Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Until We Meet Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

As is increasingly becoming more common, I'm finishing my review of the general conference addresses mere days before the next conference. I don't know whether to be disappointed that it takes so long, or to feel great that I live in a near-perpetual general conference cloud! (probably the latter)

The end of conference is exciting because you I feel energized and ready to face life's challenges head on, filled with faith, looking to the future! I feel that way now, and I'm excited to feel the same way this weekend when we have another great conference!

Did you notice any recurring themes in the talks of the October 2011 conference? My reactions seem to contain many many references to my mission, which is a good thing; however, I'm surprised that the words "mission" and "missionary" weren't more prevalent in the talks. But you can see them in this cute word cloud of conference talks:

Do any words stand out to you?

I'm excited to see what stands out in the next conference. Please join me in watching it! (From your own house, online, though. I don't have enough candy or space for everyone in my bedroom...)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Songs They Could Not Sing

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Songs They Could Not Sing, by Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I was a new missionary when the film Titanic was released. I understand it was quite popular. I would often hear reports of the film in the interactions that missionaries have with others. More often than not (especially when Church member families invited us into their homes for dinner), we would be told, "I feel so sorry for you, elders; you have to wait to watch THE BEST MOVIE EVER!" We would then be told how many times each of the family members had seen the movie, with added acclaim going to those who had seen it the most.

Occasionally, we would talk with people who would essentially say, "You're serving the Lord during a needed time, elders; so many people are almost worshipping this popular film that portrays immorality as acceptable. I haven't seen the film myself, but from what I've heard others say, I know I don't want to ever see it."

I admit, I didn't really care about this film (or any others) because I had set my life aside in service to the Lord, beginning with the two years of full-time missionary work. But what I did care about was helping others come to Christ. And I didn't think a PG-13 film about sensational sensualized tragedy would do the trick, even if you went with a large group of friends from church to see it (which, unfortunately, we heard stories of).

My limited exposure to Titanic (speaking of the ship, the tragic event, and the film) is overshadowed heavily by the over-the-top reactions I saw as a missionary in Idaho. Because of this, I admit that I didn't fully connect with the stories and experiences shared by Elder Cook at first hearing.

That was when I heard it live, toward the end of conference, when my children were growing tired of trying to be reverent while listening to hours and hours of conference.

But now, alone in my office on a lunch break, I can feel the connection. Pain and tragedy happen more often than is portrayed on the big screen. Sometimes there are heroes available to alleviate suffering or aid in passing, who sometimes go down with the ship themselves. To paraphrase children everywhere, life's not fair. But as Elder Cook reminds:

Regardless of the trials we face in this life, the Savior's Atonement provides lifeboats for everyone. For those who think the trials they face are unfair, the Atonement covers all of the unfairness of life.

Similar to how some felt pity on me as a full-time missionary for not being able to indulge in the morally dangerous cinematic "masterpieces" of the late 90's, I feel sad for those whose lives are cut short through tragedy or "from the evil exercise of agency."

But I'm grateful for the Atonement that "will compensate for all the unfairness of life."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Privilege of Prayer

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Privilege of Prayer, by J. Devn Cornish
Of the Seventy

I taught a class of nine-yr-olds last Sunday about king Benjamin. While I'm pretty sure that the thing they'll most remember is when I sang them the words to Mosiah 2:17 put to the tune of "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain" (with a great Yee-haw! at the end), there is another part of the lesson that came to my mind as I reviewed the words of Elder Cornish: "Wouldn't it be great if God could count on you to answer someone's prayer today?"

This phrase came to my mind spontaneously as I taught about serving others. I first encountered it as I looked through a journal my eldest sister gave me for my mission. She had gone through and hand-written quotes and sayings here and there throughout the book. That's the one I remember most.

While the following quote of Elder Cornish has a very heavy self reliance tone, I'll use it as a springboard to continue the help others theme I'm trying to establish:

It is contrary to the economy of heaven for the Lord to do for us that which we can do for ourselves.

Elder Cornish said this after using the familiar example of asking for help on a test for which no preparatory work was expended. Later he said:

The Lord is much more pleased with the person who prays and then goes to work than with the person who only prays.

Okay, I get it; I shouldn't rely simply on words or even on words and faith: I need to exercise my faith while praying. Also, we need to remember that we can serve God by serving others (remember Mosiah 2:17?).

I learn from my children when they sincerely pray. My daughter is especially good at remembering anyone in need as she prays; but even more, she lives a life of gentle service. She is ready to help when her siblings are sad, even when they don't ask her for help. She is quick to share every treat with others, and seems to always be looking for ways that she can answer the prayers of those around her.

I want to be more like her!

I guess I had better do more than just pray for help to be more loving; I'll need to work on it, too!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Choose Eternal Life

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Choose Eternal Life, by Randall K. Bennett
Of the Seventy

I've been trying to play with randomness lately. I wanted to see what it looks like to allow certain variables to be randomly chosen, in a structured setting. This is my attempt at creating art by my conditions.

With formal training as an engineer, some may maintain that I'm too far on one side of some spectrum to appreciate or create art. They may be right, but here are two examples of these structured randomness art entries:

As you can tell, one deals with random distributions of dot sizes (black and white); the other keeps the circles the same size but changes colors randomly.

Where am I going with this? These things I'm trying to pass as art can be loosely seen as representations of life—my life in particular. Things happen that either are random or seem to be random (like the sizes and colors), but I choose how to arrange my life (the structured grid) and what I'll do with the results.

I know it's a stretch, but Elder Bennett's talk was so heavy on choices that I looked at my recent random fascination from another angle: from the constraints I set in place. Just like I can choose the parameters of my random "art," I can choose what I will do with seemingly random happenings in my life—as well as the predictable results, too!

Here is something applicable from what Elder Bennett taught:

In reality we have only two eternal choices, each with eternal consequences: choose to follow the Savior of the world and thus choose eternal life with our Heavenly Father or choose to follow the world and thus choose to separate ourselves from Heavenly Father eternally.

Whether or not you find beauty in my so-called random art, eternal life is beautiful.

And it's not random.

I choose eternal life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Missionaries Are a Treasure of the Church

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Missionaries Are a Treasure of the Church, by Kazuhiko Yamashita
Of the Seventy

The principle of proxy or vicarious work should be central to all Christians. Why else did Christ suffer if not as a vicarious offering for others? It is only by accepting His sacrifice that we are saved.

Similarly, temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are where faithful saints perform proxy ordinances for their deceased ancestors (like baptism, a necessary ordinance). They, too, can accept or reject the proxy "work" that has been done for them.

As I read Elder Yamashita's talk, I felt a proxy kinship with missionaries that served in Japan. I feel this connection because my wife's family has experience with Japanese missionary work: my father in law served there as a young man and then again as an adult overseeing the missionary work in Tokyo; my wife and her brother lived in Japan in middle and high school, respectively; my brother-in-law returned to the same mission as a full-time missionary for two years of dedicated service.

While they labored across an ocean, I went to the land of my forefathers... or, more specifically, my father: I went to Idaho!

While perhaps not as exotic or exciting as Japan (I imagine people don't laugh when they hear that someone served a mission in Tokyo, like they do for Idaho...), I think my mission and missionary experiences were wonderful! And I think Elder Yamashita might agree:

I am thankful that missionaries are called by the Lord, that they respond to that call, and that they are serving throughout the world. Let me say to all of you beloved returned missionaries: I am truly thankful for all your efforts. You are a treasure of this Church. And may you always continue to be missionaries and act like disciples of Christ.

Did you hear that? I'm a treasure.

And just like nature's buried treasures—potatoes—I'm now associated with Idaho!

But I do still enjoy sushi.

Monday, March 19, 2012

More Random Beauty

I recently mused on randomness with regard to beauty (link). Today I was considering trying to represent my computer-generated random artwork with paints, by hand, when I decided to play with random beauty again. Using behind-the-scenes computer coding in Excel, I generated a way to introduce colors to the ordered random structure from earlier.

Here's what I came up with when I let both the background squares' and the circles' colors be randomly chosen (color index between 0 and 56):

btw, even the color of the outline box was chosen randomly.

This is more variation than before, with so many colors and combinations—it's kind of dizzying.

But I wanted more!

Here's when I let the size of the circles vary randomly (of five size steps):

Still not satisfied, I wanted to see other shapes with the circles, namely squares and diamonds (of uniform size):

You may have anticipated what happened next, I added varying sizes, too:

I still think I prefer the black on white designs, but at least I satisfied my curiosity on an expansion of random beauty.

And I have an idea of what it might look like if a rainbow exploded.

Teaching after the Manner of the Spirit

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Teaching after the Manner of the Spirit, by Matthew O. Richardson
Second Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency

Toward the beginning of my mission, a common instructional phrase among missionaries was to "use the Spirit" as we taught, went tracting, and lived our Christ-centered missionary lives. This phrase was used so often that it lost almost all of its meaning.

Some time later, this all changed. I don't remember when it happened, or who said it, but in a missionary meeting somewhere I heard, "The Spirit—the Holy Ghost—is the third member of the Godhead. You don't use the Spirit; the Spirit uses you!"

Almost immediately the charge to "use the Spirit" disappeared and it, at least personally, was replaced with a feeling similar to what Alma shared as his glory (see Alma 29:9):

I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.

I'm sure we were trying to be instruments in the Lord's hands before the shift in phraseology, but I personally felt like a better teacher when I imagined that I was teaching "by the Spirit," and not "using" the Spirit to do what I wanted to do.

Brother Richardson reminded me of this when he taught:

Every family member, Church leader, and Church member (including the youth and children) has a responsibility to . . . teach "by the spirit." They should not teach "in front of the Spirit" or "behind the Spirit" but "by the Spirit" so the Spirit can teach the truth unrestrained.

I enjoyed the reminder of the role I have as teacher, not just in the classroom, but at home, at work, and everywhere I go. And I also liked the reminder that my children are teachers, too! They really are helping me learn to love, be sincere, and put off chores every once in a while to have great fun together!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Teachings of Jesus

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Teachings of Jesus, by Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I like Elder Oaks—although I've never met him—and I like his talks, too. Because of this fondness, I took to heart his question: "What [do] you really believe about Jesus Christ and what [are you] doing because of that belief."

For some reason, as I read the scriptures he used about Christ, my mind wandered to images of Christ I've seen over the years. I wondered which of the many interpretations of Christ is most accurate. I wondered if I would recognize Him if I saw him today. I also wondered if my favorite picture of Christ (do I even have a favorite?) is the image of I would expect Christ to look like.

Here are my favorites:

I like this one of the nativity because it conveys gentleness and love:

"His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful," by Simon Dewey

I grew up with this one on the wall of my home. I always imagined that I was the little blond boy in the back, so it feels like I was really there!

"Christ and the Children," by Frances Hook

I like this one of Christ with the children because I can picture my own children lovingly sitting on His lap:

"Perfect Love," by Del Parson

Finally, I love this one where He comes triumphant from the grave: He is Risen!

"He Lives," by Simon Dewey

Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten and Beloved Son of God. He is our Creator. He is the Light of the World. He is our Savior from sin and death. This is the most important knowledge on earth

"What think ye of Christ?"


This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Covenants, by Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

While preparing for bed the other night, I received the phone call. It wasn't quite the Bat Phone, but more like the Priesthood Phone.

Someone was in the hospital. They were in need of help. Could I help them with a priesthood blessing.

I happily agreed and delayed my bedtime by a couple of hours to participate in a covenant activity.

The person I accompanied is a friend who was a bit unsure of what to say and do with regard to the blessing, due to his personal inexperience. We discussed the proper procedure and suggested wording en route, and during final review in the hospital parking lot I did something I haven't done for a long time: I reached...

As a full-time missionary I wore a black name tag on my shirt pocket. It was always there.

Always behind the black name tag was a pocket-sized white book. This book had specific instructions and rules for missionaries, but it also had an ordinance guide at the end. As a missionary, I would routinely study the missionary handbook, along with other resources, with my companions. We did it so much, in fact, that I had the whole thing memorized!

While I sat in the car helping my friend gain confidence to exercise the priesthood, I reached for the white handbook in my empty-for-more-than-ten-years-pocket. I guess my missionary muscle memory is still there, somewhere.

Long story short, we visited a grateful ward member and did our priesthood covenant duty. And we had a good time doing it.

As I reviewed Elder Nelson's talk on covenants, I remembered this priesthood blessing story (and many other stories about covenants). Here's one paragraph that stood out to me:

The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter. Scripture declares that "ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, … and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven … [and] dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness."

I try to be a covenant keeper, and I'm grateful for the blessed and happy state of my life.

I'm even happy that the Priesthood Phone rang just at bedtime; it let's me pat myself on the back for trading sleep for covenant priesthood service!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stand in Holy Places

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Stand in Holy Places, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Think of how different things are now than they were when you were younger. Last night I caught myself feeling grateful that I grew up in the "dark ages" of limited access to instant information.

Why would I be thinking this way? I accidentally left my smart phone at work, you see, and couldn't quickly look for information on whatever entered my mind.

Life was good then. But life is good now.

But it has also evolved in interesting ways:

Also evolving at a rapid rate has been the moral compass of society. Behaviors which once were considered inappropriate and immoral are now not only tolerated but also viewed by ever so many as acceptable.

Presient Monson mentioned the lack of moral fiber in this whirlwind of "anything goes." I have a solution:

Moral Fiber cereal—it's not just for politicians!

In case you don't have access to this new line of breakfast foods, consider President Monson's advice:

As the winds of change swirl around us and the moral fiber of society continues to disintegrate before our very eyes, may we remember the Lord’s precious promise to those who trust in Him: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."

And you can be sure He will be there for you. Because His right hand isn't holding a distracting smart phone!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Importance of a Name

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Importance of a Name, by M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My three-yr-old son loves his name. At the store, someone may say, "You sure are cute," but his reply is, "No, I'm Benjamin!"

Around the house I'll ask him if he's being a big helper, and he reminds me, "No, I'm Benjamin!"

I've even heard him correct someone who called him Benjamin, replying with his full name: first, middle, and last.

He likes his name.

As we've welcomed each child into our family, my wife and I have given careful consideration to their names. Each of our children have names with specific purpose—family history, in the case of our family. They have their own names, but their names can remind them of ancestors who came before.

Elder Ballard said something similar:

Each child is a welcome addition to our family. Each has received a special name chosen by his or her parents, a name to be known by throughout his or her lifetime, distinguishing him or her from anyone else.

While each member of my family has his/her own name, we share two names: our last name, and that we take upon us the name of Christ through sacred covenants. Elder Ballard spoke about this, and it reminded me of a previous talk by President Packer (link, which Elder Ballard referred to as well). He also spoke of the length of the name of the Church:

I have thought a lot about why the Savior gave the nine-word name to His restored Church. It may seem long, but if we think of it as a descriptive overview of what the Church is, it suddenly becomes wonderfully brief, candid, and straightforward. How could any description be more direct and clear and yet expressed in such few words?

This discussion reminded me of my response to talk by Elder De Hoyos (link, I must not have any original thoughts today!) where I discussed the Book of Mormon musical's playful poke at the name of the Church. It may sound funny to some, but it's packed with meaning!

Sort of like the names we chose for our children.

I enjoyed Elder Ballard's instruction on the differences between using the terms Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So while it's true that I'm a Mormon (I even have a profile on Mormon.org), I'm not a member of the Mormon Church, but of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And if you tell my three-yr-old son that he's an adorable Mormon, he'll likely tell you that he's just "Benjamin!"

We're helping him learn the looong name of the Church; we're also preparing him to take upon himself the name of Christ. But until then, he may insist, "No, I'm Benjamin!"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love Her Mother

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Love Her Mother, by Elaine S. Dalton
Young Women General President

In case you haven't heard, let me tell you now: I love my wife! It helps that she's so amazing, funny, kind, caring, and beautiful!

I should also tell you that I love my children (I have three sons and one daughter). While I love my sons very much, I'm going to write about the girls in my life today.

I liked Sister Dalton's talk because as I reviewed it, I felt like I was doing all right. Even more, in the areas where I can improve, the improvements that came to my mind were all great fun! Here's what I mean: Sister Dalton's answer to the important question, "How can a father raise a happy, well-adjusted daughter in today's increasingly toxic world?" includes:

Love her mother. Lead your family to the temple, be guardians of virtue, and magnify your priesthood.

See what I mean? All fun things!

After reading the talk, I took a look at pictures of our family adventures over the last few months. Here are the ones that stood out the most to me with regard to loving my wife and cherishing my little girl:

I love my beautiful wife... even if she is 30 years old!

She's also quite silly

And adventurous, too (looking for alligators here)

My daughter has learned many things from her mother, including:

Respect waves, even baby waves

Appreciate beauty

Don't be afraid to have fun (even if you get all sandy)

Be gentle with God's creations

Give lots and lots of hugs

Create beautiful things

Pets are great (and maybe we'll get our own someday)

Smile in the rain

Confront challenges head-on (even super challenges)

Family is forever

I love you, Rebecca!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Book of Mormon—a Book from God

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Book of Mormon—a Book from God, by Tad R. Callister
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

If you read my last post, you may be yelling, "But politics and religion don't mix!"

What about math and religion?

In his talk about the Book of Mormon being another testament of Jesus Christ, Elder Callister used math to illustrate his point:

The Bible is one witness of Jesus Christ; the Book of Mormon is another. Why is this second witness so crucial? The following illustration may help: How many straight lines can you draw through a single point on a piece of paper? The answer is infinite. For a moment, suppose that single point represents the Bible and that hundreds of those straight lines drawn through that point represent different interpretations of the Bible and that each of those interpretations represents a different church.

What happens, however, if on that piece of paper there is a second point representing the Book of Mormon? How many straight lines could you draw between these two reference points: the Bible and the Book of Mormon? Only one. Only one interpretation of Christ’s doctrines survives the testimony of these two witnesses.

Okay, this works mathematically, but is it a valid comparison?

Here's the thing: I don't want you to believe me when I tell you that the Book of Mormon stands as another witness of Jesus Christ. Don't believe me, please.

What I do want you to do is find out for yourself. (You may have seen this one coming.) You can read the Book of Mormon, think about what you read and what its teachings inspire you to do, and then ask God if the book is true. You don't have to listen to me, your neighbor, your preacher, or what thousands say on the Internet (particularly not this handsome fellow, link).

Find out for yourself!


You'll be glad you did!