A Loving Kick in the Pants

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When the Savior needs to help someone make a needed behavior change, I imagine He does it much in the same manner as Elder Holland did during the Sunday morning session of General Conference (October 2012). Elder Holland gave a talk I called at the time a loving kick in the pants.

I hold to that description. As always, Elder Holland gave a remarkable talk. He told of the Apostles after Christ’s resurrection returning to fish the solitary sea of Galilee.

Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: “Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, “We also go with thee.” John, who was one of them, writes, “They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.”

So the Apostles were out working without success when the Savior appeared on the seashore, although at first they did not recognize Him. It was not until He asked them to cast their net again into the water did they start to recognize Him. They caught many fish and came to shore to talk with the Resurrected Lord. This is where the chastisement – the loving kick in the pants – started.

Jesus asked Peter three times – “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Yea Lord, I do.” But the Savior needed to teach Peter a lesson – Peter had not fully grasped the nature of his calling as Apostle (and chief Apostle at that!).

To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

The calling of Apostle is to be a representative of Christ full-time. It is to love Christ and our Father enough to take up a cross and follow the Savior. Jesus chastised Peter for not understanding that after Christ’s resurrection Peter was not to return to fishing, he was to be a full-time fisher of men. The absence of the Savior does not mean the cessation of His work.

Even though the calling of Apostle is special, the rest of us are not off the hook from Elder Holland’s and the Savior’s loving kick in the pants.

My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.

Will we be able to answer the Savior when we stand before Him to be judged that we really do love Him, that we loved Him enough that we put Him first in our lives? Did we love Him enough to really love other people? Do we really understand the weight of the responsibility we bear when we are baptized and are confirmed and make sacred covenants to follow the Savior? Do we feel like we can stand before the Savior today with clean hands and a pure heart having done all we can to follow His commandments? If not, what changes need to be made? If not, start making the changes today. I end with Elder Holland’s testimony.

I testify from the bottom of my heart, with the intensity of my soul, to all who can hear my voice that those apostolic keys have been restored to the earth, and they are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To those who have not yet joined with us in this great final cause of Christ, we say, “Please come.” To those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well. To the youth of the Church rising up to missions and temples and marriage, we say: “Love God and remain clean from the blood and sins of this generation. You have a monumental work to do, underscored by that marvelous announcement President Thomas S. Monson made yesterday morning. Your Father in Heaven expects your loyalty and your love at every stage of your life.”

To all within the sound of my voice, the voice of Christ comes ringing down through the halls of time, asking each one of us while there is time, “Do you love me?” And for every one of us, I answer with my honor and my soul, “Yea, Lord, we do love thee.” And having set our “hand to the plough,” we will never look back until this work is finished and love of God and neighbor rules the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Those are powerful words from a loving Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ! May they inspire us to be a little better than we were yesterday, to be a little kinder, a little more loving, and a little more faithful.

Lessons from Life – Scouting

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When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one campout we got to our campsite late. We had to set up out tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in very good working condition; none of the three of us who were to sleep in it were able to put it up correctly. This was due to a number of factors – little light by which to see, tent poles that weren’t quite going together correctly, and inexperience on our part (although by that age I had put up many tents). We decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right; it held its form and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a “normal” Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing – literally. This storm quickly moved towards us. After we settled down for the night and had gone to sleep, it started raining. This was not just a light misting rain, it was a downpour. The three of us woke up with our tent collapsing around us and with the water level rising in our tent. You would be correct if you thought a pool of water does not belong inside a tent. However, ours had one. We were practically swimming in the tent in our soaked sleeping bags. Two of us (including me) loved the experience, one did not.

We survived the night only a little worse for the wear. We were not prepared for the storms that hit us. It wasn’t completely a lack of our preparation but we didn’t have the tools – a tent – that could withstand the rain.

On a different campout I had a very different experience. This time we were not weathering a thunderstorm; this time we were not setting up a not-quite-functional tent at night; this time it was daytime in the desert with nothing but a compass and some instructions. As part of an orienteering competition my scout patrol had to try and complete a course faster and more accurately than all of the other patrols if we wanted to win the competition. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the checkpoints, and then end up at the destination. I had spent a lot of time practicing orienteering. I practiced my pacing so I had a 5 foot long pace set. If there was one thing I could do well, it was orienteering. In this particular competition and every other one I did for scouting, my patrol and I did not lose; we never lost an orienteering competition. It’s not that we were better than the other scouts, we were just more conscientious about the activity. We were the best because we had prepared, we were true to our preparation, and we sought to perform our task with exactness. 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 go blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and we acted (see D&C 9:7-8). Part of this preparation involved in gathering the right tools for the job. We needed the proper tools – we needed a compass; without one we would never have succeeded.

With scouting and scout activities, sometimes I failed (like when our tent collapsed around us) but most of the time I was successful. Scouting is designed to be like that – challenging, but with some effort a scout – any scout – is able to succeed in most of the activities. Some of the physical tasks are beyond the capabilities of some boys but those tasks can be modified if needed. Scouting is about building confidence and competence. That’s how the gospel is in general. We are taught and trained; we partake of gospel milk before gospel meat. While there are set specific requirements and commandments, personal requirements are sometimes modified based on knowledge and capability: “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). The key is simply to act with all the integrity and capability you can, whether that is in setting up a scout tent or traversing an orienteering course or in your relationships with others. Integrity to God is what is important in life. Integrity takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. That is one thing I learned from scouting, that success comes only after preparation, hard work, and by using the right tools. Success comes from trying to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God; in other words, integrity with and to God.

Faith of Our Fathers: John Tanner

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One reason we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focus so much on family history is because through studying about our ancestors we increase in our feelings of kinship with them. Part of the goals of the gospel include welding generations together for all eternity. As we read about our ancestors we might find our love and appreciation for them growing. I have a great love and respect for many of my ancestors but I’d like to share part of the life of one of them who was quite conspicuous in the early days of the church.

My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Tanner joined the LDS church in 1832 under miraculous circumstances. Two Elders, Jared and Simeon Carter, were in New York preaching the gospel. John Tanner was confined largely to bed due to a terrible and painful disease he had in his left leg. He did have a wheelchair that he used to move around though. When John heard these Mormon elders were going to be in the area, he wanted to attend the meeting to put them in their place and make sure they spoke no heresy or false doctrine. He never heckled them, instead inviting them afterward to his home. After a night of discussion with the brothers Cater, John wanted to be baptized. However, because he could not walk (and had not even been able to put his foot on the floor in six months), he didn’t think he could be baptized. The elders asked if he had faith to be healed; he said he believed the Lord could heal him. Elder Jared Carter commanded him to arise and be healed. John said, “I arose, threw down my crutches, and walked the floor back and forth – back and forth, praising God, and I felt light as a feather.” Shortly later John walked to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. With that miraculous beginning in the church, John never wavered.

John was a wealthy man with a large family. In the fall of 1834 he had a dream that he was needed in Ohio. He left shortly thereafter, arriving in Kirtland in time to loan the Prophet Joseph $2000 dollars (John came to Kirtland with $10,000 in gold and silver), which was needed to stop the impending foreclosure on the farm upon which the temple was being built. He also loaned the temple committee $13,000 in merchandise (which was worth considerably more there on the frontier in Ohio); in addition, he later gave money directly for the building of the Kirtland Temple. Further, he signed a note with the Prophet Joseph for $30,000 in goods purchased in New York (meaning he was financially responsible, in part, for the loan). Just for the money he directly loaned (he forgave some of the loans and did not get any of the other money back), its estimated worth in 2009 U.S. dollars is anywhere from $500,000 to millions of dollars. The $2000 in cash he directly loaned Joseph for the mortgage of the temple lot is the equivalent of roughly $50,000 today. John loved the Prophet Joseph and the church. John invested much of his money in the Kirtland Safety Society bank in order to support it and give it better financial grounding; the bank failed (along with a lot of other banks at the time) and John, who had gone to Kirtland with many thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise, left for Missouri with a “borrowed team and one old broken down stage horse, and an old turn pike cart, a cag of powder, and $7.50 in cash.” John remained faithful. Many left the church after the Kirtland bank failed but John did not. He had participated in the glorious events of the Kirtland Temple dedication and knew and loved the Prophet Joseph. He had a testimony of the gospel and made the sacrifices he was asked to make.

Of the $2000 loaned to the Prophet Joseph, we have the following account. “At the April Conference, 1844, Father Tanner was called to take a mission to the Eastern States. Before starting he went to Nauvoo to see the Prophet, Joseph Smith, whom he met in the street. He held the Prophet’s note for $2,000 loaned in 1835 [9 years previously], to redeem the Kirtland Temple farm, and in the course of the conversation he handed the Prophet his note. The Prophet, not understanding what he meant by it, asked what he would have him do with it, and Father Tanner replied: ‘Brother Joseph you are welcome to it.’ The Prophet then laid his right hand heavily upon Father Tanner’s shoulder and said: ‘God bless you, Father Tanner, your children shall never beg bread.'” The Prophet Joseph did not live long after that experience. John was able to forgive the loan directly to the Prophet before he died.

John was a faithful follower of Christ. He gave his all to the gospel and the Church and always remained true to the faith. John in no small manner was responsible for the building of the Kirtland Temple. He also donated much to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Among his descendants were at least four apostles (including N. Eldon Tanner and Hugh B. Brown) and other church leaders. His descendants number in the tens of thousands – many of those alive are still active members of the Church. He created a legacy of faith that blesses my life and the lives of countless others every day. I hope that I can continue on with the legacy he started.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 6

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“And satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough for water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. He gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water. He turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. We, as we forsake water for a time during our fast, will become like watered gardens. These promises are more than just physical promises – they are spiritual. We will be well-watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a well-spring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” These last series of promises are all connected. The blessings of fasting and faithfulness extend beyond ourselves to bless the lives of our children. They in turn can bless our lives; they can build up the waste places. The hearts of the children will turn to the fathers. By our faithfulness, we are strengthening the foundation of many generations. We can be the one who forges a strong link between generations. We can repair the breach in the wall and rally others to our side with the words of Shakespeare: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, line 1).

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this responsibility, this need to be faithful and not be a weak link.

In that sacred and hallowed house [the temple] there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.

I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. (Keep the Chain Unbroken, Hinckley, 1999).

If we are faithful, our generations will praise us as ones who kept the faith, who restored the paths and rebuilt the breached wall.