for the future. Elder Perry quoted President Benson:

Give me a young man who has kept himself morally clean and has faithfully attended his Church meetings. Give me a young man who has magnified his priesthood and has earned the Duty to God Award and is an Eagle Scout. Give me a young man who is a seminary graduate and has a burning testimony of the Book of Mormon. Give me such a young man, and I will give you a young man who can perform miracles for the Lord in the mission field and throughout his life.

There have always been temptations and options for bad choices. While the access and prevalence of such may be ever-increasing, the power of God is eternal, and as we choose to follow His plan we find something that is better than the thrill of disobedience or sin; we find happiness and eternal life.

This is reality that cannot be matched or exceeded by any special effects!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Divine Gift of Gratitude

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Divine Gift of Gratitude, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I've been bubbling with excitement all day today! While there are some disadvantages to being a college student, one of the perks is Spring Break. As a family man, I get to spend a week with my amazing wife and hilarious children! Life couldn't be any better.

It was with this everything-is-hunky-dory attitude that I read President Monson's talk on gratitude. You might say I was definitely in a glass-is-half-full mood. When I read "We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings," I remembered such times and thought of the other points of view that we can sometimes have; perhaps you can relate to one of the following:

If you happen to be in a glass-is-half-empty mood, perhaps the following words of President Monson will help:

Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings.

This is a wonderful time to be on earth. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, there are many things that are right and good. There are marriages that make it, parents who love their children and sacrifice for them, friends who care about us and help us, teachers who teach. Our lives are blessed in countless ways.

Besides being a cute rhyme, an attitude of gratitude is something worth striving to cultivate. Sharing a quote from President Joseph F. Smith, President Monson summarized: "A prayerful life is the key to possessing gratitude."

You may be familiar with the hymn, "Did You Think to Pray?" (link). The message of this hymn is that prayer can remind us of better things and comfort our hearts. However, you may have also noticed that the focus is on when times are tough; what about the hunky-dory times?

During a lesson she substitute-taught in Sunday School, my friend shared an additional verse she had composed just an hour before (during sacrament meeting). I think you'll like it (thanks, Kami!):

When your heart was filled with gladness,
Did you think to pray?
When your life was full of blessing,
Psalms thanksgiving were you sending
Showing thanks that day?

Oh how praying lifts the cheery!
Prayer shows gratitude that day.
So when life's NOT dark and dreary,
Don't forget to pray.

Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full (or any of the other variants), I want to live with an attitude of gratitude!

My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two Lines of Communication

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Two Lines of Communication, by Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I've long noticed what appears to be a contradiction when I speak to some Christians about faith and the restored gospel. As our conversation turns to Joseph Smith, most will quickly say that there is no need for revelation today—that all that is required is the Bible and faith. Yet, these same people, often in the next breath, will say that they know that they are right and that their beliefs are 100 percent accurate. (How can they know without revelation?)

As I reviewed Elder Oaks' talk, I began to wonder if the confusion isn't a contradiction, but rather a misunderstanding of terms. His talk speaks of two lines of communication: the personal line, and the priesthood line. In addition to explaining both of these, Elder Oaks stresses that both are important, and neither is more important than the other.

Regarding the personal line—this is where we pray to Heavenly Father and He answers us—my Christian friends do, in fact, believe in this kind of revelation. Here's what Elder Oaks said:

On this personal line of communication with the Lord, our belief and practice is similar to that of those Christians who insist that human mediators between God and man are unnecessary because all have direct access to God under the principle Martin Luther espoused that is now known as “the priesthood of all believers.”

Knowing that most (if not all) Christians indeed believe in revelation, the confusion seems to rest on the priesthood line. The Joseph Smith story is a beautiful account of the bringing back of priesthood authority, and, therefore, the priesthood line of communication (revelation). For some reason, many refuse to believe that God can speak to prophets today as he did anciently. At the same time, some religions rely heavily on the priesthood line:

In respect to this priesthood line, our belief and practice is similar to the insistence of some Christians that authoritative ordinances (sacraments) are essential and must be performed by one authorized and empowered by Jesus Christ (see John 15:16). We believe the same but of course differ with other Christians on how we trace that authority.

Despite the confusion that exists in many regarding revelation and the lines of communication that are available to all mankind, the importance of such remains great. Elder Oaks reminded that "we must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life." Without these lines of confusion, many are left like the sign shown below, barely hanging on, missing what is really important:

I'm grateful for the knowledge and understanding that were restored and are available to all through both lines of communication as part of the Restoration.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Be an Example of the Believers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be an Example of the Believers, by Mary N. Cook
First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

Last night my wife and I watched a documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of digital media in our lives, particularly the lives of students (from elementary school on up to college). Digital Nation was an interesting program that raised questions about the fallacy of multitasking with digital things (e.g. attending a college lecture while chatting on facebook and watching YouTube videos really doesn't help retain more information from any of the individual activities than doing them serially). Also in the program was the plight of youth who are addicted to video games, and the frustration that parents feel by it all.

(You can watch the full program, for free, here.)

I was reminded of the parents' feelings as I read Sister Cook's talk this morning. As I watched the show, and again this morning, I wondered why the parents allowed their young children to become addicted to gaming—which took hours out of their lives and negatively affected their grades and learning.

What could these parents do?

What can I do?

In her talk, Sister Cook quoted Brigham Young:

We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate.

We may argue that we don't play video games, use Twitter, chat endlessly, or spend countless hours online, but we can still be good examples for our children. After relating examples from the life of Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith's mother, Sister Cook remarked:

You may not be raising a prophet as Lucy was, but you are certainly raising tomorrow’s leaders, and your actions are just as tangibly linked to their faith.

In my response to a talk by President Monson from last conference (link), I shared a comparison between the For the Strength of Youth pamphlets of yesteryear and today. Similarly, Sister Cook extolled us to use the teachings of this pamphlet in our lives:

We must model that which is virtuous and lovely by our personal media choices. We must take care that the media we invite into our homes does not dull the sensitivity to the Spirit, harm relationships with our family and friends, or reveal personal priorities that are inconsistent with gospel principles. By example we can help our children understand that spending long periods of time using the Internet, social media, and cell phones; playing video games; or watching television keeps us from productive activities and valuable interactions with others.

The world and access to technologies that can bless our lives may change; however, there is comfort in knowing that we can be examples for our children as we look to the examples of others around us.

Regardless of what the future may hold, as we faithfully live our covenants, our lives will be blessed, as will the lives of those we love.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Holy Ghost and Revelation

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Holy Ghost and Revelation, by Jay E. Jensen
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

When you consider the Holy Ghost, what do you think of? In Sunday School lessons, typical answers may include:
  • He is the third member of the Godhead
  • He is a spirit; he does not have a physical body
  • He is known as the Spirit, or the Spirit of God
  • He is a testator of Christ
  • He teaches us all things
  • He testifies of all truth

I'm grateful for the many roles and duties of the Holy Ghost (read more here), but I was reminded of one of His aspects while reading Elder Jensen's talk:

The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead, and with the Father and the Son, He knows all things (see D&C 35:19; 42:17).

We are familiar with the omniscience of God, but I seem to personally only think of the Father and the Son as being all-knowing—at least at a cursory glance. Perhaps the reason I do this is because the Holy Ghost is often billed as a messenger, and we don't typically think of messengers as knowing all that the message-sender does. Despite this association, the Holy Ghost does know all things.

In addition to knowing all things and acting as a messenger, the Holy Ghost reveals truth. In his talk, Elder Jensen referred to cornerstones of the Church; I really liked this illustration:

President Gordon B. Hinckley called the Book of Mormon one of the four essential cornerstones of the Church, the others being Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the restoration of the priesthood, and of course our testimony of Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:19–21). “These four great God-given gifts,” he explained, “are the unshakable cornerstones which anchor The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the individual testimonies and convictions of its members.”

I'm grateful for the Holy Ghost and revelation. The four cornerstones of my testimony, as illustrated above, are the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's First Vision, the restoration of the Priesthood, and my testimony of Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone.

At the start of his talk, Elder Jensen spoke of the experiences that led him to follow Alma's counsel to "experiment upon the word" (see Alma 32:27-28). This experiment, nourished by faith, leads to the word growing from a seed. We're familiar with this comparison, but I enjoyed the looking back that Elder Jensen alluded to:

These words or seeds have grown into trees, indeed giant trees of testimony. The process continues with more experiments upon the word, resulting in additional trees of testimony, now a veritable forest based on revelation through and by the Holy Ghost.

We may think of the seeds growing, but it's another thing entirely to look back and see the once seedlings as strong, giant trees of testimony.

So, take your pick: nature or structure. Do you prefer the reference to trees or buildings when referencing the testimony that comes from the Holy Ghost and Revelation? It's a difficult decision, but I'm grateful for both!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cleansing the Inner Vessel

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Cleansing the Inner Vessel, by Boyd K. Packer
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I've been trying to be more healthy (and lose weight). Despite the successes I've seen, I'm still tempted to overeat or have too many desserts. It's so persistent, in fact, that when I hear others say that they're no longer tempted to indulge, I cannot believe them.

My goal of healthy living—or rather the temptation to not eat healthy things—seems closely related to the temptation to sin. There is likely a big difference in that I don't expect that Satan is tempting me to eat that cookie, whereas I do think he's all for sinning. Despite this difference, it's in the exercise of my agency (the choices I make) that makes all the difference:

The old saying “The Lord is voting for me, and Lucifer is voting against me, but it is my vote that counts” describes a doctrinal certainty that our agency is more powerful than the adversary’s will. Agency is precious. We can foolishly, blindly give it away, but it cannot be forcibly taken from us.

We all have temptations that we do or should struggle with. In his talk, President Packer spoke of life-giving powers and the full expression of love. It seems that whenever Church leaders even hint at marriage and love, many people automatically assume they're coming out with fire against homosexuality. This just isn't the case; consider the following, noting the use of the word "any":

We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness."

Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.

BYU and its honor code have entered the news stories because of something to do with a player on the basketball team. While I don't know much about athletics, I do know about the honor code. In fact, my colleagues and I discussed it at length at lunch today. There is a section on "Homosexual Behavior" in the honor code where homosexuality (same-gender attraction) is stated as strictly not being forbidden. The distinction lies in the action, as it does with every other temptation (see full honor code here).

BYU can make these regulations—regardless of how others may perceive them to be archaic—because it is a private school. Taking it up a step, the Church likewise teaches the same. In his talk, President Packer reminded that there are moral and physical laws from which we cannot escape the consequences, regardless of changing legal status:

History demonstrates over and over again that moral standards cannot be changed by battle and cannot be changed by ballot. To legalize that which is basically wrong or evil will not prevent the pain and penalties that will follow as surely as night follows day.

Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course. We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change; we will not change the moral standard. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish.

Whenever rules or commandments are discussed, there is a need to emphasize the role of Christ's Atonement in providing a way to return. I liked President Packer's comparison of repentance to a detergent: "Even ground-in stains of sin will come out."

I'm grateful for the understanding I have of agency and consequences. In big decisions (e.g. morality) and small (e.g. cookies), I can know what will happen—good or bad—based on my decisions. When I do make mistakes, there is a way back through the detergent of repentance. As with weight loss, mistakes can be overcome, but it will take some work, and the temptation may remain, but I know that with perseverance and trust in the Lord, I can overcome mistakes of the past and triumphantly march toward the future!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trust in God, Then Go and Do

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Trust in God, Then Go and Do, by Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

Politics is a dangerous playground on social media sites. I imagine that the more political reference one makes on facebook, the more that person is blocked by "friends." Nevertheless, politics—at least tearing at others' political beliefs—seems to occupy much of the current news headlines and discussions.

I thought of this as I read President Eyring's talk. Why can't we be happy with elected leaders?

After sharing examples of faith and trust from the scriptures (both good and bad), President Eyring shared examples of individuals and groups who showed Trust in God and then went and did. After these examples, two phrases stood out to me:

The Lord did not run the city, but He changed a part of it for the better.
. . .
God does not rule in nations, but He is mindful of them. He can and does place people in positions of influence who want what is best for the people and who trust in the Lord.

What I got from this is that the Lord can use us to make the world a better place. Perhaps more profound, God can use others who may not share our religion or even political affiliation to make a difference in the world.

As I considered this—particularly the latter part—I wondered if I could look at local or world leaders through a different lens; instead of seeing them through the view that cable news may portray (left or right), can we see the good in those who "want what is best for the people and who trust in the Lord"?

I want to take a step back and see my life through God's eyes to see how he can use me, or has been using me. I also want to look at local, national, and world leaders to see the many good ways that so many are making the world a better place because they "want what is best for the people and. . . trust in the Lord." As I do this, I imagine I can see the 11th and 12th Articles of Faith (link) as being more connected, and in a whole new light.