Sunday, November 1, 2009

Will I ever get it right?

Friday night, a dear friend of mine died of breast cancer.

For many years, she was my neighbor. Our children grew up together. She had three boys who matched up pretty closely in age with three of my sons. For a few years, it seemed like one of them was with one of my boys almost 24/7. We love those kids. When I go back through family pictures from that era, there are many pictures of her boys mixed in with our family pictures.

About ten or eleven years ago, her husband (the boys' father) died of cancer. The day he died is a tender memory that I hold in a special place in my heart. Her youngest (who was 9 at the time) called to tell us that his daddy had died. He called in the middle of the night and because we did not hear the phone, he had to leave a message. If I concentrate, I can still hear his little voice giving us the news.

The next morning, as soon as I heard the message, I threw on my jeans and a sweatshirt and ran to their house. I spent the morning snuggled on the couch with the family while daddy's body rested in the other room as we waited for someone to come and pick him up. I loved that little family fiercely at that moment. I vowed (in my heart) to always love those boys and their mommy. I promised (to myself and to the Lord) that I would always be there if they needed me.
A few years later, with only one son still in high school, my friend moved away from our street. We lost touch. I still saw her kids now and again. Sometimes they would drop in to visit. Sometimes we would run into them. I didn't love them any less, but because they were not close, and we didn't spend much time together, it was less convenient to stay in touch. I allowed myself to grow apart from my friend. I saw her very rarely, and we would talk on the phone once or twice a year.

When she got breast cancer, her son told me. I called her. We talked for a long time. She was determined to beat it. She told me she would not let cancer take both parents from her sons. Over the months, I would get reports once in awhile from one of her kids and then I would call. She and I would talk as if we were still neighbors. It was as if time had not passed and we were still young. We would talk about our life hopes and dreams; about our children and their lives; about life in general. But, we never really talked of death.

A little later, I had a conversation with her. She told me that her treatment was not working. She was going to try some alternative treatments that had worked for a friend, but she was not sure how they would work. She sounded less sure that she was going to survive, but still determined to do everything she could to fight. She sounded more afraid. I still did not talk to her of death.

A few months ago, I spoke to her again. She said that nothing was working. She would do no more chemo. It made her horribly ill and was not stopping the cancer. She would choose quality of life over quantity of life. It was the last time I would speak to her and we did not talk of death.

Last week, I got a call from her second son. He was on his way home on emergency leave. The Red Cross had contacted his command and asked that he be allowed to go home for a few days to say goodbye to his mom. I asked him to call me once he saw her and let me know how she was. I did not call her. I prayed for her. I thought about her. But, I did not call her or go and see her. I knew I should. I knew it was urgent. I was prompted almost daily to find out where she was and to go and see her. But, it was a very busy, hectic week at home and at work and at church and every day I found an excuse not to call. I kept saying to myself, "Next week will be less busy for me. I'll call her then. And when I do, we will talk of death. I will share with her my knowlege of what waits for her. I will try to bring her comfort and peace as she passes from this realm to the next."

Saturday I was on my way out of the grocery store after doing my weekly grocery shopping. I was rushing because we needed to leave for a baptism in less than an hour. My day was so busy and filled with activities that I had not even allowed myself to think about visiting my friend. As I drove out of the store parking lot, my cell phone rang. It was my youngest daughter telling me that my friend's youngest son was at our home. I had the instant thought, "That's great! He can give me an update on my friend so I will know when is the best time to go see her next week."

Then my daughter said, "His mama died last night."

I am ashamed. I am heart broken. I am so so so sorry. Now, I will never talk to her of death. I will not bring her peace and comfort. I will not tell her I love her and hold her hand as we speak of things to come. I missed an opportunity to serve her and serve my Father in Heaven. I filled my life with things that really didn't matter and missed out on the one thing that did. I did not listen to the promptings of the Spirit which told me over and over and over to go to her.

I am not worried about her soul. She is a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves her. I knew her heart. I saw how she loved and tried to do what was best. I know that she no longer has pain or sorrow. I know that she has peace now and is now learning much about life and God and things to come.

No, I am not worried about her soul. I am worried about mine.

I have missed so many opportunities to serve in my life. Each time it happens, I tell myself that I will not allow my life to get in the way of my spirit again, but still it happens. I'm reminded of the these lyrics (by Steven Kapp Perry):

"How could I change?
How I had tried.
How I had failed Time after time.
Needing a strength More than my own,
Leaving my faith In God, alone.

How I had prayed Seeking for peace,
How could I change?
How could I be

Born of God, born of God,
A new creation as at first.
Born of God, praising God
For the wonder of a second birth.

O Jesus, thou Son of God,
Have mercy on me!
And remember my sins no more
And may my spirit be

Born of God, born of God,
A new creation as at first.
Born of God, praising God
For the One who came to give us second birth."

I am so thankful for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for a Father in Heaven who loves me even when I am a slothful servant; who allows me to try again and again and again to change. I want to change. I want to become an instrument in the hands of my Father in Heaven. I want to be His hands and His feet and His mouth and to bring His peace to His children.

The second verse of the song goes:

"Seeing the past--How wrong I was.
Saying at last, "Thy will be done."
There was no voice, No shaking earth,
No wond'rous light At my rebirth.

Only a sigh Marking the change,
Only forgiveness Calling my name.

I want to say, "Thy will be done." And I know, with the help of my Savior, I can change. I can be born of God and be a new creature who will listen and obey. This is my prayer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pioneers

I grew up in a little one horse town in eastern Washington state. My earliest memories of Pioneer Day are of sitting in my red wagon which my father had miraculously transformed into a covered wagon with baling wire and an old white sheet. I would sit in the "covered wagon" as my pioneer clad parents would pull it behind them in the annual Pioneer Day parade around the city park. As I got older, my younger brothers and sisters and I would decorate our bicycles and ride beside the covered wagon as my parents pulled and the youngest child rode in the wagon. One year, my dad even tried harnessing our dog up to the wagon to pull it. I can’t remember now if that was successful or not.

My home ward had big Pioneer Day parties in the city park every year. The agenda never changed. We would start with the parade around the park. (I’m sure we must have appeared as a pretty rag tag group to the other townspeople in the park, but we didn’t care.) After the parade (in which EVERYONE participated) it was potluck time. Everyone’s moms brought their best potluck dishes and we ate and ate and ate. My dad was always in charge of making the home made root beer. We would finish off with a huge table of desserts and rootbeer floats made with home made root beer and ice cream.

Finally, after everyone was fat and happy and everything had been cleaned up and put away, the whole ward would head over to the city swimming pool which the ward had rented for the night. It was so exciting. I remember the smell of the pool and the coolness of the water in the hot summer air. Some of my favorite memories are riding on my dad’s shoulders as we had chicken fights with my friends and their dads. It was at a Pioneer Day swimming party that I first dove off of a diving board and a year later, closed my eyes, held my nose, gathered my courage, and jumped off the high dive.

So, why am I telling you this story? What’s the point? I have some great memories of Pioneer Day celebrations. I knew the pioneer stories that we learned in Primary and I knew the stories we’d learned in Family Home Evening, but as a child, I didn’t really know or care why we were all celebrating. I just wanted to have a good time. Have my Pioneer Day experiences changed me? Have they brought me closer to my Savior?

A few years ago, many of our youth participated in the handcart trek. Just like I used to do as a child, they dressed up in pioneer clothes. They didn’t have a parade, but they walked a long way pushing and pulling heavy handcarts up and down huge hills. Why did they do that? What’s the point? Did their experience change them? Did it bring them closer to their Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks asks the following question, "Now, after all these studies and activities, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, Therefore, what? Are these pioneer celebrations academic, merely increasing our fund of experiences and knowledge? Or will they have a profound impact on how we live our lives?"

Elder Oaks then answers his own question, "It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day. In that way, we honor their pioneering efforts, and we also reaffirm our heritage and strengthen its capacity to bless our own posterity and ‘those millions of our Heavenly Father’s children who have yet to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ We are all pioneers in doing so."

So, what are some of the great, eternal principles that the pioneers embodied and that we need to apply in our lives? There are many, but I would like to focus on three principles that pioneers represented: faith, courage, and unity. Then, we can examine how we use those principles in our lives to strengthen and bless those around us. In Mosiah 4:10, it says, "And now, if you believe all these things, see that ye do them." I’m sure Mosiah gave that counsel because it is through our actions that we show our hearts to those around us. It is through our willingness to obey the commandments of the Lord that we show Him how much we love Him. The Saviour said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

So, let’s talk about faith, courage, and unity. With faith in Christ, the Mormon pioneers did the thing that defines all pioneers. They stepped into the unknown. They had an unknown prophet. The belonged to an unknown church. They were headed to an unknown country. Besides their unwavering faith in God, they had faith in their leaders, in one another, and in themselves. They trusted and obeyed and stood courageously strong against formidable opposition. Being faithful gave the Pioneers courage to be obedient. Remember, if we keep the commandments, we are showing Jesus Christ that we love him, and John says, "Perfect love casteth out fear." (I Jn 4:18) When we are obedient, we are filled with love for the Lord and in return we are filled with love from the Lord. Moroni, chapter 7 tells us that "charity is the pure love of Christ" and that it is a gift that Heavenly Father "bestows upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ." When we are filled with His love (charity), we are not afraid to do what is right and to be examples of obedience. His perfect love does cast out fear.

The pioneers forged strong bonds that created an amazing unity within their community. (Have you ever noticed that the root word of community is unity?) We have all heard stories from church history that point out the inclusivity of the early saints. (They were not exclusive, they were inclusive.) When the saints were driven out of Missouri, many were so poor that they didn’t have wagons or teams to use to make the trip. The church members entered into a covenant that no one would be left behind regardless of financial situation. Those who had little shared with those who had none. At great sacrifice, all were moved out of Missouri. Later, when the saints were pushed out of Nauvoo and began to move west, they again included all who desired to come with them. In D&C Section 136:8, the Lord told the Saints in Winter Quarters, "Let each company bear an equal proportion....in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people."

Our Prophet, our Stake President and our Bishop have all asked us to become a united people. They have asked us to begin to create Zion in our homes, our wards, and our communities. The title Zion describes a perfectly unified community. In Moses 7:18, it gives this description of the city of Enoch. "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them." I love that description. What does it mean to be of one heart and one mind? I believe it means that we have the same ultimate goal. That goal is to return home to our Heavenly Father when this life is over. And, we don’t want to return alone. We want to bring those we love home to Heavenly Father also. When Zion is described as "there were no poor among them," I believe it refers to two kinds of poverty. Certainly in a Zion community, people are not cold or hungry. Everyone’s physical needs are taken care of so that they can focus on the "needful" things of life. In a Zion community there is also no one hungry for the Gospel of Jesus Christ because all of the members of the community love each other (one heart) and share the teachings of God with each other (one mind.).

So, how do we create a unified "Zion" society? I believe it begins in our homes. Are our homes unified? In our homes are we of "one heart and one mind"? Do we talk in our families about our long term goal to have all of us return to our Heavenly Father? Do we have discussions with our children about what that means? Does that ultimate goal influence everything that we do in our families?

In our homes, do we "dwell in righteousness"? Are we, as parents, examples of obedience? Do we model happy righteousness, or do we do what’s right, but moan and groan about it? Or, even worse, do we not even choose the right? King Mosiah tells us to "consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God." (Mosiah 2) Are our children learning through our examples that it is obedience to the commandments of the Lord that brings true happiness?

Are there any "poor among us" in our homes? I know that we are careful to take care of the temporal needs of our families. They have food to fill them, clothes to cover them, and a roof over their heads to protect them from the elements. But, are we sure that they are also filled with the spirit? Ephesians 3:17 says "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend...and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." Have we clothed our families in the "whole armor of God"? (Ephesians 6) Are they not only protected from the elements, but also from the "fiery darts of the adversary" who seeks "to lead them down to destruction"? (1 Ne 15:24)

It is my constant prayer that Joe and I will be able to raise our children in a Zion home. I’m sure that all of you that are parents pray the same prayer even if you don’t use the same words. What would change if all of the members of our families prayed for that blessing? What if all of us as sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins....What if we all prayed for unity in our families and then, with the Lord’s help, worked to become a Zion people?

The Lord gave the answer in D&C 136:11 as he was talking to the saints in Winter Quarters: "And if ye do this with a pure heart, in all faithfulness, ye shall be blessed; you shall be blessed in your flocks, and in your herds, and in your fields, and in your houses, and in your families." In 1 Ne 13:37, the Lord says, " And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end, they shall be lifted up at the last day; and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb...."

As we are able to bring unity into our families, we will become a Zion people. That unity will spread from our families to our wards and to our communities. We will be able to accomplish much good and to bring many who are searching to a knowledge of the Gospel and to the saving ordinances that lead to eternal life.

I’ll close with a final quote from Elder Oaks. He says, "We praise what the pioneers’ unselfishness and sacrifice have done for us, but that is not enough. We should also assure that these same qualities are guiding principles for each of us as we have opportunities to sacrifice for our nations, our families, our quorums, our members, and our Church."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grace vs Works

Lately, I’ve spent some time thinking about grace vs. works. I tend to be a gracer. I believe that (as stated in the 3rd Article of Faith) “…through the atonement of Christ all mankind are saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (emphasis added.)

Without the atonement of Christ (His Grace), it would not matter how many laws and ordinances we obeyed. We could not save ourselves or get ourselves back to our Heavenly Father. Paul said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:15) Nephi said “…no unclean thing can dwell with God….” (1 Ne 10:21) Since none of us are perfect (for all have sinned), we cannot be good enough to return to our Father’s presence without the blessing of repentance. Our works alone cannot get us into the Kingdom of God. Without the Grace of Christ, we sinful creatures cannot get back to our Father in Heaven.

I used to imagine that the Judgment Day would be something like this:

Heavenly Father, as Judge, would be sitting at a large desk or table. I would come up to the desk and stand before Him to be judged. He would take out a large scale (you know, the old fashioned kind that Lady Justice is always holding in pictures). He would begin to place on the scale my works. My good works on one side of the scale and my bad works on the other. I imagined that as long as my good works outweighed my bad works, I would be saved and enter into the Kingdom of God.

However, as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) I have come to see that this is not so. If I have one bad work (sin) on the bad works side of the scale, I am kept out of the Kingdom. There is no place for me. I could have done so many good works during my life that they are piled to the ceiling and the scale is completely tipped over, but if there is the tiniest sin on the other side of the scale, I am unclean and I cannot dwell with God. My good works alone cannot save me. Without the gift of repentance, without Christ’s sacrifice for me, I am lost and cut-off from the presence of God. Christ’s Grace is that He offers to me the possibility of redemption through His mercy.

But, clearly, works have something to do with our salvation. The 3rd Article of Faith states that through God’s Grace “…all mankind are saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (emphasis added) If obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel does not have the power to save me without the Atonement, how does obedience fit into the plan?

I believe that the “atonement of Christ” and “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” are mentioned together in the third Article of Faith because the former leads to the latter.

Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Once I am truly saved through the atonement of Christ (His Grace), I become a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17) and my desire is to keep Christ’s commandments as I understand them. Therefore, my works become irrevocably intertwined with my faith. As I learn more of Christ and the atonement, my love and gratitude to Him cause me to want to be like Him. And my desire to be like Him influences the things I do each day. Therefore, “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” follows my true conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that obedience draws me closer to Him and allows me to become more and more like Him in my day to day life. If I remain on this path, I will become as the people of King Benjamin who had “…no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mos 5:2) Through my obedience and the Grace of Christ, I have had a “mighty change of heart.” (Alma 5:14)

I believe that our works play a part in our salvation as they manifest the change of heart that occurs as we become new creatures through the Grace of Christ.

But (and this is a BIG but), if I focus on my works, I run the risk of losing sight of the fact that it is only by and through the “merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne 2:8) that I have become a new creature. I can easily become enamored of my own merits and quickly forget that I did not bring myself to righteousness. And, in that frame of mind, I forget my purpose. I forget that as my heart becomes more like Christ’s, my purpose is the same as His, “…to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men.” (Moses 1:39)

Being enamored of my own goodness, I may begin to count my good works, to keep a list in my head of all the good things that I do so that I can present them to the Lord at the Judgment Bar and guarantee my entrance into heaven. I may become so concerned about getting myself exalted that I forget my purpose. I forget that my job is not to save myself, Christ has already done that. My job is to help Him save others. My job is to share the joy, share the Gospel, share the good news, share my blessings with all men (and women.)

I am afraid that I could lose sight of Christ’s gift of redemption to me. I might begin to feel self important and become like one of the murmuring laborer’s in the Parable of the Laborers (Matt 20:1-16) I fear that instead of lovingly welcoming the late coming laborer’s into the vineyard, I could complain when they are given the same reward for which I have labored so long.

I do not want to be like that!

I want to focus on my Savior. I want to be good because I love Him, not in anticipation of some future reward. I want to humbly labor all my days to bring souls unto Him. I want to share great joy with souls that I help to bring into the kingdom of my Father. (D&C 18:15-16) I want to be the penitent prodigal, not the self-righteous older brother. (Luke 15:11-32)

There is a song that says this better than I can. I haven’t heard it for a long time and I can't remember who wrote it, but the words are something like this:

I want to be a window to His love

So when you look at me, you will see Him.

I want to stand so pure and clear that you won’t even know I’m here

And His love will come shining through me.

I want to be a doorway to the truth

So when you walk beyond you will find Him.

I want to stand so straight and tall that you won’t notice me at all

And through my open door He will be found.

A window to His love, A doorway to the truth

A bearer of the message He would have me share with you.

And with each passing day, I want to fade away.

‘Til only He can be seen and I’ve become a window to His love.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Broken

I have a new favorite song. (This changes fairly often.) And I just found it on youtube with a beautiful video. I think I love this song because we are all broken in one way or another and I love the line "I'm convinced that God loves broken me. Praise His name, my God loves broken things!" Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do Good

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can.

John Wesley

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sacrament

I spoke in Sacrament meeting today. My assigned topic was "The Restoration." Huh? That has to be the most broad topic possible. After lots of reading and pondering and praying, I chose to speak on the restoration of the sacrament and how taking the sacrament restores each of us. Here's the talk:

The restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed all of our lives in many ways. I could spend the rest of this meeting listing those blessings and I would run out of time long before I ran out of blessings. Today, I would like to talk about a few aspects of the restoration that have been a great blessing in my life.

One definition of the word “restoration” is “the giving back of something lost.”

Often, as I read the Book of Mormon, I wonder what a young Joseph Smith (and Oliver Cowdery or whoever was acting as scribe for him at the time) thought as each new and wonderful story and principle came forth through the translation.

For example, when Joseph translated 3rd Nephi and Joseph and Oliver learned of Christ’s visit to the Book of Mormon people, they must have been filled with joy to realize the plain and simple truths that Christ taught the people. I would imagine that their hearts were touched (as mine is) by the description in 3rd Nephi Chapter 18 of Christ teaching the Nephites the principle of the Sacrament. And, I can’t imagine their joy as Joseph translated Moroni 4 and 5 and the actual words of the Nephite sacramental prayers were revealed.

In fact, In June 1829, prior to the revelation of Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the saints used a manuscript in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery as the first known “priesthood handbook.” It contained, among other things, the sacramental prayers from Moroni chapters 4 and 5.

The Book of Mormon became the Lord’s instrument in restoring the form and words of this sacred ordinance. In this way, the Lord renews with us his ancient covenant, made first with the children of Israel, then with the apostles in the upper room the night of Christ’s betrayal, again with the apostles and disciples near the temple in Zarahemla, and finally, with us in these latter days.

There are many definitions of the word covenant, but in most scriptural cases, the word covenant is used to describe a promise that God makes on condition that the other party will faithfully serve him. There are specific covenants that are a part of the sacramental prayers as revealed through the Book of Mormon. These covenants are eternal. They are the same covenants that God has made with His people since the beginning of time.

In the sacrament prayers, we make a promise to partake of the emblems in remembrance of the body and blood of Christ. We covenant to take upon us the name of Christ. We promise to always remember Him and to keep His commandments. The Lord promises that we will have His spirit with us always.

In Exodus, chapter 19:5, just prior to the Lord’s revealing the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, he made a covenant with Israel. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people....” In Exodus 24:7-8, the covenant is completed, “And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”

When Christ came, in the meridian of time, his ultimate sacrifice for us removed the necessity of using animal sacrifice to look forward to his coming. Christ, Himself, became the “blood of the covenant.”

When Christ instituted the Sacrament in the upper room with his apostles, prior to his crucifixion, he said, using that same ancient covenant, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) As He instituted the sacrament with his apostles, Christ restored and renewed his ancient covenant with Israel. When Christ blessed the bread and wine in the Book of Mormon, he again renewed the ancient covenant. And, when the sacrament was restored in these latter days, it is that same ancient covenant that we make each week as we partake.

So, again, what is this covenant that is so important that the Lord requires that we make it each week of our lives?

Each week as we take the sacrament, we covenant

to take upon us the name of Christ

to always remember Him, and

to keep His commandments.

The Lord covenants that we will always have His spirit to be with us.

What does it mean when we covenant to take upon us the name of Christ? This phrase is found only in the prayer on the bread. Christ said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (Jn 6:35) “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:50-51)

As we eat and drink the sacrament, we indicate our total acceptance of Christ and his way of life. As we partake, we are symbolically accepting Christ and his teachings into our bodies and our hearts. When we take upon us the name of Christ, we take Him into our hearts and our bodies. We become one with Him. His desires become our desires.

Thus the next promise we make becomes very easy. After we have taken upon us the name of Christ, always remembering Him and His sacrifice for us should come naturally. He has become a part of us.

In Jeremiah 31:34-35, speaking of the last days, the Lord said, “...I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God and they shall be my people....for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

As we take the sacrament, we symbolically take the Lord into our inward parts and write Him in our hearts. When we do that, it automatically follows that we will always remember Him and as we always remember Him and His sacrifice for us, we will keep his commandments, which is the third covenant that we make when we take the sacrament.

What motivates us to keep the commandments?

In the early church, the sacrament was sometimes referred to as the Eucharist. The word Eucharist is usually translated as “thanksgiving.” I love that.

Each time we take the sacrament, we should be filled with thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for the remarkable gift of the atonement in our lives. Where would we be without it? Without the atonement of Jesus Christ, as sinful creatures with no ability to repent, we would be doomed to a life without God, now and eternally. When I think about the atonement and I am filled with gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for me, I am filled with love for Him.

John said, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19.)

Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15.)

John also said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 Jn 5:3)

I have found that when I truly take upon me the name of Christ by partaking of the sacrament and writing His name in my inward parts; when I always remember Him and His sacrifice for me, then his commandments are not grievous to me. In fact, with the Psalmist, I can say, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” (Psalms 40:8) Or with Nephi, “Behold, my soul abhorreth sin, and my heart delighteth in rightousness; and I will praise the holy name of my God.” (2 Ne 9:49.)

As we take upon us the name of Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments, the Lord promises that we will always have his spirit to be with us.

After Christ taught the sacrament to his apostles at the last supper, he said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Sprit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:15-21, 26-27)

So, as the Lord keeps his part of the covenant and blesses us with his spirit through the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost helps us to keep our part of the covenant. The Lord does not leave us alone. Through the Holy Ghost, We are able to recognize truth. We are able to remember the commandments of God. We are comforted and find peace. It is the Holy Ghost that makes it possible for us to take His name upon us, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. This is Christ’s grace to us.

The Lord gives us the opportunity to partake of the sacrament each week so that he can bless us with the Holy Ghost to always be with us. This in turn allows us, through His grace, to keep our side of the covenant. As we become “new creatures” by taking His name upon us and becoming sanctified through the Holy Ghost, we are able to always remember Him and keep His commandments.

I know, through the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that he restored the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth in these latter days. I am grateful for the restoration of the ordinance of the sacrament which allows me to weekly receive again the grace of Christ through His promise to always be with me. In this way, through His grace, I am restored each week. I am given the opportunity to take His name upon me, to always remember Him, and to keep his commandments.

I’ll close with one of my favorite scriptures from Ephesians.

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strenghthened with might by his spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19)

May we all have the Lord’s spirit to be with us to strengthen us and help us keep the covenants we make each time we take the sacrament is my prayer.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A great and terrible day

Today was a great and terrible day. It was great because Sean and Brooke and Finny came down from Huntington Beach for the day. Kyle brought Gavin and Parker over. (Whit was in class all day.) We had so much fun playing with the kids. We got out old family pictures and looked at them. That was the great part of the day.

The terrible part was that I got a call late this morning and a dear friend of our family had a stroke this morning about 9:00 a.m. She is still unconscious. We love her and her husband very much. We love her kids and grandkids. We are all praying for her full recovery, but we are also praying "Thy will be done." Sometimes that is so hard. I hope that the Lord's will is the same as mine. I want her to recover fully and be around for many many years. Heavenly Father, if it be thy will, please please bless her to wake up soon and recover fully from any damage the stroke may have caused. Bless her husband and family with peace. Help them to sleep tonight and feel thy tender lovingkindness in their lives over the next few days. Be with all of them. Comfort them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One Eternal Round

Currently, I'm re-reading The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. When my Mom was here a few days ago, she hit a hot booth at the Farmer's market and bought a bunch of them for me. If you have never read them, you've missed out. They are about the life of a small town Episcopal preacher, Father Tim Kavanaugh. They are an easy read, but filled with truth. I love them because they remind me of what is important.

I think I'd forgotten how much I love Father Tim and the way his mind works. He is constantly quoting either the Bible or early Christian writers. Here is a quote from the volume I was reading last week. It is a quote from St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic saint who lived from 1567 to 1622.

"Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually; 'The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. He is not only with me, but in me and I in Him.'"

I know it is silly of me, but I am always surprised that people 500 years ago had the same feelings about Christ that I have today. It is glorious to me when I read something written by someone so many years ago who felt the same soul-stirrings that I feel from day to day. I am reminded of Hymn #141 which was written by Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk who lived from about 1091 to 1153 (which means that this hymn was written about 900 years ago.)

Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see
And in the presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the mem'ry find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of ev'ry contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

Jesus, our only joy by thou,
As thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
And thru eternity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mary, Martha, and Me

Kerinda taught a lesson last week about following Christ. As part of her lesson, she used excerpts from the book, "Mary, Martha, and Me" by Camille Fronk. After class, she lent me the book to read. As I read, I remembered a talk I gave a couple of years ago which incorporated a few thoughts about Mary and Martha (and me). I had to search through my old sent emails to find it as my hard drive went down right after I wrote it and I lost everything in my files. But, I remembered that I had emailed it to my folks while they were on their mission. I'm going to post it here so I can find it easily next time and a hard drive mishap will not be a problem. Here it is:

Brother Johanson assigned me to speak on a talk from April Conference by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Andersen spoke of returning from his mission in 1973, and being concerned about whether he could consistently make the right choices throughout the rest of his life. At the time that he was pondering this question, he heard President Hinckley (then Elder Hinckley) give a talk in April Conference. Now, as much as I hate to admit it, I also remember hearing President Hinckley give that 1973 talk. I was a 15 year old highschool sophomore. Like most 15 year olds, I was deciding who I would become, and President Hinckley’s talk had a strong impact on me, so it immediately caught my attention when I heard Elder Andersen reference the talk in his remarks during this past conference..

In President Hinckley’s talk, he spoke of meeting a young naval officer from Asia. The officer had not been a Christian, but during training in the United States, he had learned about the Church and was baptized. He was now preparing to return to his native land.President Hinckley asked the officer: “Your people are not Christians. What will happen when you return home a Christian, and more particularly, a Mormon Christian?” The officer’s face clouded and he replied, “My family will be disappointed....As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.” President Hinckley asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?” With his dark eyes moistened by tears, the officer answered with his own question, “It’s true, isn’t it?” President Hinckley replied, “Yes, it is true.” To which the officer replied, “Then what else matters?”

Elder Andersen and I have both pondered those words: “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?” over the years. I believe that thinking about them helps me to keep a proper perspective. President Hinckley said, “When [an individual] is motivated by great and powerful convictions of truth, then he disciplines himself, not because of demands made by the Church, but because of the knowledge within his heart.” How do we become motivated by “great and powerful convictions of truth?” First, we must obtain that “conviction of truth.” We know, or we should know, that the Gospel is true. If we don’t know that yet, it’s time for us to find out.

There’s a simple process which, if followed carefully, will help us to know that the Gospel is true. The Savior said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine....” (John 7:17) “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:17) “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)So, if we love Christ and do His will, we will be happy and we will know the truthfulness of the doctrines. Doing Christ’s will requires that we know His will. If we study the scriptures, learn to know and love Jesus Christ, and live His teachings as outlined in the scriptures, we will obtain our own, personal, “great and powerful convictions of truth.” We will be able to discipline ourselves “because of the knowledge within [our] hearts.”

Once we have a testimony of Jesus Christ and His doctrines, then, thinking about those words, “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?”, will help us to focus on what is most important in our lives, because for all of us, there are things that matter. We need employment and income to provide for ourselves and those who depend on us. We need to nurture and raise our children while teaching them to become happy, well-adjusted, productive members of society. We may have other family members to care for, parents or siblings. We need to complete our obligations at school or in the community. There are many, many, many things that matter in our lives.

In Elder Anderson’s talk, he asks the question, “How do we find our way through the many things that matter?” His answer is, “We simplify and purify our perspective. Then, he gives us a tool to measure those things by. He says, “Some things are evil and must be avoided. Some things are nice. Some things are important. And some things are absolutely essential.”In our lives, we must learn what is essential. We must be certain that things that are nice or important, do not interfere with things that are essential.

I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. Christ had come to Bethany, to the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Since he was an honored guest, I am sure that Mary and Martha planned a wonderful dinner. But, at some point during the preparations, Mary was drawn away from her labors by the teachings of the Master. Luke says that Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” When Martha realized that she was the only one working and her sister was not helping, she went to Jesus and asked him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus’ loving reply was, “Martha, Martha thou art careful and troubled about many things; But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Now, I have to tell you that this story has sometimes troubled me. As a mother who has fed many, many, many people many, many, many times, I know that somebody has to cook the dinner, set the table, prepare the home, and do all of the things that Martha was lovingly doing for the Savior. All of those things matter. They are important. But, Jesus knew what Martha did not. He knew that He would only be with Mary and Martha and Lazarus for a short time. He knew that it was essential that his dear friends hear His words and learn the saving doctrines He had come to teach. So, He sweetly and tenderly taught Martha what was most needful for her at that time. The temporal concerns that she had would always be with her. Jesus would not.

The next place in the scriptures that Martha is mentioned is in John, chapter 11. Lazarus has been dead for four days. Christ is finally coming, but according to Jewish tradition, He is too late to save Lazarus. Martha is the sister who runs to Christ and says to Him (even though it appears that all hope is gone), “I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee....I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come unto the world.” Martha had found the better part. Martha listened to Christ’s instructions. She learned what was essential. The only other place we meet Martha in the scriptures is in John, chapter 12. After Christ has raised Lazarus from the dead, there is another dinner. The scriptures simply say, “Martha served.” Martha was able to continue to do the things that matter, but not at the expense of the thing that was essential. This is a difficult balance to reach in our lives, but it is essential that we allow our choices to reflect our “great and powerful convictions of truth.”

In Elder Andersen’s talk, he made an interesting statement. He said, “The cause in which we are laboring is true. We respect the beliefs of our friends and neighbors. We are all sons and daughters of God. We can learn much from other men and women of faith and goodness.”This is one of the Gospel Doctrines that I love most. The 13th Article of Faith states, “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I believe that means that we must search for truth and testimony strengthening situations wherever they are to be found.Elder James E. Faust states, “As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover.” (James E. Faust, “‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’,” Ensign, Sep 1998)

Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 135). In this manner no one need be deceived. President Faust also said, “Those who earnestly inquire, under the Spirit of God, will enjoy a companionship, not only of the Spirit, but of others who seek truth. Thomas Carlyle said, “I have always found that the honest truth of our own mind has a certain attraction for every other mind that loves truth honestly.”

A few years ago, Joe and I were asked to be the god-parents of our good friends' son who was being baptized Episcopalian. We were honored, but concerned about whether or not the Episcopalian church would consider Mormons appropriate god-parents. The Priest spoke to us before the baptism to be sure we understood the responsibilities of being a godparent. When he explained that we would have to take over the religious training of the child if anything should happen to the parents, my husband told him that we were not Episcopalian and asked if that would be a problem. The Priest asked what religion we were. When we said we were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he said. "Hey! My cousin is Mormon. He's some kind of big mucky muck in the church. He was just here from Utah doing some genealogy and we all had dinner together. Maybe you know him?" Joe and I looked at each other, thinking, "How could we know every Bishop in the church." But we said, "Maybe, what's his name?" "Boyd K. Packer." We laughed out loud and told the Priest that we didn't personally know Elder Packer, but we knew of him. And he was definitely a high mucky muck. We talked together about apostles and their calling as special witnesses of Christ. The Priest approved us as godparents and when the baptism was over, he took us around the church and showed us all the beautiful Stations of the Cross throughout the church. We had a lively doctrinal discussion about Christ and the atonement. He was a very spiritual man and we enjoyed our evening with him very much. Joe and I learned spiritual truths that evening. We learned them in a Episcopalian church. Our testimonies were strengthened and we felt the Holy Ghost testify of truth. How sad it would have been for us if we had refused the opportunity to be God-parents. Or, if we had decided that there was nothing for us to learn from someone outside our own faith.

The Savior says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). He continues, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), and “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37).We must constantly strengthen our “great and powerful convictions of truth” so that we are motivated by the “knowledge within our hearts.” Elder Faust says, “All who seek to rise above themselves must make a humble and honest inquiry to determine where truth lies: an inquiry in their hearts as well as in their minds and in their lives. May each of us consciously seek to know the truths of God and to courageously live those truths in love and thanksgiving.”“It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; … the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” ( Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540.)“Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, Brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.” (D&C 128: 22)It is true. There are many things that matter, but one thing that is needful. May we joyfully be like Mary and Martha and choose the better part. May we happily search for truth wherever it is to be found. Then, we will have the Holy Ghost as our constant companion. We will become “high yield, low maintenance Saints” (to use the words of Elder Maxwell.) We will be instruments in the Lord’s hands to accomplish His purposes.

I bear testimony of Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Savior. He is the author of truth. He knows our hearts. He loves us and wants us to be happy. He has given us the Gospel to allow us to become more like Him. He has given us the scriptures and modern-day revelation to assist us in our search for truth. He knows what matters most in our lives. He knows what is essential. If we will listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we will also know.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ill Temper

A Scottish theologian, Henry Drummond, once wrote,

"the peculiariaty of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered or 'touchy' disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics....No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to un-Christianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities; for destroying the most sacred relationships; for devastating homes; for withering up men and women; for taking the bloom of childhood; in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone....There is really no place in heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only make Heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Greatest Thing in the World, 35,36,37)

Wow! What a quote. I've noticed myself getting more short tempered with my family lately. I am not very good at asking them to do things, so I ask (timidly) once or twice and if they don't do it, I just grumble and get cross and do it myself. I don't like myself when I am cross, and when I don't like myself I get even more hard to live with. Then, because I am cross and ornery, they get cross and ornery and no one is happy. That is no way to live.

I need to make a stronger effort to ask directly for what I want and to continue to kindly (but firmly) encourage family members to do what I ask until it is done. I need to do that without getting angry or cranky.

It's not really fair that the Mom sets the emotional tone of the home, but it is true. Dad can be cranky and tired and everyone else can still be happy around him, but when Mom gets angry and hard to deal with, the whole house gets mean.

Mullings

I'm not actually certain that mullings is a word. The verb mull means "to go over extensively in the mind, ponder, to ruminate." An alternative definition of ruminate is "to chew over and over." So, I guess that is what this blog is going to be about. I'm going to blog about things that I read or hear or wonder about; things that I am pondering and chewing over in my mind. Many of these posts may not make a great amount of sense, but it helps me to internalize and understand a concept if I write about it.

I doubt that this blog will be very entertaining for anyone else, it might actually be pretty boring, but it will entertain me and I will probably find it fascinating. I mean, what is more fun than listening to yourself talk?

So, if anyone out there actually reads this, enjoy! (or not.)