Feb 1 2013

The Liberty of Our Souls

This week, I was in Kansas City (both the Missouri side and the Kansas side). Coming out here, I looked up and saw that the Church has a temple in Kansas City. The address brought up a location on my iPhone – I figured I was good to go. Can you see where this is going? Today, I called the Temple, making verifying the times, but ignoring the feeling of confirming the location (my iPhone already told me it knew where to go!).

I drove to the location and found … nothing. I called the Temple and was told that it was actually closer to Liberty, Missouri than Kansas City (my geography is horrible…I had no idea Liberty was nearby). She mentioned Liberty Jail as a close-ish landmark. With 15 minutes until the last session of the night, I knew I could make it. I decided to hit up Liberty Jail and see what that was like. I came out with some very strong spiritual impressions. I’ll summarize and then go into a little more depth:

  1. In trying to get to our spiritual goals, the preparation occurs way before our time to achieve the goal arrives. If we don’t prepare, we will miss the goal.
  2. We should not seek for pity during our darkest hours; God is not a God of pity.
  3. Earthly constraints cannot constrain spiritual growth.
  4. Revenge, animosity, hatred and anger are not traits we need when the world conspires against us.
  5. We can be happy with nothing

Preparation

Ok – so, my goal was to get to the temple. More specifically, my goal was to get to the temple in time for a session. My poor attention to preparation meant that my goal was missed. In this life, we have a goal of making it back to the presence of God. But like my trip to the temple, there will come a time when we pass that point of no return: no matter what occurs after, it will be too late. That is what Alma meant in chapter 42, verse 4:

 And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.

And further, the real reason that there is this point of no return (Alma 41:10-15):

 10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.

11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in thebonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.

12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?

13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.

14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

To tie this back to my trip to the temple: I didn’t really focus on where I was going. I didn’t study, I didn’t learn, I didn’t understand. When the time came for me to actually apply that knowledge, my lack of preparation bit me in the butt. When I finally did gain an understanding of where I needed to be, it was simply too late – I couldn’t magic myself to the temple, in fact the time had passed.

In our lives, if we spend it focused on wealth – at the expense of spiritual closeness with God; if we spend it focused on lustful activities – at the expense of learning how to properly love our spouse; if we spend it focused on destroying our physical bodies – at the expense of retaining a sharp mind, coupled with a healthy body. If we do these things, when we die, we lose our chance to gain the control and discipline we need. We lose the ability to be able to make decisions to bring us closer to God.

Pity

How many times has your life been in the dumps and you’ve sought for pity? I’ve done it. Joseph Smith did it. This was God’s response to Joseph (D&C 121:7-10):

7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

10 Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.

God reminded Joseph of a few important things: (1) the adversity wouldn’t last forever, (2) eventually he would be on top, (3) there were still a few positives things going on, and (4) it could be worse.

I have read this scripture so many times, but today, standing near the rebuilt jail and having been out in the biting winter of Missouri, it struck me a lot harder. I felt that I could understand where Joseph was coming from. He wanted God to ride down and smack these people around. His prayer was answered, but his request was denied. We live in a society of pity partiers. You see it on the news, you probably hear it from strangers on the streets – or even your friends: someone is having a bad day and people should feel sorry for them. People should give them things to make them feel better. God, always knowing better, doesn’t work that way. His reminder is that our perspective needs to change. We need to look forward, not down or back. We need to remember that there is always something good in our life – even if it is only our relationship with God. It can always get worse, but our response will bring about a better result in the end.

Forget feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t do it for other people – you aren’t doing them any favors. Be positive, uplifting, encouraging.

Physical Constraints & Spiritual Growth

The Sister Missionaries that were at the Liberty Jail historical site talked about Joseph’s trials during the end of 1838 and the beginning on 1839. He was jailed in 2 different jails and during this time of being physically constrained, he had some incredible spiritual growth. Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123 were provided during this time. Joseph came to understand qualities about the Priesthood that had not been revealed before. He came to understand that God does care for him. He showed immense strength of character by staying true to God.

We will find ourselves constrained in this life: it may be a lack of education, a lack of money, we may find ourselves without a spouse or without children. We may find ourselves in an undesirable career. We may have physical handicaps, mental handicaps. We may have made choices in our life that have narrowed down opportunities due to recklessness with the law. All of these constraints do not need to limit us spiritually. We can rise above them. We can go to God and find strength in him. Our salvation is not dependent on how successful we were in earning money, running a race, writing a book, or modeling clothes.

Our salvation depends on the kind of relationship we can cultivate with God. There is no force on earth that can disrupt that relationship.

Requisite Traits

Joseph was angry during this time. Can you blame him? The Missourians at that time were cruel and un-sympathetic. They were hunting and killing members of the Church. They were throwing people in jail without a legal foothold. With this attitude in place, God provided Joseph with this insight (D&C 121:41-45):

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase oflove toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presenceof God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

I love that scripture. God did not want Joseph to dwell or act in anger. In fact, if you need to reprove with sharpness, it is only because the Holy Ghost has given you the inspiration to do so. I cringe when I get on the Internet and read a story of a person that said something, acted in some way, and in general made an unwise decision. The masses descend on that person and tear them to shreds. A 16 yr. old girl once remarked that Obama should be shot. A stupid remark? Yes. But the remarks of people that were 15-20+ years older than her showed no sympathy. They showed no care or concern to correct and build up. They only cared to tear down. Our society treads on dangerous ground when we care only to destroy and not build up.

Section 123 contains a plea to the Saints to pursue justice through legal means and to bring to light that which is wrong. He did not command them to go trade nasty insults with their enemies. He did not encourage them to pick fights and bring them down.

We need more optimism. We need people that are willing to remember that no one is perfect. Failure happens. People will say, think, and do things that are unpleasant, not popular, and yes, even just plain stupid. But that doesn’t give us a right to beat them down. There was a story a few months back of a woman who made a crude gesture at a national war memorial. She put it on Facebook. It got around. People were upset. They found out where she worked. They said she shouldn’t be employed there because of that one mistake. Her employer acquiesced and fired her. What good did this do? None. It did no good. The people that were offended are still offended. It brought more hatred and anger into the world. Anger is a funny thing. It feeds and spreads quite easily. It does not build, but it does destroy. It can’t be satisfied. If you are angry, others must be made to be angry. Destruction and unhappiness follow. Like anger, happiness can also spread quite easily. It is hard to be satisfied too. If I am happy, I want others to be happy. The key difference is that happiness builds – it does not destroy.

If those people that were offended and angry let go of that offense and anger, it would have died. If they embraced happiness and forgiveness, the woman would have realized her mistake. She would have retained her job, stopping a spread of senseless destruction.

Be forgiving.

Be Cheerful

At the end of D&C 123, Joseph writes:

17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.

It would seem after sections 121 and 122, the message truly sinks in for him (I wonder if I would have really ever gotten the message…). I saw the replica of the jail. It was not comfy. I’ve felt a bit of the cold Missouri winter, it is quite cold. For Joseph to have this kind of response is simply amazing.

As I stated before, we have the power to control our relationship with God, regardless of outside forces. The better the relationship, the happier and more cheerful we can (and will) be.

We are just not meant to go through this life sad and despondent:

D&C 61:36And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you;

3 Nephi 1:13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

Matthew 9:2And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

D&C 78:18 And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.

2 Nephi 2:25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

Our life is meant to be happy. Since physical characteristics aren’t evenly distributed (my 8 yr. old daughter throws better than me), money is not even distributed (despite what the Democrats are trying to do), people live in homes of varying sizes, and more … if God wants us to be cheerful and happy, we clearly need to look elsewhere. What is that thing that will bring us happiness? As I stated before, it is that relationship with God. We can all have that relationship. Rich or poor, educated or not, strong or weak: all are given the same opportunity to build a solid, loving relationship with God.

Wrap Up

I didn’t intend to have any real spiritual epiphanies tonight. I thought I would take a quick drive to the temple, attend a session, and go home. Instead, the Lord saw fit to allow me to understand better what his servant went through so many years ago. In that short span of time, he taught me that he loves me and cares for me. He showed me a new perspective on D&C 121-123. I intend to be more cheerful, positive, and uplifting. As counseled, I intend to endure my trials well.


Dec 30 2012

New Beginnings

I haven’t written in this blog in some time. This past year found me in Kuwait and try as I could, I just got out of the habit of posting here. But, as the new year is upon, I’ve decided to make a commitment of posting here at least once a week, on Sundays.

2012 was quite the year. Having spent most of it in the Middle East, I can’t easily recollect many of the happenings here in the US, but the Middle East saw a bit of turmoil. Politically, we’ve seen our share here too. With the elections, budget debates, more recently, gun control debates, our country seems quite polarized. Throw in violent acts committed by crazies (Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook shooting) or just plain evil people (William Spengler, murdering the 2 NYC firefighters), riots across the globe for a variety of reasons, wars, rape, and other atrocities and it is a wonder that the world didn’t just implode as the Mayans incorrectly predicted.

It is easy to get down and depressed. To lose sight of how we should act and react in these situations and with those whose views differ from ours. I love the Christmas hymn “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. I think the lyrics frame what I’m writing about perfectly:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and mild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

As a Christian, I have my view on the events  unfolding in our world. I believe that things will continue to spiral and polarize. I also believe that God is still in control. We have a Savior that was born into this world and lived a life free from sin, a life which he gave as a sacrifice for us to find peace in this life and more importantly, peace after we die here.

As 2013 dawns, there will be many things that will be the same throughout this year: violence will still exist around the world; liberals and conservatives will continue to fight and remain at odds with one another; hate and fear will run freely; intolerance will rear its ugly head. But, we can choose to act and react differently. Throughout this year, we can stand for something better and engage our fellow-man peacefully. We can be more tolerant, more loving, and more accepting of the truth that we all have shortcomings and no one is perfect.

I love the new year. Even though I have list upon list of unfinished goals, it is a time that allows us to reset the clock and try again.

This year, remember that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”. He is standing ready to give us peace in this life, if we just look to him and his son, Jesus Christ.


Mar 3 2012

Why Prophets exist

In this month’s Ensign (found here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/03?lang=eng), President Uchtdorf describes the reason prophets exist:

Because Heavenly Father loves His children, He has not left them to walk through this mortal life without direction and guidance. The teachings of our Heavenly Father are not the ordinary, predictable, run-of-the-mill kind you can pick up in paperback at the local bookstore. They are the wisdom of an all-powerful, all-knowing celestial Being who loves His children. Encompassed in His words is the secret of the ages—the key to happiness in this life and in the world to come.

Growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I always took for granted that a prophet exists, exactly the same way that they did in biblical times. It wasn’t until I served a mission that I realized people exist that think that idea is luny, heretical, or just plain wishful thinking. As I’ve read the teachings of our prophets throughout the years, my testimony in their reality has increased. I know that they speak with God. Since this earthly life is a test and trial of our fidelity, it is logical that God would choose a mouth piece to guide us. If that weren’t the case, chaos would ensue. In fact, shortly after Christ’s prophets and apostles were killed off in New Testament times, chaos did ensue. The religious world was sent into turmoil. Gone was a central figure that could be trusted to bring God’s word to the masses. People saw it as an opportunity for personal gain and glory.

God’s purpose in having a prophet is simple: he has a message we need to hear. This is a message that will lead us back to him. President Uchtdorf continues:

Much of what the Lord reveals to His prophets is intended to prevent sorrow for us as individuals and as societies. When God speaks, He does so to teach, inspire, refine, and warn His children. When individuals and societies ignore their Heavenly Father’s instructions, they do so at the risk of trial, torment, and toil.

President Thomas S. Monson is our current prophet today. You can read about his teachings (which are really messages from God) here: http://www.lds.org/study/prophets-speak-today?lang=eng

I am grateful that we have a Prophet on the earth today. The world is a confusing place. Everyone seems at odds with each other. Belief systems are mocked. Some are changed to suit individuals that cry too loudly. But I know that I can look through the teachings of these men and know what God expects. My actions don’t always measure up their teachings, but they are constantly casting out words of encouragement and reminders that God loves me – that he wants me back.

I remember when I took my most recent job. I was told that I was flying out to Kuwait and would be living there. I wasn’t told too much else. I stumbled around in my preparation, I stumbled around when I got here, I still feel lost at times. Though my company wanted me to work here, very little guidance was provided – even when I asked. People didn’t have answers, they shoved me in the direction of other people without answers. It was overall a very poor initial experience. Without Prophets, life would be like that. We wouldn’t know why we are here, what our purpose is – or who to even listen to. A prophet provides that guidance.

How can you know if he speaks the truth? President Uchtdorf closes with this suggestions:

To all who wonder if such a thing can be—who might ask, “Is it possible that God speaks to us today?”—with all my heart I invite you to “come and see” (John 1:46). Read the word of God as found in the scriptures. Listen to general conference with an ear willing to hear the voice of God given through His latter-day prophets. Come, hear, and see with your heart! For if you seek “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, [God] will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4). By and through this power, I know that Jesus Christ lives and directs His Church through a living prophet, even President Thomas S. Monson.

I know that his counsel works, because I have tried it. I received a wonderful answer that President Monson is a Prophet of God. If you follow President Uchtdorf’s advice, you will too.


Feb 17 2012

Diligence

I was reading the Book of Mormon the other day and came across this scripture in the book of Jarom 1:11

 

Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the ateachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people tobdiligence; teaching the claw of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to dlook forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come eas though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.

As I read it, I tucked away the thought of being taught diligence away and didn’t think of it too much until I got to church today (In the middle east, church occurs on Fridays). I saw that diligence had an associated footnote and ran down two of the references, both in the Old Testament. They are as follows:

Joshua 22:5

But take adiligent heed to do the bcommandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to clove the Lord your God, and to dwalk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to eserve him with all your fheart and with all your soul.

Isaiah 55:2

Wherefore do ye aspend money for that which is not bread? and your blabour for that which satisfieth not? hearken cdiligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Ok…now, stay with me for a second. I’ve read these scriptures before. Many times. I’ve heard the generic definitions of the word ‘diligence’ and ‘diligent’, but today I wanted to see how the dictionary defined them. This is what I found:

persevering application : assiduous

Persevere: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement

Application: an act of putting to use

Assiduous: marked by careful unremitting attention or persistent application

The top definition is that of diligence. I then worked through the definitions of the words presented and something clicked that had never clicked before regarding diligence. Diligence is not merely acting in a consistent manner towards some goal. It involves careful attention and continues in spit of opposition and/or discouragement. Diligence then is much more than I had ever thought of before.

 

Even more, in terms of the Gospel and our diligence there, it becomes even more pronounced. If we are to be diligent, we are to have careful attention to our life. This means that every action we take will be analyzed to ensure we are on the right path. We will not be detered simply because we fail. Diligence is not a perfect state, but it is a careful exectuion of our plans.

 

Now, having this definition of diligence in mind, go back and read the three scriptures I listed. Do you see the deeper plea of the Lord as he asks us to be diligent? In Isaiah, the clarity is obvious now: careful attention to our choices will have us evaluting our choices and choosing those that will offer true satisfaction. We give more thought to our activities.

This may have always been clear to you, but for me it has been a revelation. As I move forward, working out my salvation with diligence, I now understand that it requires careful attention, not perfect consistency. The commandments have been laid out before ever since I was a young man. I understand everything that must be done and diligence, with faith in Jesus Christ, is what will allow me to partake of His salvation when my life is over.


Jan 15 2012

Being Guided by the Lord

This past Friday, I had the chance to pinch teach for Sunday School. Since we are studying the Book of Mormon, I felt like it would easy enough to kick off the 2nd lesson of the year, which covered chapters 1-7 of 1 Nephi. 

 

The first chapter ends with this incredibly important statement by Nephi:

1 Nephi 1:20 

20 But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

The rest of his writings, and really the rest of the Book of Mormon will continue to prove this point time and again. The clause that “the tender mercies of the Lord  are extended to those he has chosen” can be misleading if one simply stops there: “because of their faith” is an important aspect of this statement. The next several chapters become a template of what it means to have faith and just how literally the Lord will deliver those people. I’m getting ready to start a small series on the definition of faith, so I won’t go into here, except to note that faith is not a mere belief, it may start there, but it is carried through by action. 

In 1 Nephi 2, we read about how Nephi took his budding faith to the next level: instead of taking his dad’s word on moving out of his home city, he took the question to the Lord. Nephi states:

 1 Nephi 2:16

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

This heart-felt prayer lead Nephi to understand that the Lord had commanded Lehi. At this point, Nephi would begin on the path that would lead him towards an incredibly blessed life, while Laman and Lemuel’s refusal to pray would led them to more and more disobedience. Nephi’s first trial of faith comes in chapters 3 & 4. Here, they are asked to go and fetch the Brass plates, writings that contain the books of Moses and prophecies of prophets down to current time. Nephi responds that he will go and takes his 3 brothers. Durning the class, one of the comments regarding the back and forth between the brothers trying to get the plates shows common misconceptions regarding how we should handle important tasks: the first time they go, they leave it up to chance (casting lots) and logic – this fails; the second time they go, they hope money can solve their problem – this fails. Chance, logic, and money are no substitute for the Lord. When Nephi steps in and says he will go, he shows just how dependent on the Lord he will be:

1 Nephi 4:6

6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

This shows Nephi’s incredible faith in God. In our lives, we can have these same spiritual experiences, but a pattern is shown here and that pattern is one we must follow as well. What is that pattern?

  1. Develop a testimony in God and his prophets (Nephi did that through prayer in chapter 2)
  2. Seek to follow the commandments of God as they are given by the prophets (Again, we see this in chapter 2 and chapter 3)
  3. Rely on God (we see this in chapter 4)
  4. Learn to be led by the Spirit (this further develops in chapter 4)
  5. Be obedient in all things the Spirit commands (this also further develops in chapter 4)

If we follow this same pattern in our life, we will learn to be led by God, through his Holy Spirit. We read about this with Nephi in 1 Nephi 4:10-18. Here, Nephi sees Laban and is constrained to kill him. This is something Nephi has never done. It is not something he wants to do. He are treated to a very tender scene between him and the Lord as he learns why he must do it. His obedience at this point truly cements his faith. It will prepare him for other things he is asked to do later in his life.

In our lives, the Lord will never ask us to do something grand without making sure we have the foundation of faith on which we can do the larger tasks. If we cannot obey with the smaller day-to-day requests of the Lord, we cannot obey on his larger requests.

Nephi shows us the pattern of faith and obedience; he shows us how we can move towards being actively guided by the Lord in our life. As we follow this pattern, we will find our life blessed by having the Lord’s guiding hand in our life.


Dec 30 2011

A Disciplined Life

This post is based off a talk I gave at Church today. The UAE Stake has produced a Stake Vision that is centered around us living as disciples of Christ.

When I first got to Kuwait, I was amazed at the sheer amount of construction that was actively occuring. You can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing some new building popping up. You also are hard pressed to go anywhere where there isn’t at least one building that was abandoned during construction. It is really funny, but apparently, companies will just start building and run out of money. Clearly, they never took this advice from Christ, as found in Luke 14:28-30

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

The Joseph Smith Translation adds:

JST: …And this he said, signifying there should not any man follow him, unless he was able to continue;

Christ wants a people that are commited. Just as most sane people won’t start a building without making sure they can finish, no one should embark on a life of discipleship with Christ, without understanding the cost. What exactly is the cost? For some, it is their life. President Faust recounted a story from the Mexican Revolution durning the October 2006 conference:

During the Mexican Revolution, Rafael Monroy was the president of the small San Marcos Mexico Branch, and Vicente Morales was his first counselor. On July 17, 1915, they were apprehended by the Zapatistas. They were told they would be spared if they would give up their weapons and renounce their strange religion. Brother Monroy told his captors that he did not have any weapons and simply drew from his pocket his Bible and Book of Mormon. He said, “Gentlemen, these are the only arms I ever carry; they are the arms of truth against error.”
When no arms were found, the brethren were cruelly tortured to make them divulge where arms were hidden. But there were no arms. They were then taken under guard to the outskirts of the little town, where their captors stood them up by a large ash tree in front of a firing squad. The officer in charge offered them freedom if they would forsake their religion and join the Zapatistas, but Brother Monroy replied, “My religion is dearer to me than my life, and I cannot forsake it.”
They were then told that they were to be shot and asked if they had any request to make. Brother Rafael requested that he be permitted to pray before he was executed. There, in the presence of his executioners, he kneeled down and, in a voice that all could hear, prayed that God would bless and protect his loved ones and care for the little struggling branch that would be left without a leader. As he finished his prayer, he used the words of the Savior when He hung upon the cross and prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” With that the firing squad shot both Brother Monroy and Brother Morales.

They understood what the cost of their discipleship was. They, at some point in their life, had sat down and done a proper accounting. They had suffient faith to build their life towards Christ. Death is not necessarily the path our discipleship will take. President Faust continued:

For most of us, however, what is required is not to die for the Church but to live for it. For many, living a Christlike life every day may be even more difficult than laying down one’s life. I learned during a time of war that many men were capable of great acts of selflessness, heroism, and nobility without regard to life. But when the war was over and they came home, they could not bear up under the ordinary daily burdens of living and became enslaved by tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and debauchery, which in the end caused them to forfeit their lives.

Christ does spell out what the cost is, rather explicitly. In the same scripture block as above, he stated: (Luke 14:26,27,33)

26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Now, let me be clear: Christ is not advocating a real hatred of family members. He is stating that our inclination needs to be a course of action that pleases him over family. My wife and I were married in the LDS Temple in Houston. Her parents are not members of the Church and were not able to witness the ceremony. My wife had the determiniation that our marriage would occur in the temple, understanding what it would mean. In this respect, her actions were aimed to please Christ. I know that our marriage has been blessed because of that decision. At times I wonder if we would have survived this long had we made a different decision.

So – in becoming disciples of Christ, he said we must be willing and ready to forsake everything and we must bear our cross.

Being a disciple in this context requires great discipline. It is apt that these two words share the same Latin root, which means pupil or student. In the end, to be a disciple of Christ requires our discipline and really requires us to become students of his life and teachings. The UAE Stake vision urges us to live as his disciples in a disciplined manner. It is then fitting to talk about these parts of the stake vision in the context of living a more disciplined life, especially as the new year dawns, giving people a chance to set resolutions and goals.

What is the UAE Stake vision? Good question! Here it is:

Spiritual Goals:

  1. Study scriptures and pray daily (family and personal)
  2. Be worthy of a temple recommend and attend as often as possible
  3. Keep the Sabbath day holy
  4. Fast with real intent at least monthly
    1. Put off the natural man

    2. Live the law of chastity, avoid pornography in all forms
    3. Partake of the sacrament sincerely and worthily
    4. Demonstrate best character in home and community
    5. Express gratitude to God through service
    6. Exercise integrity through all actions

Temporal Goals:

  1. Pay a full tithe
  2. Be financially conservative (distinguish between wants and needs); avoid debt
  3. Have a cash savings at least the cost of getting you and your family back to your homeland
  4. Prepare 72-hour kit for emergencies
  5. Improve health through exercise and healthy eating

As we look at these items, we can see that they fit in Christ’s requirements. They require us to forsake certain things (money, time, food, things) and they require us to bear our cross (putting off the natural man)

It is important to note that the definition of “forsake” is to turn away from completely…in other words, there is not part of your heart that desires that thing any more. That is a pretty strong verb.

President Faust talked about what it means to bear our cross:

The disciples of Christ receive a call to not only forsake the pursuit of worldly things but to carry the cross daily. To carry the cross means to follow His commandments and to build up His Church on the earth. It also means self-mastery. As Jesus of Nazareth instructed us, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

In 3 Nephi, Christ teaches the types of things we give up by putting off the natural man: (3 Nephi 12:21-30

21 Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God;
22 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—
24 Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.
25 Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.
26 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.
27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;
28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.

I’ve come to understand that this analogy should draw our minds to Christ and his crucifixion. Christ’s life led him to that point, never deviating. If he had entertained any of the evils of the world, he would not have had the necessary faith to carry through. Our lives need to avoid the evils so that we can carry out our Christ-like lives.

In all this talk about giving things up and leading a disciplined life, you may think that it is not worth it, that there is joy to be found, or simply there is nothing to really gain from it. I’ll let these four promises speak to the error of that thinking:

3 Nephi 11:21-23:

21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.

Luke 18:28-30:

28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

2 Nephi 2:25:

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

President Faust:

What is discipleship? It is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.

In the end, as we live this disciplined life, using the UAE Stake vision as a starting point, we will grow closer to God and Christ. We will become students of Christ’s life. We will be able to one day “graduate” to the celestial kingdom because of the disciplined live we have lived. The peace and blessings we will see in our lives and in the life to come will far surpass anything we abstain from in this life. In won’t be easy, but Christ will help us throughout our life. He will strengthen us and guide us.

Let’s use this new year as a time to set our disciplined life in motion and become disciples of Christ, having taken a proper account of the cost to build such a life; knowing that with Christ we have sufficient money to build.


Dec 30 2011

Reflections on a Christmas in Kuwati

So, Christmas ended just under a week ago. True to form, I’m still listening to Christmas music. I’ll end it on January 1st. :)

I worked on Christmas. I came home to no fancy dinner. I came home to an empty house. Driving around the day before, you never would have guessed it was Christmas. The next day, a few people asked me how my Christmas was and I curtly replied, “Well, I was here.”

After saying that a few times, I was gently nudged to remember what that time of year was really about. The DFAC on base had decorations and a nice Christmas-style lunch, but you know what? None of that matters. Family doesn’t matter. Gifts don’t matter. Decorations and music aren’t important. None of that matters on Christmas. What does matter is that we take time to think about what the birth of Christ means in our life. It is CHRISTmas after all. It really then becomes (at least here) just like everyday – how often am I thinking about Christ? How often to I count myself blessed for his birth and his life? For as family and community focused religion is, our relationship with Christ is deeply personal – and ultimately, the most important relationship we can establish in this life.

In truth, if our relationship with Christ is strong, then our relationships with others will sort themselves out.

I did take time to think on Christ and give thanks for his life, but I think I can do better. The great thing is that I don’t have to wait until next year – I can practice everyday.

How was your Christmas?


Dec 23 2011

Merry Christmas!

Ah, Christmas in Kuwait. I’m finding it is a little easier to focus on the true reason of Christmas: Jesus Christ. Why is that? Without all the constant reminders, generally secular in nature, one has to realize why the celebrate this holiday. If it is for the decorations, lights, candy, and music – it becomes easy to forget the holiday here.

Though the country is Muslim, they allow people to freely worship as they choose. This means that Christmas becomes what it should: a time to remember the Savior, stripped from the festive adornment that generally accompanies this time of the year (at least in the States).

In church today, after our meeting, we watched the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional and the messages given were wonderful. (it can be watched here: http://lds.org/broadcasts/archive/christmas-devotional/2011/12?lang=eng

One of the things mentioned were new videos that the Church would be releasing, based on the life of Christ as found in the New Testament. They showed a few of the clips and I was particularly impressed by this one:

http://lds.org/bible-videos/videos/shepherds-learn-of-the-birth-of-christ?lang=eng

As I watched it, I was powerfully struck with the witness that the shepherds, with the need for tinsel and lights, celebrated the first Christmas. Those humble men sought out a baby in a manger. There was no large tree with prettily wrapped gifts. No stockings hung by a chimney. On the contrary: there was a tired mom, a worn out dad, a sleeping new born. There were animals and straw – a stable fit for an animal. In these most humble circumstances, the shepherds worshipped Christ and experienced Christmas for what it is: a time to remember that our Lord and Savior came from his throne on high to show us how to live and save us from our sins.

Where ever you are this season, you can celebrate Christ’s birth (and thus Christmas) by worshipping him through prayer, the scriptures, and a life dedicated to his example.

Have a very merry Christmas – where ever you are!


Dec 23 2011

FaceTime with God

I have taken far too long of a break from this blog. In the past 6 months, I have only posted twice. I don’t do this for anyone out there that reads it, but I do it for myself. I could just as easily put this in a journal, but the chance that someone may come across it (and people do) encourages me to try and put together something a little more cohesive. So, with the coming new year, I’ve decided to commit to a least a weekly update, on Fridays. Why Friday? Well, I’m out here in Kuwait and that is their Sabbath. It happens to be when our Church meets as well (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) so it has become my Sabbath…and what better way to spend the Sabbath than writing about Christ?

As I said, I’m in Kuwait. My profession took me here, and it was after a lot of prayer on the part of my wife and I to improve our financial situation that this opportunity arose. I had specifically been praying to be able to pay a rather large property tax that I had no idea where the money would come from. Well…the prayers were answered.

Coming out here, I was unsure what I would find in the way of Christianity, specifically regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I prayed that I’d be able to find the Church out here and again, that prayer was answered. After finding the Church, I wanted to be able to attend the Friday meetings and asked my superiors about the possibility of request certain days off. I hesitated to mention the days, but took my request to God. He answered that plea as well. I was given Friday and Saturday off.

I have a strong testimony of prayer. I know that God listens and desires to help each one of us out…something important to us will become important to him. But being out here, away from loved ones, has taught me another aspect of prayer.

I have an iPad that I use to FaceTime (Apple’s video chat application) with my family back home. A few times, I’ve tried to talk to my children and to my dismay, they are distracted and the conversation is very one sided. At times, they can’t even hear my questions. A few times, when we’ve been engaged in actual dialogue, they will act silly and the dialogue will quickly be reduced to nonsense.

This got me thinking about my relationship with my own Heavenly Father. He and I are physically separated, but we can communicate as frequently as I want. When I pray to him, am I focused? Do I take the opprotunity to really talk to him? Share my joys? My frustrations? Do I thank him for the gifts and blessings he gives me? Or is the conversation quick and rote? Do I too eagerly hit the “hang up” button and end the prayer without waiting for a response?

I beleive that the way we approach God in our prayers is a direct indication of our relationship with him. He should be the one person we want to go to all the time. The one person we should be able to tell anything to, or ask anything of. Unlike friends and family, he will never turn us away – no matter how much our life is out of order. He won’t play coy simply because we’ve been out of touch for awhile and try and teach us a lesson.

I’ve seen what God can do in my life when I turn to him with real concerns and needs. I need to more fully explore what he will do in my life when I turn to him everyday for everyday affairs, sincerely and specifically thanking him for everything I have in my life.


Oct 3 2011

Back to Baics

I love conference weekend. I always feel so renewed afterwards. This weekend, I really enjoyed the messages and felt (as always) that they were crafted for me. They seemed to call for a return to basics. The Priesthood session focused on self-reliance, remembering the lessons you learned on your mission, cultivating a strong work ethic, and being proud of your membership in the Church.

In our day, this return to basic Church doctrines is so important. Paul counseled Timothy as follows:

1 Timothy 4:1-3

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

We have these same worries now. People get so caught up in things that don’t matter that they lose focus on what does. I’ve seen this with my own associations, with people that would reject the whole gospel, because they get too entangled in relatively small hang-ups.

I felt a renewed sense of duty to more fully develop my relationship with Christ and ro be a stronger witness of my faith in him. These events help confirm my knowledge that this Church is Christ’s Church. I know that I am on His path when I follow the teachings, doctrines, and principles found therein.

I’m looking forward to Conference being posted online so I can more fully take in what was spoken.