Friday, March 9, 2018

Dross

Last night I was reading in Alma 32 and thinking about the downtrodden poor. Those who have been cast out of society, who are viewed as excessive. Unworthy. Trash. The scum left when purification has found the rest of us to be acceptable. And I thought about how I am doing, both in how I judge others I meet and what I am doing to lift others out of poverty.

Then today I came across this timely post, and I wanted to hold on to it for future reference. Here you go:

On Contempt for the Poor

Monday, December 18, 2017

Talk on Increasing Faith

Brother Carey asked me last week if I would speak on how we can increase our faith in Jesus Christ. Immediately when he mentioned the topic, I thought of the film, “Finding Faith in Christ,” which I shared so often on my mission that I had most of it memorized. In my head I could hear the actor playing Jesus turn to the Pharisees and ask, “Que cabilais in vuestros corazones?” and it made me smile.

But when I got home I decided that I would re-watch Finding Faith in Christ, and for nostalgia’s sake I watched it in Spanish. As it started I was struck during the very first scene by something that goes along with how I have been feeling about my faith lately. As the movie opens, it shows the disciples in a boat, struggling on the Sea of Galilee while the Savior sleeps. Most of us know the story—one of the 12 wakes Jesus, asking “carest thou not that we perish?” Jesus’ answer is this: he stands, calms the sea, and says, “Peace, be still.” In Spanish, it is worded, “Paz, calmaos,” which is a second-person plural command. Translated to Texan, it is something like saying, “Peace, y’all calm down.”

In the scriptures it says that he spoke to the waves, but it seemed to me that he was speaking to His disciples, and to me, telling us to stop worrying and to trust in Him more—to be still and to exercise faith, just as he exhorted the men in the boat to do after he had calmed the waters.

Most of us are here because we believe in the life, mission, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Our baptism into His church and our attendance here today manifest that we have faith in Him enough to act, to serve, and to keep coming when the whole experience of Church membership is designed to demand a lot of us. So why is it still sometimes hard to trust in Christ when times get tough, and why do we sometimes feel disconnected from Him?



This was a really timely message for me, because it is something that I have been reflecting and working on in the last couple of months, and so you will have to forgive me that this talk is really personal for me and also if I do a lot of quoting. The lawyer in me likes to appeal to precedent wherever possible, and this talk is mostly a collection of things that I needed right now.

I have been trying lately to really focus on some of my weaknesses, particularly in parenting my boys, and it is slow going. Old habits die hard, and over and over I have felt frustrated with my failures and my inability to follow through on what I know is the right way to go about things when I am in the moment. I fluctuate between determination and dejection, and it has been hard to hold on to hope that I can really change or be better than I have been in the past. Listening to a parenting book recently, I told John I couldn’t help but feel like I had already messed up our kids so much that maybe it was hopeless. And then I pile on more self-reproach because I don’t have the will or the faith to do better.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, If there is any one thing that you and I need, to help us find success and fulfillment in this world, it is faith—that dynamic, powerful, marvelous element by which, as Paul declared, the very worlds were framed. I refer not to some ethereal concept but to a practical, pragmatic, working faith—the kind of faith that moves us to get on our knees and plead with the Lord for guidance, and then, having a measure of divine confidence, get to our feet and go to work to help bring the desired results to pass. Such faith is an asset beyond compare. Such faith is, when all is said and done, our only genuine and lasting hope.

For me this hit the nail on the head as far as where my faith sometimes falters. I have got the belief in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, but because of my own self-doubt and my frustration with my weakness and folly, I don’t always feel that divine confidence that President Hinckley describes, and so I lack the hope that I really can bring my desired results to pass. My own fears and insecurities prevent me from allowing my faith to be transformational; they dim that perfect brightness of hope that the Father wants us to have.

As I thought about this, I thought of the book, “Believing Christ,” by Stephen E. Robinson, a BYU professor. I read it in college and thought I had a copy, but as it turns out I didn’t have one. But thanks to the modern miracle of Amazon Prime, 36 hours and $7 later I had a copy in my hands and I found just the passage that I had in mind and that I really needed to hear again. I think I could just read the whole book and it would be much better than my talk. I won’t do that, but I will indulge myself and share a bit of what he says.

Speaking of Christ’s ability to forgive and erase our sins, he says, “Unfortunately, there are many members of the Church who simply do not believe this. Though they claim to have testimonies of Christ and of his gospel, they reject the witness of the scriptures and of the prophets about the good news of Christ’s atonement. Often these people naively hold on to mutually contradictory propositions without even realizing the nature of the contradiction. For example, they may believe that the Church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, while at the same time refusing to accept the possibility of their own complete forgiveness and eventual exaltation in the kingdom of God. They believe IN Christ, but they do not BELIEVE Christ. HE says, ‘thought your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. I can make you pure and worthy and celestial,’ and they answer back, ‘No, you can’t. The gospel only works for other people; it won’t work for me.’
“Faith is the first principle of the gospel, but this does not mean just believing the historical claims of the gospel… The first Article of Faith specifies that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We often think that having faith in Christ means believing in his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But believing in Jesus’ identity as the Christ is only the first half of it. The other half is believing in his ability, in his power to cleanse and to save—to make unworthy sons and daughters worthy.

“Not only must we believe that he is who he says he is, we must also believe that he can do what he says he can do. We must not only believe IN Christ, we must also BELIEVE CHRIST when he says he can clean us up and make us celestial. He says that through his atoning blood, all mankind may be saved—and ‘all mankind’ must logically include you and me. So until we accept the real possibility of our own exaltation in the kingdom of God, we do not yet have faith in Christ; we do not yet believe.”

Brother Robinson goes on to describe how this concept applies in various situations—to those who feel the Atonement can’t apply to them because their sin is too bad, or because they don’t have what they deem to be a big or important role in the kingdom, or because they feel like they need to become perfect on their own before Christ can heal them and perfect them. This is so totally me! I feel like I have been so blessed and so favored of the Lord, and I am so keenly aware of my indebtedness to Him, that I almost feel badly asking Him to help me AGAIN with the same old things that I just can’t seem to fully overcome, let alone just turning them over to Him and trusting that things will work out and He can change me. But that is exactly the promise of the Atonement—that even though we can’t be perfect, Christ can lend up His perfection if we unite ourselves with Him. I love this next passage:

For example, look at Ether 3:2 in the Book of Mormon. The speaker is the brother of Jared, one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. His faith was so great that, as is recorded in this chapter, he was able to pierce the veil and see God, But look at how this good and faithful man approached God. 
“Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou are holy…and that we are unworthy before thee.” Imagine that! He was one of the great prophets of all time and he began his prayer with an apology for his weakness and his unworthiness. Certainly he was under no illusions about being perfect.

He went on to say, “Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually.” All this means that as a result of the fall of Adam, human beings are subject to the natural conditions of mortality. As long as we are in the flesh, we will have to wrestle with the flesh, with our carnal natures, and occasionally the flesh will win. Such a defect is always wrong, and we will be held accountable, but it is going to happen from time to time. We can expect this struggle to go on as long as we live. …

But this I not the most important part of what the brother of Jared has to say in Ether 3:2. The most important part comes at the end of the verse: “Nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.” 
… Notice that he says, “according to our desires,” and not strictly “according to our merits” or “according to our works” or according to any other combination some of us might expect.
What matters is that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can receive, despite our unworthiness, what we desire, what we long for—but only if it is what we really long for. So what do you want? What do you really want? In Matthew 5:6 the lord says: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” We regularly misinterpret this scripture to mean something like “Blessed are the righteous.” But that is not what it means at all. When are we hungry? When do we thirst? After Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings? No, we are hungry when we haven’t eaten; we are thirsty when we haven’t drunk, when we don’t have the object of our desire.
This beatitude refers to people like you and me who want to do what is right, who long for, who hunger and thirst after righteousness—the pure righteousness of God, the perfect righteousness and absolute innocence of the Celestial Kingdom. Blessed are they who desire with all their hearts to be righteous as Christ is righteous, to be perfect as he is perfect, who long for it and seek it, and who would give anything for it, though they do not have it. What is their reward? They shall, through the Atonement of Christ, receive it according to their fondest desires! IN the words of the beatitude, they shall be filled.

I can trust in the Savior that even when my mortal weakness has me falling into the same sins and mistakes, He can fill me up and make up for what I lack. But my fear is always that I am not doing my part to qualify for that divine grace, and that others, like my kids or the people I am called to serve, will suffer from my failings, because I just can’t measure up. In an April 2009 talk, Elder Kevin W. Pearson reminded us that as we strive to obey, faith comes as a gift from God, while giving into fear undermines that gift. He says:

Faith and fear cannot coexist. One gives way to the other. The simple fact is we all need to constantly build faith and overcome sources of destructive disbelief…

We do have a choice. We get what we focus on consistently. Because there is an opposition in all things, there are forces that erode our faith. Some of these are the result of Satan’s direct influence. But for others, we have no one but ourselves to blame. These stem from personal tendencies, attitudes and habits we can learn to change. I will refer to these influences as the ‘Six Destructive Ds.’ As I do, consider their influence on you or your children:

First is doubt. Doubt is not a principle of the gospel. It does not come from the Light of Christ or the influence of the Holy Ghost. Doubt is a negative emotion related to fear. It comes from a lack of confidence in one’s self or abilities. It is inconsistent with our divine identity as children of God.

Doubt leads to discouragement. Discouragement comes from missed expectations. Chronic discouragement leads to lower expectations, decreased effort, weakened desire, and greater difficulty feeling and following the Spirit. Discouragement and despair are the very antithesis of faith.

Discouragement leads to distraction, a lack of focus. Distraction eliminates the very focus the eye of faith requires. Discouragement and distraction are two of Satan’s most effective tools, but they are also bad habits.

Distraction leads to a lack of diligence, a reduced commitment to remain true and faithful and to carry on through despite hardship and disappointment. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, but it need not lead to doubt, discouragement, distraction, or a lack of diligence.

If not reversed, this path ultimately leads to disobedience, which undermines the very basis of faith. So often the result is disbelief, the conscious or unconscious refusal to believe.

This is so on point for me! How much more faith would I have, and how much more would I be able to accomplish if I could shift my focus away from fear and discouragement and toward obedience to Heavenly Father and hope through Jesus Christ? I don’t have to place reservations on my faith because of my imperfections. I don’t have to distance myself because I don’t measure up. And, if I need a pep talk, I can always turn to Elder Holland! I love this from last year’s general conference:
Jeffrey R. Holland https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/tomorrow-the-lord-will-do-wonders-among-you?lang=eng

First of all, if in the days ahead you … find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up to the messages you have heard this weekend, please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up. The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful semiannual gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you. Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined in general conference are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve, he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.
..
Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.”7 He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek.

As we celebrate Christ’s birth and life and prepare to enter into a new year, I am challenging myself, and would like to challenge each of you, to let go of doubt and discouragement and to not be afraid to ask Heavenly Father what He would have us work on in our lives, or afraid to accept a challenge or a calling with patience and faith. We can give those things over to the Savior, and then the Holy Ghost can teach us how we can do our part. We can forgive ourselves when, inevitably, we don’t measure up perfectly, because the Savior, who is perfect, can magnify us through His infinite perfection if we exercise our faith. As President Hinckley said:

The challenge which faces every member of this Church is to take the next step, to accept that responsibility to which he is called, even though he does not feel equal to it, and to do so in faith with the full expectation that the Lord will light the way before him.
I’d like to conclude by joining my petition with President Hinckley’s:
Father, increase our faith. Of all our needs, I think the greatest is an increase in faith, and so, dear Father, increase our faith in Thee, and in Thy Beloved Son, in Thy great eternal work, in ourselves as Thy children, and in our capacity to go and do according to Thy will, and Thy precepts, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Lyrics
  1. 1. Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

  1. 2. Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Letter about Coming Back

I was going through a box of lesson supplies and unfinished projects, and in an odd spot I found an unfinished letter that I started writing in October of 2011. My feelings then are so applicable now and that I thought I would go ahead and record that testimony here.

I read this scripture this morning and it touched me so, so deeply:

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say trample under their feet but I would speak in other words--they set himn at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

And behold, he cometh...

And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore theyh scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. They spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.

...

Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy one of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers.

...

Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord.

-1 Nephi 19:7-17

There are so many things we think of associated with "the Church." There are people and policies we don't like or don't understand. The administration is imperfect. Mistakes--both inadvertent and blatant--are made. These things provide a lot of excuses, but when it comes down to it, it is Christ's church. He puts up with a lot because He loves us and He is patient with our imperfections. So the main concern, and the real root of activity in the Church is this: Am I willing to lay everything else aside and turn my heart to Jesus Christ?

I know that He lives. I know that He was willing to undergo humiliation and incomprehensible suffering because He was filled with love and compassion for us in our weakness. He knows you. He loves you. He doesn't care what you have done in the past or what counsels you have disobeyed. He suffered all things so that you could have the gift of repentance--of turning to Him whenever you choose and having everything cleaned and forgiven and forgotten in His book. He has waited thousands of years for the Jews--who He so lovingly led through the wilderness out of captivity only to so blatantly reject Him-- to come back to Him; that speaks to how lovingly He is waiting for us to come to Him and to receive all the blessings HE longs to give us. He wants to bless you. He wants to bless your children. He will help you qualify for those blessings. He will carry the burdens that weight on you if you let Him. I know it is true because I have experienced it over and over again. He has a work that only you can do in His kingdom and He needs you here. There is a reason you have the gift of the Gospel.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Magnifying your calling

“The Prophet Joseph Smith was once asked, ‘Brother Joseph, you frequently urge that we magnify our callings. What does this mean?’ He is said to have replied, ‘To magnify a calling is to hold it up in dignity and importance, that the light of heaven may shine through one’s performance.’”

President Thomas S. Monson, “Our Sacred Priesthood Trust,” Ensign, May 2006, 56.