Share Goodness: Part 1

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I’m starting a new occasional feature on this site that I’m calling “Share Goodness”. This is taken from a social media campaign encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Another inspiration is one of the slogans of BYUtv: “See the good“. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we accept truth and goodness from any source: “Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” (Joseph Smith)

Rather than protesting what is bad, I believe in supporting what is good. After all, the Savior went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Instead of hearing, seeing, and saying no evil we can hear, see, and say good things. I hope to share some good things to see, hear, and read.

For the first part of this series I want to share a handful of uplifting songs, books, and visual media I’ve enjoyed recently. All are appropriate for families (at least my family), although some might be best for preteen and older. I won’t really provide reviews, I’ll just list things my family and/or I have enjoyed.

Shows

There are three I’d like to recommend with this first installment.

My family and I loved watching Random Acts on BYUtv. The show is described as: “Whimsical and heartwarming, BYUtv’s original hidden-camera show highlights the good in humanity through surprise service projects and pranks with a purpose.” If you haven’t watched it, watch it today.

The second recommendation is the show Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. The show is targeted to 8-13 year olds but is enjoyable for the whole family. I like it as much as my kids (maybe more). This is produced by Amazon and is available to view with an Amazon Prime subscription. It is also available to purchase. We haven’t watched all 3 seasons yet but really enjoyed the first.

The third recommendation is Just Add Magic, also produced by Amazon. The show is geared towards 8-13 year olds but has something for the whole family. It is available for purchase or is included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Music

I could list hundreds of songs but I’ll start with two.

“The Ground, Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria too” by Ola Gjeilo. Here’s the link on Spotify. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed it as part of Music and the Spoken Word on January 11, 2015.

Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin. Here is the Spotify link. A lovely cover by two musicians I enjoy (Peter Hollens and Malukah) is on YouTube (and is available to stream and purchase). The lyrics for the song Baba Yetu are the Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Books

I could list many good books I’ve enjoyed (although not all are appropriate for this site). I’ll start with The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling and her sister Brooke S. Passey. It’s an uplifting book full of positive messages. This one probably isn’t appropriate for (“interesting to” is probably a better term) kids younger than 10-12 but I strongly recommend the book for an interesting and unique perspective on the entertainment industry. Lindsey deals with some serious materials (her struggle with an eating disorder, for example), which is why I think it’s probably best for teenage and older individuals. I will, however, strongly encourage my children to read it (or listen to it, I have a copy of the audiobook) once they are teenagers.

Note: I did one post like this three years ago but it was focused just on sacred music. My hope is to continue posts like this where I share good (uplifting) books, songs, and visual media (movies/shows) I’ve enjoyed for years or just started enjoying. I won’t rate or rank anything I post. Most will be randomly selected and thus not posted in any particular order.

Endurance

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One hundred years ago Ernest Shackleton organized an expedition with the goal of being the first to hike across the Antarctic continent. It is said that his recruitment advertisement for the expedition read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Many people responded with enthusiasm. This was the adventure of a lifetime.

Did we hear something like that in the grand council in heaven as our Father presented the Plan of Salvation? Hazardous journey. Months of complete darkness. Danger. Safe return not guaranteed. Great honor with success. Many responded – including all of us – with great enthusiasm and shouts for joy. We knew life would present challenges but a way through those challenges and suffering was prepared for us to return home. Jesus Christ offered to save all those who were willing to be saved. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend. Revealed truths reassure us that we are enclosed in divine empathy. As Enoch witnessed, we worship a God who wept over needless human misery and wickedness (see Moses 7:28–29, 33, 37). Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh’ (Alma 7:11–12). He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering. Truly Christ ‘descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things’ (D&C 88:6).” Our journey through life can be successful and our burdens can be lifted because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Returning to the story. Many people responded to Shackleton’s call for adventure. From these applicants he selected his crew. 28 men sailed off on the ship Endurance to reach the Antarctic continent. After a stop at South Georgia Island in between southern Argentina and Antarctica, they headed to Antarctica. Only three days into the journey, the Endurance and its crew encountered large amounts of sea ice. This slowed their journey to a crawl. They worked their way carefully through the ice for 6 weeks until they could go no farther. They woke up one morning to the Endurance completely stuck in ice a thousand miles from civilization with no way to contact the outside world.

They prepared for a long winter, hoping to break free in the spring and continue on their journey. Temporary quarters were built by the ship’s carpenter on the large ice field. They spent their time working, exercising their dogs they had brought for the journey across Antarctica, fishing, and otherwise remaining busy. Shackleton worked to keep the peace and keep the men out of trouble and alive. In addition to the climate, leopard seals and injury threatened safety.

In the spring as the ice started to shift and break up; instead of offering freedom for the Endurance, it crushed the ship. Their dream of crossing the Antarctic went down with the ship. Before the ship sank, they were able to salvage much of their food and supplies and three of the life boats. “In this darkest hour, his dream now dashed, Shackleton set a new goal: to save every life. Twice the men made exhausting efforts to march to safety, hauling their lifeboats should they reach open water. But the ice proved impassable. Their only course was to camp on the ice and hope the floe beneath them drifted closer to land. They called their new home on the ice ‘Patience Camp,’ for all they could do was wait in patience. Days turned to months. Food was rationed: one pound per man per day. The crew members’ hunger was never satisfied, their clothing was always wet. But all the while, Shackleton’s every waking hour was devoted to holding his men together. After five long months on a drifting ice floe, the men detected the swell of the ocean beneath them. The ice was breaking up. When they launched their three lifeboats in search of land, the men had been trapped in the ice for 15 months, but their real struggle was just beginning.”

They struggled in their small life boats through bitter cold, snow, sleet, rain, driving, biting winds. Constantly drenched and on light rations, the men huddled together to keep warm. Still they pressed on, it was all they could do. In a daring seven day dash across the open ocean the boats made it to a small, inhospitable chunk of land called Elephant Island. That was their first time on solid ground in almost 500 days. Elephant Island was out of the way of shipping paths and offered no hope of rescue.

In order to save his men, Shackleton and five others sailed in the largest life boat towards the whaling station at South Georgia Island, 800 miles away across some of the most treacherous ocean on Earth. They sailed through cold, snow, and even a hurricane, trusting the skills of their expert navigator. If his navigation was off by just 1/2 of a degree, they would miss the island and perish at sea.

“Soaked to the bone and frost bitten, tortured by thirst, and pumping water out of the boat almost continuously so it wouldn’t sink, the men were at sea for 17 days before landing on South Georgia Island. But the life boat was too damaged to go further, and the nearest whaling station was on the opposite coast, across treacherous glaciers and mountains. Shackleton had no choice but to attempt a crossing on the uncharted island on foot [an island most thought completely impassable]. He, after all, had the 22 men on Elephant Island depending on him.

“Wearing threadbare clothing, with wood screws from the lifeboat fastened to their boot soles for traction, Shackleton [and two others] set out to march across South Georgia. With just three days’ provisions, two compasses, a rope and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice axe, the three men trudged nearly 30 miles over rugged crevasses and peaks, riskily sliding down a steep slope at one point, for they would have frozen to death at that altitude as night fell. After 36 hours of traversing the unmapped island, they arrived at Stromness whaling station, the first civilization they’d encountered in 17 months.

“Immediately after the three men arrived…a boat was sent to rescue the three crew members on the opposite side of South Georgia. Then Shackleton set out in a borrowed ship to save the 22 men on Elephant Island, but ice blocked his path again and again. Meanwhile, the men on Elephant Island assumed the worst—that Shackleton and the others had been lost at sea.

“Finally, on August 30, 1916 [more than 18 months after leaving for the Antarctic], Shackleton was able to reach Elephant Island. As he neared land, he anxiously counted the figures on the beach, exclaiming to his navigator, “They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe…Not a life lost.'” (http://main.wgbh.org/imax/shackleton/about-one.html)

Shackleton and his men endured. They were not successful in crossing the Antarctic continent as they had originally planned but through their fortitude and Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, they persevered and persisted in reaching their homes. Not a life was lost.

Do we face life with the same determination? Do we persevere through trials and adversity with fortitude? Do we face adversity with faith or do we give up and hang our heads in despair? Do we follow our church leaders who, like Shackleton, desire to save the lives of us all? Salvation is not coerced but our leaders beckon to us to follow them in paths of safety that lead to salvation and exaltation.

Enduring means that we cannot take half measures in life. Choosing to follow half the commandments is like firefighters choosing to only put out half a fire or an airplane maker choosing to build half a plane. Half a plane won’t get anyone anywhere quickly. Sometimes enduring requires hard work, sometimes it simply requires patience. We read in James: “Take, my brethren [and sisters], the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11).

In the cramped, freezing, ironically named Liberty Jail, a place of suffering that became a temple of learning to the incarcerated prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord comforted with these words: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes…. And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8).

Are we greater than Christ? He descended below the depths of our sufferings. Jesus provided the perfect example of endurance. Joseph Smith was an example of endurance. All things that we pass through shall give us experience and be for our good as we are faithful. Have patience, have hope. Be believing and carry on.

When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river because the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts we did what any reasonable person would do – we played in the quicksand. [The greatest danger with this patch of quicksand was maybe losing a shoe]. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith wavered, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. When we are called to pass through challenges and suffering it’s best to do just that – pass through them. Giving up part way through might at the time seem easier but then we’ll be stuck in the trial longer. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. As we endure we are hardened – this is not the hardening of hearts, it is the strengthening that comes from choosing the right, which strengthening provides armor against the temptations of Satan that would lead us to misery and eternal separation from God. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence and weekly willingness.

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

“And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], after ye have gotten into [the] strait and narrow path [to Christ], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

If we don’t endure to the end we cannot endure the presence of God: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (D&C 84:23-24) We are asked to endure hardships so that we might return with honor to God’s presence and endure His eternal love.

Pres. Monson stated recently: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel ‘weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We must persevere, we must endure as Shackleton and strive to lose not one life spiritually – not our own and not those for whom we hold stewardship. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things become strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to return to God and enter His eternal embrace. “And now, my beloved brethren [and sisters], I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” (Omni 1:26).

Note: Image of the frozen in Endurance ship. Image in public domain.

Honesty: The Worth of a Peso

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What is the worth of a peso? How much would one be worth to you? A peso is not worth much to most people but there is one in particular that is worth a lot to me.

When I was young my family and I visited an old Spanish mission in Arizona. There were a lot of coins in the fountain. Many of the coins were pennies, nickels, and dimes; all glittered and sparkled in the sunshine and through the water. But some of the coins were different, some were from Mexico, which was not unexpected because we no more than an hour from the Mexican border. I liked one of the pesos and took it. I remember looking at it in the car on the way home. Within the next couple days my parents discovered I had the coin and asked where I got it. I told them I had taken it from the fountain. I guess I knew what I had done was wrong because I remember hiding the coin from my parents but it also did not seem like a big deal. However, my father sat down with me and had me send the coin back to the director of the mission. Sometime later I received a letter from the director of the mission. In the letter he thanked me for my honesty in returning the coin. Within the envelope and in addition to the letter he included a few coins – including the one I returned – from around the world that had been tossed into that fountain. I was rewarded for my honesty (or at least the honesty of my parents). This was the start of my small collection of coins from around the world.

What is the worth of this coin to me? It is worth a lesson of the importance of honesty. It was a powerful lesson at the time and still is. The Lord blesses and loves those with honest hearts: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Psalm 32:2). Jesus was heartened (and still is) by those who were without guile and lies, in part because He faced so many who were full of deceit: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). This was a man to be trusted! This was a pure man. Jesus loves the pure in heart. Honesty is a building block of purity.

I love this description of the honest in heart: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The honest are like good gardeners who watch with patience until their efforts bring forth good fruit. Honest hearts are good hearts; honesty and integrity imply a lack of spiritual cardiac disease. For those who do suffer from spiritual cardiac disease, there is hope – the Lord promises a heart transplant to those who need it: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekial 36:26). Continued honesty and integrity bring the Spirit, which serves as anti-rejection medicine for this new heart.

The Lord expects His people to be honest and upright in their dealings with Him, others, and themselves. Of one group of righteous people in the Book of Mormon it is written: “And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). These were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, those whom were converted by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, rebellious and wicked youth turned righteous and powerful missionaries to the Lamanites. So righteous were these new church members that they were described as “perfectly honest…even unto the end.” They lived their lives in righteousness and holiness because they were perfectly honest.

We can similarly be perfectly honest in all we do and inspire honesty in others. Elder James E. Faust told the following story of the power of honesty:

“I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young men are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity.Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. ‘Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.’

The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and is now the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.” (Ensign, Nov. 1996).

What courage that man had to stand up to his classmates and demand their honesty! What integrity and honor! There were blessings because of this honesty – more medical students graduated in that class than previous classes had graduated. Without cheating, the students had to work harder, which meant they learned more and could do better. The world would be a much better place if more people were like that man. The pain and suffering caused by dishonesty in our world is great.

The summer after my mission I needed a summer job before I went back to BYU to resume school. I got a job as a car jockey at a dealership. I drove cars that people brought in for repairs from one lot to another and back. It was not hard work but I was out in the sweltering Arizona heat much of the day and it seemed like most of the cars needed air conditioning repairs. One car I got in was a 1980s minivan with a mattress on its side in the back, which meant I could not see out the back on the passenger side of the car. As I backed up I heard and felt a crunch. I thought, “Oh no! What did I hit?” as I pulled forward back into the parking space and got out of the car. There was a new gray Corvette with a gash in its front driver’s side wheel well. Corvettes (at least this 2001 one) have fiberglass bodies, which means the car body tore instead of denting. The minivan was not even scratched (not that it was really possible to tell anyway – it was old and a bit beat up). I thought of my options: I could go tell my boss or I could drive away and not tell anyone. The second choice was not an option so I went and found my boss. When I told him about the accident his first question was, “What color was [the Corvette]?” I said, “Gray, it wasn’t the yellow one [a fancy Z06 in for a tune-up].” “Oh, that’s good then. Thanks for letting me know.” And that was it. I went back to work driving cars around. Later that same boss went out of his way to find me as a driver for his wife’s car (a BMW) that was in for repairs because he trusted me. I am always glad I told the truth. It is always better to tell the truth, regardless of consequences.

There is an interesting scripture in the book of Moses. It reads, “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4: 3-4). The interesting thing is Satan is called “the father of all lies”; he could have been called many other things (and he can be called many things) but the Lord chose to call him the father of all lies. Satan’s self-proclaimed work is to deceive and blind men and lead them down to captivity, pawns to his will and whims. All lies come from Satan; he is their creator. Those who lie preach the devil’s gospel and spread his bad word. Those who are dishonest become Satan’s children. Is not it better to become sons and daughters of God?

Continuing on in Moses 4 we read the following (I will add some commentary in brackets):

“6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world. [Satan thought his lying to Eve would frustrate God’s plan when in fact it furthered God’s plan].
7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
8 And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
9 But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; [a lie].
11 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. [This is true].
12 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
13 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.
14 And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
15 And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?
16 And he said: I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
19 And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
20 And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;
21 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall [crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Moses 4:6-21).

Satan tried to lie to Eve. He tried to destroy God’s plan but he didn’t know that he was actually furthering God’s plan; what Satan did was without authority or permission but Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit was part of God’s plan – whether they eventually partook of it by themselves, or someone else gave it to them. In any case, when Satan realized that he was cursed for what he had done (he already was cursed but in this case he was upset he had not actually frustrated God’s plans but furthered them). Satan became very angry and has been ever since. He rages against God and all of us. He tries to cause the nations to rage furiously together, brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother, neighbor against neighbor, and people against people. I do not believe that Satan is so angry that He cannot think properly – to the contrary, he thinks very clearly – but he is angry because of what he lost and angry at us mortals on earth who have opportunities for progression he will never have. And so Satan lies and deceives and encourages dishonesty in others. He knows that when we are dishonest we are not godlike or godly. He knows the pain and suffering lies cause and so he encourages them and laughs at the suffering of others. He rejoices in our failures and sins and sorrows. God does not.

[The image at the top of the post is the coin I took from the fountain].

The Conversation of Conversion

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When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one of these outings we got to our mountain campsite late in the evening, which meant that we had to set up our tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in good working condition. While we had set up many tents, the three of us assigned that tent hadn’t set up that particular tent before. Trying to put up a tent in the dark with tent poles that didn’t quite fit together was a challenge. Because we were tired we decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right but it was up and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a typical Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing. After we settled down and were asleep, it started raining. Soon the rain was coming down in torrents. The three of us woke up as our tent collapsed around us and we found the water level in the tent rising rapidly. Apparently we got the tent with the jacuzzi. Two of us made the best of our soggy situation and had fun with the experience. The other scout in the tent wasn’t thrilled but we all survived the night – if soaked and cold.

We thought we were sufficiently prepared for the night but we were not prepared to weather a storm. Although we tried to make the best with the tent we had, we were not fully prepared.

I will turn to another experience I had as a scout, an experience with a different outcome. On another campout I was not weathering a thunderstorm at night in a collapsing tent, this time it was daytime in the desert. My scout patrol and I found ourselves with a compass and instructions directing us to a destination.

We were part of an orienteering competition. If we wanted to win, my patrol had to try and complete an orienteering course faster and more accurately than the other patrols. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the waypoints, and then end up at the destination. My patrol and I had spent many hours practicing. We prepared by practicing our pacing of distances and understanding and following compass bearings. Because of our preparation and conscientiousness during the course, our scout patrol won that competition and won every other orienteering competition we were in. We won because we prepared and stayed true to our preparation. We strove to be like the worthy warriors of Helaman’s army who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). We did not just act blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and then we acted (see D&C 9:7-8).

In the gospel and in life a key to success is firstly being prepared and then acting with integrity to the capability we have. In the end, integrity to God is what really matters. One measure of our integrity to God is the measure of our conversion. Conversion takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. Conversion comes from striving to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God.

The word conversion comes from a word meaning “to turn around”. In the gospel setting, it means turning our backs on our previous lives to turn back towards Christ. We turn back to Christ because we knew Him and accepted His plan in the grand council of Heaven. We go through a change – a change of heart, a change of direction, a change of motivation. Conversion is never a single event; it is a process. One way to look at conversion is as a life-long conversation. Conversation, incidentally, comes from the same root words as conversion. While this is not the common use of the word today, conversation means to turn about with, to keep company with, and to live with. This can bring new meaning to the phrase “converse with the Lord”. When we converse with the Lord we follow Him, we keep company with Him, and we live with Him. Conversion brings conversation with the Lord.

This reminds me of a story told about a meeting one of the apostles had with a group of ministers from other churches. During this meeting one of the ministers asked the apostle, perhaps condescendingly, “Would you give your life for Jesus?” After a brief pause, the apostle responded, “I thought that’s what I was doing.” When we are converted we give our lives to the Savior. Not just the breath of life – Jesus gives that to us – but the breadth of our lives.

As we are converted we go through a process of upconversion. The Lord takes what exists and replaces it with a higher quality version. We are upgraded from our base, natural tendencies to be more like the Savior. The apostle Paul spoke of this upconversion when he counseled the Saints to “put off concerning the former conversation [-] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God[,] is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:22-25; emphasis added).

Conversion means throwing off the old man or woman of sin and putting on a new man or woman of Christ. It is not just an inner change, it affects our interactions with others. As we are converted we take upon us a new name and a new persona that is better and brighter than what existed before. Christ made us from the dust of the earth but He wants us to shine like the sun. “From physics we learn that there are set laws that govern the conversion of matter into energy, and the conversion of energy into matter. It is through these laws that the sun and other stars convert matter into energy, thereby giving us our light. In the same way there are laws governing our conversion from a natural man or woman to a son or daughter of God[, a radiant being full of light and the hope of eternal lives].” (Ryan Tanner, personal communication).

What are these set laws that govern our conversion? They are the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures and by the living prophets: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, priesthood, service, charity, prayer, temple worthiness, endurance to the end.

If we do not strive to follow Christ we go through a process of deconversion. In the gospel this means we turn away from Christ. As we become deconverted we turn our backs on the Savior, rejecting Him and His atonement. We change from the new back to the old. Even as we turn away, the Savior reaches out to us, hoping we turn back – convert – to gaze upon His glory and have conversation with Him.

This conversation – this turning around with the Lord, this keeping company with the Lord, occurs as we repent. “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.” (D&C 112:13) We are healed spiritually as we convert. The temple is vital for this conversation and conversion to occur: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; emphasis added). If you have not gone to the temple, now is the time to obtain a recommend and go. For those with recommends, frequent attendance will bring great blessings to our lives. We will feel the Spirit of the Lord more powerfully.

As we become conversant with the Spirit, we are converted. When we are converted we are counseled to “strengthen [our] brethren [and sisters].” (Luke 22:32). This strengthening comes from the conversation of our lives and in our invitations to those around us to come unto Christ and be purified in Him.

I knew a man named Bill who was invited and then taught the gospel by friends. Bill was a contractor and an ex-Marine with a soft heart. After being taught the fundamentals of the gospel, Bill was baptized at age 50. Three weeks later he baptized his son. He quickly became immersed in the church, serving as ward executive secretary and then going to the temple to make sacred covenants a year after his baptism. Shortly after he joined the Church I overheard him talking to a ward member. He was happy to have the gospel and to be baptized but he expressed regret at having not been taught years before. Bill used to play basketball with LDS friends at the local church building. Although he was around them weekly, not once did they offer to share the gospel with him by inviting him to meet with the missionaries. Over the years Bill kept in touch with those friends but it took 20 years for them to finally offer to share the gospel with him. Although they had taught him in the conversations of the actions of their lives, they finally taught him the principles of the gospel through the conversation of missionary discussions; he rejoiced, he accepted, and he was baptized. His regret was that if his friends had simply started that conversation years ago, he would have joined the church as a younger man and been able to experience the blessings that come from it for those 20 years. He thought that perhaps if he had the church earlier he could have saved his marriage and been saved from some heartache over the years. Bill was happy to have the gospel but hurt that it took so long for that conversation and invitation to happen.

How many Bills are there in our lives – individuals just waiting for us to open our hearts and mouths in invitation? Is Bill your neighbor or good friend? Is he your co-worker or your brother? Just as we should not delay the day of our repentance, we should not delay our sharing with others the conversation of conversion.

President Monson has charged us as members of Christ’s church to participate in hastening the work of salvation. This requires us to be become conversant with others about the church and be bold in invitation.

The Lord has blessed us with a large increase in full-time missionaries. Since President Monson’s announcement that lowered the age at which missionaries could serve, we’ve had a 55% increase in the number of missionaries. What we have not yet seen is a similar increase in member referrals to missionaries. How many of us have friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) because we never extend the hand in invitation? Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has asked us to lengthen our strides and get to work by participating in the hastening of the work of salvation. “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4). The field is white when we as members do our part in preparing, teaching, and then inviting those around us to meet with the missionaries. We help the Lord of the Harvest by planting and nurturing seeds and working along side the missionaries in the field.

The prophet Zenos delivered a great allegory pertaining to the work of the Lord in the latter days.

“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said. And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire. And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil. And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit. Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.” (Jacob 5:57-62).

We are not alone in this work. “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few…. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.” (Jacob 5:70,72). The Lord is out there too; He not only directs the work, He performs it. We are called to participate with the Lord in this great work of salvation.

Another way we can hasten the work is in our own homes as we strive to raise our children in such a manner that they are firm and steadfast, abounding in good works. Preparation for full-time missionary service needs to occur in our homes. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. We can soften the shock by teaching our children to be missionaries all the time. We need to prepare our children by acting as missionaries to all those around us. Then, when they enter the mission field they will already be comfortable with the work. They will still be in over their heads but that’s where growth occurs. Just as do the rest of us, missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up. Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings happens most powerfully in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth preparing to serve missions need to know doctrine, understand the scriptures, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. As our youth are filled with “faith, hope, charity and love, [and have eyes] single to the glory of God” (D&C 4:5) they are qualified for the work. It is our responsibility to be filled with those attributes and encourage those around us to likewise be filled.

As we are converted, we will strive to participate with the prophet in rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers where in our conversations we strive to strengthen conversion – that of others and our own. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Let us be proactive so that we do not need to spend time helping others become re-active. Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence to our covenant responsibilities that come with our conversion to the gospel. As we do so, we and they can converse with our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

The prophet king Benjamin taught his people a powerful sermon. “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.” (Mosiah 5:1-5).

King Benjamin’s people experienced a mighty change of heart. They were converted and healed. Are we converted? In the words of Alma: “I ask of you…have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? And now behold…if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14,26).

As we prepare and are converted, conversing with the Lord, we should work with the Lord in rescuing those who are lost and in hastening the work of salvation. May we seek out to rescue the John Greenwoods around us or invite and teach the Bills in our lives! May we be prepared for whatever paths or storms come our way. May we be healed through our conversions and conversations with God. This I so pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Enduring with Diligence: Gospel Weekend Warriors

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When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river as the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink of water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts, we played in the quicksand. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith waned, eventually the end was around the next bend.

Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.

The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and in diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.

Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. The hardening of the endurance process is not the hardening of hearts experienced by the unrighteous. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.

Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence.

Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.

Elder Maynes said at this past General Conference, “Our ability to endure to the end in righteousness will be in direct proportion to the strength of our testimony and the depth of our conversion. When our testimonies are strong and we are truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, our choices will be inspired by the Holy Ghost, they will be Christ-centered, and they will support our desire to endure in righteousness. If our testimonies are weak and our conversion superficial, the risk is much greater that we will be enticed by the false traditions of the world to make poor choice)

The prophet Lehi had a great symbolic vision of the earth. In his vision he saw the Tree of Life, an iron rod, a great and spacious building, and many people. We read:

“And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree…. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those [in the great and spacious building] that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. [And my father Lehi] saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 8:20-29).

In this passage of scripture we learn of various groups of people. Some find the path that leads to the Tree of Life, some wander off elsewhere, some enter the gaudy and godless spacious building, some find and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life only to be ashamed and wander off; others partake of the fruit continually and heed not the mockers. From this passage we learn that it is not enough to simply partake of the blessed eternal fruit, we must continue feasting upon it – we must endure to the end of our lives. There are many opportunities and roads to become prodigal but only one path to perfection and eternal life. This eternal path requires our every effort; we must endure unto the end.

The gift given unto those who endure is great, even the greatest gift possible. Jesus said, “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). He also promised, “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:8). Again, suffering is implicit to endurance but those who endure are strengthened against and through suffering. But what is important are the promised blessings that come unto those who endure. “If thou endure it [adversities and afflictions] well, God shall exalt thee on high.” What a beautiful promise! Endurance leads to exaltation.

Some time ago I sat watching my daughters play with helium-filled balloons. As my children played with the balloons, the helium inside slowly leaked out. At first the balloons stayed up at the ceiling but then over time they lost their lift and sank to the floor. The spiritual significance of this was striking. Before I mention the spiritual, I’ll focus on the physical.

Toy balloons are usually made out of rubber or plastic or latex. All of those materials, especially when stretched thin, are porous. Being porous, balloons will leak whatever is inside based on the principles of equilibrium of pressure and diffusion. Because many balloons are filled with helium, which is the second “lightest” element, it diffuses through quickly, up to 3 times faster than normal air, because it is a small and simple atom. This means that latex balloons filled with helium will deflate quickly as the buoyant helium escapes or is replaced by air.

We, spiritually, are like helium-filled balloons. Over time we start to deflate spiritually. Remaining pumped full of spiritual helium requires effort and recharging. If we slack off in our spiritual efforts and endeavors, we will lose our lift and sink slowly down. For a time, if we are connected and tied to others, their buoyancy can keep us afloat but not indefinitely. Eventually we will sag and hang down, deflated and dejected. To counteract this spiritual diffusion and deflation we need to actively recharge with new helium. We should do some of the soul-searching Alma did and asked his people to do.

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:26-27).

I’ll repeat the key question: “If ye have experienced a change of heart…can ye feel so now?” Change once is not enough; conversion and salvation and exaltation take a lifetime of effort. We must seek daily for the Lord’s mercy and grace to free us from our sins. We must fill our lives with goodness and good acts. We must endure to the end: “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20). If we do not: “watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what [we] have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of [our] lives, [we] must perish. And now…remember and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

In order to keep our spiritual balloons inflated and buoyant, we must remember what we have learned and endure to the end. We must continually fill our spiritual balloons with new helium in order to be lifted up at the last day.

Part of enduring is heeding the words of the living prophets. What our beloved prophet has asked us to do includes:

  • Hastening the work of salvation by maximizing the blessings of the missionary surge
  • Performing our family history work and bring our own names to the temple
  • And rescuing those who have been lost

A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescuing the lost.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence and enduring in our efforts to strengthen those around us. As we do so, we and they can approach our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

Pres. Monson stated at this past General Conference: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).

It is not enough to just be a gospel “weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things becoming strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to rescue the lost and hasten the work of salvation in this area. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

In Which I Choose a Career

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Forgive me for a personal post but this is one dear to my heart and to the overall theme of this website, namely education. As I near the end of my schooling (finally!) and continuing to figure out what my career goals lie on I’ve reflected on what what led me to this point in life. Below is part of the story of this journey. I share this because it is a story of the importance of trusting God.

I was not the most socially adept individual growing up. I got along fine with nearly everyone but talking to people was never a strength. As a freshman at BYU I made progress; I continued that progress as a missionary. However, even now, many years later, I’m still only partially broken out of that shell – a place I’m content to be. What I find surprising given my past is that I happen to have a degree (nearly) that seems to be at odds with my personality and background. This is the story that explains that process.

When I was young I did not have a strong idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The earliest educational or career goal I remember is wanting to earn at least a Master’s degree (a goal I reached a number of years ago and then continued on with more school). I had some of the common childhoods desires – to be an astronaut or a pilot. I thought briefly of being a professional musician but accurately realized I didn’t really have the skill or drive to become one. I also thought about being a theoretical physicist but never seriously pursued that. I moved into a stage where I wanted to be an engineer, which was driven in part by brothers-in-law who were or were studying to be engineers. Then in high school I settled on a career in the Air Force as a pilot. I stuck with this, applying for and receiving an ROTC scholarship for college. As part of receiving the scholarship I had to pick a major before college; there was a limited list of approved majors but I settled on electrical engineering because I loved electronics, math, science, and computers. I also chose electrical engineering in part because there were other engineers in the family (brothers-in-law) but no electrical yet.

As a freshman at BYU I jumped into Air Force ROTC and my engineering classes. I loved my ROTC experiences but was not enjoying engineering much. Part of the problem was my own difficulties managing my time well (somewhat ironically, I currently teach people time management skills).

After my first semester, when I had struggled in a couple classes, I took the Christmas break to re-evaluate my career choices, including one in the Air Force. One of my engineering class grades was such that my scholarship with the Air Force was in jeopardy but separately from that I had come to the realization that I was not on the right career path. This realization came as spiritual insight as I thought and prayed. I did not know what I wanted to do instead but I started thinking of going to medical school but I wasn’t settled on anything. I went back for the next semester, resolved to give ROTC a week or two, but I did not feel right continuing with it so I gave it up. Ending my involvement in ROTC was a difficult decision because I loved it so much. Giving it up meant giving up the possibility of being a jet fighter pilot and getting to fly through the air at supersonic speeds, strapped onto a huge jet engine. I’m not a thrill-seeker but that would be really cool. stuck with electrical engineering for the rest of the semester but still did not really enjoy it. I remember thinking one night as I was in the engineering lab trying to get my homework in before the midnight deadline that I really didn’t want my entire career to revolve around computers, having limited social interaction – a perhaps somewhat unfair assessment of the work electrical engineers do. It was a surprising conclusion I came to, given my own social weaknesses.

So I ended my freshman year of college having no idea what I wanted to be. Thankfully, I had 2 years as a missionary to think more about it. Over those two years some of the edges of my social ineptitude started to rub off. When talking with and teaching people is much of what you do for 2 years, you are bound to gain a little skill at it (and in my case that skill was very little). I gained a love of teaching people during those two years. Reflecting back, I always had a love of teaching. I used to enjoy helping other students in elementary school finish their classwork after I had finished mine. Knowledge is only really good when it is shared with other people. Knowledge hoarded selfishly like shiny baubles is worthless. The good of knowledge comes by sharing it with others and hoping that they take it to new places you’ve never dreamed about.

It was during this period that I started to become interested in psychology, in understanding people and behavior. I was interested in part because I felt I was fairly clueless about people and behavior so it would be interesting to learn. I also thought about going into economics with the goal of setting up micro-loans for people around the world, to help them improve their situations. The more I thought, I realized I kept hovering around psychology and wanting to understand the brain so I registered for an introduction to psychology at BYU for after my mission.

One week into that class I knew that I wanted to study psychology. I changed my major from engineering to psychology and never looked back. What really drew me in was the brain, something that had been fascinating to me for years. I did not really know what I wanted to do with psychology but the one thing I knew I did not want to do was go into clinical psychology, to help people struggling with depression or personality disorders or other difficulties. That was the last thing I wanted to do. So naturally what do I (nearly) have a PhD in now? Clinical Psychology.

This path came about by talking with a teacher’s assistant in one of my courses. He was in BYU’s clinical psychology program, focusing specifically on neuropsychology. This meant that his specialty was going to be studying the brain and brain-behavior relationships. I realized that what I really liked in psychology had to do with understanding the brain more, particularly as it dysfunctions such as in dementias or Parkinson’s disease. While there were non-clinical paths I could have taken to do research in those areas, I liked the applied clinical side; it has direct implications and benefits in people’s lives.

So I decided on clinical neuropsychology, still really not wanting to deal with people’s depression and other psychological and psychiatric issues. This decision turned into a long path of schooling, one finally nearing its close in about 2 months. Even though I was so opposed to clinical psychology initially part of my decision to study clinical psychology was because I thought I would finally learn a bit about people and social behavior, something that has proven to be true. I knew what I would learn in clinical psychology were areas of weakness for me, which made it important to work on them. Our weaknesses cannot become strengths without effort.

Never when I was younger would I ever thought I would be where I am now with the degree that I (almost) have. I would have found the idea ridiculous. I, who was at times painfully shy and at best socially apathetic, spend nearly every day talking and working with people. Yes, I also provide psychotherapy, helping people cope with depression and anxiety and other issues, although that’s not really where my interests lie.

I share all this because this process serves a testimony of the truth of the Lord’s words to the prophet Moroni: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27; emphasis added).

Through many years of effort and excellent training, what were before chasms of weaknesses are at least smoothed out. Valleys of weaknesses have been elevated. The fact that I am doing something I never even imagined doing is evidence of God’s guidance and grace. There is still much to learn and many weaknesses to work on but the Lord has promised that our weaknesses can become our strengths, which I find encouraging.

One additional thing I’ve learned is that I’m not particularly good at knowing what is best for my life. Thankfully, I have a loving Father in Heaven who knows more and better than I do and who is willing to be patient with me when I’ve tried to walk on paths that did not lead to where I needed to go. I’m also grateful for Him letting me walk on those paths long enough to discover that for myself.

What Joseph Millett Learned About Joseph Millett

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The LDS Church created a video telling of an experience a man named Joseph Millett had in serving another in need. What struck me was not so much the service rendered as the lesson Bro. Millett learned.

A man was without flour for bread to feed his family. After trying to visit a few people to ask for flour without success, a Bro. Jones entreated the Lord in prayer. He received a simple answer – go see Joseph Millett. When he showed up at Bro. Millett’s house, Bro. Millett and his family were ready with the flour. What Joseph Millett learned was that the Lord knew he was the person who could and would help another in need. The Lord not only knew Joseph Millett, He knew Joseph Millett would help.

While watching the movie I asked myself if the Lord trusts me enough to have me answer the prayers and need of others.

For more of Joseph MIllett’s story and to read another inspiring story, read Ardis Parshall’s post about a man named George Henry Mecham.

The Currant Bush

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A new Mormon Messages video depicts one of my favorite stories – that of the currant bush as originally told by Hugh B. Brown (I’m partial to Truman Madsen’s rendition). Elder Christofferson tells his rendition of how God lovingly chastens us to help shape us into something and someone better than we would have been otherwise.

Unexpected Answers and Examples

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Sometimes the Lord answers prayers in unexpected ways. I started feeling ill last night, I felt ill this morning. I knew that today was supposed to be a busy day (with other people having to scramble around if I was not at work) so I did not feel like I should take a sick day. Instead, I prayed to feel better and to have strength to get through the day. I showed up at work and the patient I was supposed to work with did not show up (it turns out that the individual called to cancel the appointment yesterday but no one got the message). I saw this as the unexpected answer to my prayer. I wasn’t healed and I might not even have been physically strengthened in this illness, but circumstances changed that made the day bearable. Sometimes we are strengthened in our burdens and sometimes the burdens go away.

The Lord always answers our heartfelt prayers but we might miss those answers if we are not paying attention.

As an addendum on the topic of prayers – this morning I was glad to catch my oldest daughter saying her morning prayer after she caught me saying mine. This experience reminded me of a story Pres. Monson told in the October 2007 General Conference:

“We can teach the importance of prayer to our children and grandchildren both by word and by example. I share with you a lesson in teaching by example as described in a mother’s letter to me relating to prayer. ‘Dear President Monson: Sometimes I wonder if I make a difference in my children’s lives. Especially as a single mother working two jobs to make ends meet, I sometimes come home to confusion, but I never give up hope.’

“Her letter continues as she describes how she and her children were watching general conference, where I was speaking about prayer. Her son made the comment, ‘Mother, you’ve already taught us that.’ She asked, ‘What do you mean?’ Her son replied, ‘Well, you’ve taught us to pray and showed us how, but the other night I came to your room to ask something and found you on your knees praying to Heavenly Father. If He’s important to you, He’ll be important to me.’ The letter concluded, ‘I guess you never know what kind of influence you’ll be until a child observes you doing yourself what you have tried to teach him to do.'” (Monson, Three Goals to Guide You, October 2007).

We need to be mindful of God’s blessings and mindful of our examples to others. Sometimes answers and examples come when and how we least expect them.

A Move and Heavenly Father’s Plans

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My family and I just moved from Florida to North Carolina for school-related training. During the chaos of a move and the uprooting of a family, there is something that provides great stability – the Church. I don’t know how many outside the Church understand how amazing the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is. It is organized in such a way that all around the country or world, even with cultural and individual differences, congregations are the same – different people, same organization. You know exactly what to expect when going to church. There is unity in the Church.

As I drove in for the first time to the city in which I now live, I had the distinct feeling that this was where I wanted and needed to be. I had a series of interviews with different supervisors and faculty, which interviews strengthened my desire to be where I am now. After visiting a few other sites around the country, even though there was much to commend the other sites for, none of them had the same feeling of “rightness” for me as did where I am now. After all my interviews were done I submitted rankings of where I wanted to be and then waited to see where I matched (interviewees ranked sites and sites ranked interviewees and a computer algorithm figured out the best fit for everyone). I was extremely grateful but not overly surprised when I matched at my top site here in North Carolina. I was not surprised because I knew that this is where I needed to be.

Six years ago when visiting the university where I attend graduate school, I had a similar experience. As I was driving in to the city where the university is housed, I had a feeling that it was where I both wanted and needed to be. Sure enough, it’s where I ended up. There have been other times – four that are very distinct – when what I really wanted was not what the Lord wanted for me and what He knew was best for me. In those instances I have had to trust the Lord and give up on what I thought was best for what I knew was right. The Lord does not always give us what we ask for, for what we ask for is not always right even if we might feel it is good. In these times, what has been helpful for me is to review Hugh B. Brown’s story of the currant bush. The main message of his story is that sometimes the Lord cuts us down to build us up better than we would have been otherwise.

Now back to North Carolina. When looking for a place to live, we went through many options and took time to figure out where we wanted to live. We had to consider my commute time, whether or not we rented a house or an apartment, schools for the kids, rent cost, and which ward we wanted to live in. I felt drawn to the current area and ward boundaries in which we live. Maybe my draw to the ward was because we had heard that it had a lot of young families and a lot of kids but this was the ward for which I felt the most draw. Then, almost like manna from heaven, we discovered a house to rent where we wanted to be and where we felt that we needed to be.

We moved in and went to church and felt right at home. The people are friendly, the teachings are the same, and we are happy to be where we are. I don’t know why we need to be in this particular ward or even at this particular training site, but I believe the Lord needs us to be here, if only because it is what best helps my family. Are not all these feelings I’ve had just my wishful thinking? Are they not just what I want to further my career? Are these feelings of “needing” to be somewhere fanciful imaginations and, when I end up there, coincidence? No, I do not believe that they are. God has a plan for each of us. Our Father in Heaven loves us and wants us to have the most good that we can while doing the most good for others that we can. God gives us opportunities to help others; sometimes He places us in situations so that we can help others; we need to be sensitive to those situations and serve those around us.

This reminds me of an opportunity I had to help someone else. As an LDS missionary I had the opportunity to become good friends with a fellow missionary. What I did not know is that this missionary was struggling with wanting to stay on the mission – the stress of the mission and other factors (including difficulties with a companion) were becoming overwhelming. After we had become friends, this missionary confided in me that I was one of the major factors in this missionary’s decision to remain a missionary. This person and I were both in situations where we could meet and help one another. I believe the Lord directed me to my particular mission area not just for the people I could teach the gospel to but also for the opportunity to help missionaries around me. I write these not to seek accolades or to pat myself on the back, they are meant to serve as examples of the necessity of being in tune with God’s plan for us and acting to help Him with His work – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of humankind (see Moses 1:39). We need to be willing soldiers in the army of the Lord, willing to go and do the things that the Lord commands us (see 1 Ne. 3:7).