Sunday, December 31, 2017

White or Black


Christ admonished His followers not to forswear themselves, including warning against swearing by heaven, the earth, or one's own head. The language used is sometimes difficult for a modern reader to understand, but the meaning seems to be to honor one's word without needing to use binding oaths. Recently however I thought of another, perhaps unconventional but possible interpretation of not swearing by one's head. Christ points out that we cannot make one hair white or black, and uses this as a reason to not swear by our heads; it's as if our own inability to keep such an oath is the very reason we shouldn't make it in the first place, which seems to make sense.

Perhaps we can take this a bit further and think about the "oaths" or promises we make to ourselves. Given the current time of year, I am of course referring to personal goals, and yes, even New Years Resolutions. The practice of setting New Years Resolutions has come under harsh criticism in recent years, not least of all because of how frequently they are broken mere days after being set. But one common, major problem with resolutions, as well as any personal goal, is our tendency to set goals for things we cannot control. For example, one common goal is to lose a certain amount of weight. However, that's not a good goal because it isn't something we can directly control. What we can control is our behaviors that may lead to weight loss, such as eating healthier and exercising. Goals should be actionable. They should be things we can actually do and directly control.

So whether you're setting New Years Resolutions, or smaller personal goals, remember to focus on what you can actually control, not just on the desired outcome.

More examples:

  • Instead of resolving to lose weight, resolve to exercise more, eat more vegetables and lean protein, and reduce the consumption of unhealthy snacks and sweets.
  • Instead of resolving to overcome an addiction, resolve to have frequent contact with friends and family who support you and avoid (as much as possible) situations that trigger cravings.
  • Instead of resolving to do better at work or school, resolve to set aside time for uninterrupted study and set a daily plan for what needs to be accomplished.
  • Instead of resolving to eliminate debt or save money, resolve to set a budget, spend less on eating out and entertainment, and find ways to reduce costs or earn extra money.
  • Instead of resolving to find a new job, resolve to fill out a certain number of applications each week and spend time learning new skills or developing current ones.
  • Instead of resolving to improve your relationship with someone, resolve to perform specific acts of service for them and avoid doing and saying things that hurt them.
  • Instead of resolving to become closer to God, resolve to sincerely pray to Him daily, study the scriptures, and strive to keep His commandments.
Whatever goals you set for yourself, make sure they are actionable and measurable, and hold yourself accountable. If you do these things, you will be more likely to see progress towards the outcomes you desire like the ones listed in bold above. And if you don't see the progress you want, you can know that you made an honest effort, and adjust those efforts to try again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Daily Word Limit


Imagine that there was a plan that would allow major companies to somehow limit our ability to speak. Perhaps by limiting the volume at which a person could speak, or the number of words they could say in a day. Some people might not notice these restrictions, and could get by just fine. Others however would soon bump against these limits and be unable to effectively communicate what they wanted to say, no matter how important it might be. "But it's okay!" the proponents of this plan say, "Because they can just pay for a premium package that will allow them to speak as much and as loudly as they want... for a fee. After all, if they're willing and able to pay for it, why not let them? This plan will spur all kinds of new innovative business models and products!"

Even if anyone had this hypothetical ability to directly limit how much we can speak, such a plan would never come close to being accepted. (At least I certainly hope not...) It would obviously restrict our freedom of speech. It would make communication a "pay to win" game, in which the ideas that gained the most traction wouldn't necessarily be the best ideas, but the ones coming from those already wealthy enough to pay for enough words to spread them.

And yet that's what's happening right now with Net Neutrality.

As a conservative-leaning man myself, I understand to some degree the "free market" arguments against Net Neutrality. However, the Internet has become much more than a product. It is how we communicate and organize in our modern age, so much so that this is not just an issue of having access to the level of entertainment we want. Rather, it is an issue of free speech!

If ISP's are allowed to treat differently the data they deliver from different organizations, could they not then discriminate against organizations that don't serve their interests? And even if they didn't do that and only set up "fast lanes" that one could pay extra for, would that not in fact make communicating on the Internet "pay to win?" How effectively an idea spreads should be based on the merit of the idea, not how much the one who conceived it is willing or able to pay.

If you haven't done so, please contact your lawmakers and talk to them about Net Neutrality. Hearing from real constituents has a huge impact on the decisions they make! You can find more info at https://www.battleforthenet.com/.

I also invite you to critique my own interpretation of the situation. Have I given a good comparison? Do you see any major flaws with my argument? If you are in favor of repealing Net Neutrality, I sincerely want to hear your point of view. Would things be as bad as I've made it seem? If repealed, what would prevent communication on the Internet from becoming "pay to win" as I've described?

I have temporarily lifted comment moderation in order to allow easier communication about this important topic. Please be respectful and civil. Thanks!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Gift of Grace


A gift for my sister-in-law. 💗

As important as it is to remember that we show our faith by our works, it is at least as important to remember that our works do not save us. It is only the Grace of our Savior that has the power to unlock the chains of death and sin. And He has given that Grace freely to all. There is nothing we need to do to earn it or deserve it. All we need to do is accept the gift, use it, and keep the commandments our Savior has given us so that we can live comfortably and joyfully in His presence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Without works


The relationship between faith and works is an oft debated topic in Christendom. My own understanding is that our good works do not save us. Strictly speaking, our faith doesn't save us either. But if we have faith in the Savior, we will be saved. However, if we do not good works (by keeping His commandments) we cannot truly say we have faith. James' words mean, in essence, that "faith without works is not faith," or "there is no such thing as faith without works."
One useful parable to illustrate this point is to think of two men lost at sea, far from any land. They pray to be rescued from drowning, and a ship happens to pass by and sees them. Those on board throw life preservers to the men. One of them grabs the preserver and is pulled to safety. The other however continues to pray rather than grabbing the preserver, claiming that he will be saved because he believes that those on the ship can save him.
It is, admittedly, not a perfect analogy, but I think it illustrates the important points. While the first man couldn't truthfully say to have saved himself, grabbing the preserver was required for him to be rescued. The second man could have been saved as well, but merely believing in the ability of the rescuers to save him wasn't sufficient.
We do not save ourselves by performing good works. To claim otherwise would be even more ridiculous than the first man claiming to have saved his own life. But we must do more than profess belief. Our Savior's grace is available to all; we have only to reach out.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Bear another's burdens


What does it mean to "bear another's burden?" Giving them a heartfelt, "You're in our thoughts and prayers?" That's certainly not a bad thing. But to truly help bear another's burdens, we need to actually do some lifting. We need to understand the nature of the burden (if such information is volunteered) and be willing to get our hands dirty. It might be as simple as listening patiently and without judgement to what it is they are going through. Or we may be prompted to give of our time, talents, or substance. Whatever the case, let love be our motivation, and let us give even when it is difficult. After all, Christ did the same for us.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Present Chastening


For a friend. Happy Birthday! :-)
"No pain, no gain," they say. I don't know if that's always true. But it's certainly true that the trials we face during mortality, while difficult and even painful in the moment, will always yield good fruit if endured well. Whatever trial you may be suffering, it may seem grievous at the present moment. But if endured, it will cause you to become stronger through increased in resilience to temptation.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Haughty Spirit


It doesn't matter how fabulous you think you are; if you're too proud to look down, sooner or later you will fall.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Strong and of good courage


Dedicated to a friend. :-) God believes in you. He will not abandon you if you will reach out to Him. You may not feel strong on your own, but with God, you can overcome any obstacle. The trials you are facing may be frightening, but with God, you can face them. Be strong and of good courage!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I was in prison


How do we feel about people who are in prison? Criminals, who got what was coming to them? Dangerous people who deserve to be shunned by society? Think about what the Savior said. In his story about the final judgement, when commending those on His right hand for their righteous deeds he didn't say, "Some bad men were in prison, and you went and visited them." He said "I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (emphasis added). Christ compares the compassionate act of visiting our brothers and sisters in prison to visiting Him, the Son of God!
As important as it is to not forget about those who are literally in prison, I think this can be extended to include those who may be "imprisoned" spiritually. Those who may suffer from addictions, have fallen into sinful behavior, or who may be ostracized from the fold of God. Let us be careful not to judge them, let us remember to visit them, and let us remember that it is a privilege to do so. For Christ Himself compared it to doing the very same unto Him!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Your Brethren Only


Anyone can be nice to those who are nice to them first. What really sets apart the disciples of Christ is showing kindness towards everyone. There is, of course, nothing wrong with showing love towards those who love us back. Just don't expect a big reward for it...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spirit of Contention



Whatever your religion, whatever your ideology, attacking those who disagree with you doesn't help your cause. That's not to say we shouldn't defend our beliefs. But we can do so without being awful to one another.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Thorn in the Flesh


I don't think we're told exactly what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. He describes it as being a "messenger of Satan" to torment him. And so he asked the Lord to remove it from him; to cure him of his infirmity. Whatever it was, while it may have come from Satan, the Lord allowed it to stay, the reason being that His Grace may come upon Paul. Perhaps this was to more fully teach Paul to depend on the Lord for strength, and to fortify his faith that the Lord would do so when called upon in faith. Paul concludes by saying, in effect, that he would rather suffer and have the Lord's help, than not suffer and be left on his own.
We all suffer various infirmities. While God may not directly cause them, it's clear He often does allow them. I think this passage helps us understand a bit better why that could be. In our infirmities we learn to depend on the Lord. And perhaps there are other things we can learn too: patience through challenges, empathy for those going through similar trials, and we may learn more about ourselves too, and our own strengths and weaknesses.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Love Thy Enemies


Is there any person or even group of people you have a strong dislike for? Perhaps someone who's mistreated you or hurt you deeply? Is there anyone for whom your animosity is so great you would label them an "enemy?" Turns out we're supposed to love them too, and even pray for them. The next time you feel angry at someone, try praying for them. Ask God to bless them with happiness. You might be surprised to find your own heart softened.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sure Foundation


It's been a while since the last Ponderize. I don't have much to add for this one, other than to say that the way we build the "foundation" mentioned in Helaman 5:12 is through the things we talk about in church all the time: earnest prayer, diligent scripture study, regular church and temple attendance, sincere service to others, etc. These things do not earn us our salvation. But they do strengthen our conviction and increase our resilience to sin and trials.
When the devil's whirlwind is raging, it is the rock of our Savior--not any earthly power--that will stand. And if we are firmly anchored to Him, then so shall we.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Never Wrong


(Myself not excluded.)

Here's a useful exercise. When was the last time you both recognized and admitted you were wrong about something you cared deeply about? Nobody is right all the time. And we're all willing to admit we're not perfect when our imperfections benefit us, like when we need an excuse for mistakes or misbehavior for example ("hey, nobody's perfect"). But why then, if we so readily recognize that we're not perfect, is it so difficult to recognize when we are wrong about something?

I think it's important to approach every conversation with the assumption that our own positions--yes, even our most precious opinions and beliefs--could be flawed, or completely wrong altogether. That doesn't mean you give them up without a fight; it does mean laying them on the line and putting them to the test. If it turns out they are wrong, then we can relieve ourselves of them and be better off for it. If we remain convinced that they are correct however, that conviction will grow even stronger.

There can be no "trial of faith" with no trial.