Sunday, May 24, 2020

Hardened or Softened

One section of the Book of Mormon tells of a lengthy conflict between two nations. It lasted many years. As this verse says, it affected different people in different ways, even those belonging to the same nation and who were suffering the same hardships.

The pandemic we are currently experiencing is comparable to a war, or any other long-term event that causes widespread suffering, and we see the same pattern repeat itself: some are of those affected are becoming hardened, cynical, hopeless, or selfish, while others are becoming more softened, caring, sensitive, and generous. We should all strive for the latter. To be clear, allowing ourselves to be "softened" doesn't mean we won't suffer, nor does it mean we don't take care of or protect ourselves and our families. Rather, it means that when we do suffer, we don't allow ourselves to become bitter and we remember to take care of others around us, to the extent possible. This has the added benefit of reinforcing a sense of control over our situation, which in turn empowers us to grow from our trials. If we ever feel ourselves becoming hardened by our trials, one of the best remedies is to serve others who are also suffering. By so doing, we'll be helping them and ourselves.

Stay hopeful. This current trial won't last for ever. Neither will any others that will come in the future. We have the ability to come out the other side better than we were before it started.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

He is Risen!

I've heard it said that to some is given the gift of knowing that God lives and that Jesus Christ is His Son, while to others is given the gift of believing that this is true. I have never seen an angel. No burning bush. No pillar of light. But I have felt the still small voice. I believe in Christ.

I believe because I choose to believe, and the universe feels much brighter, kinder, and more hopeful because of it.

I believe because the Gospel of Christ makes sense to me as a beautifully elegant plan from a loving Heavenly Father for the benefit of all of His children.

I believe because of the way I feel when I think about Him, and the peace and warmth it brings me, sometimes when I'm not even expecting it.

I believe because of the positive impact that following Him has had on my life and the lives of those I love.

I believe because of the miracles, large and small, that I witness when we trust in Him.

And I believe because of the sometimes inexplicable yet very real confidence that I have that He is in control and that in the end, all will turn out well for those who rely on Him.

My testimony is not perfect, but I don't need it to be. The light I have is enough to keep searching for the next step, and I hope enough to help brighten the way for others. I trust that one day it will be perfected in Him. In the meantime, it is enough for me to say that I do believe in Christ.

He is God's Son. He lived a perfect life. He taught the way of happiness. He suffered for the sins of the world. He was slain and He conquered death.

He is risen. Happy Easter!

(You can download the image above as a high resolution, 5"x7" image that's suitable for printing here.)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Hear Him!

"...I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph SmithHistory 1:17
This weekend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commemorated the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's first vision in response to his humble prayer. On that day, he saw both the Father and the Son in a grove that we now call sacred in upstate New York. Furthermore the Church has issued an official proclamation reaffirming the truthfulness and the importance of this miraculous visitation.

Why should we care? The reason members of the Church attach so much importance to this event is obvious. But what about our friends of other faiths? Does this event matter to them? I say it does. Young Joseph's almost unbelievably bold claim supports what is taught in the Bible: that to him or her who asks, it shall be given (Luke 11:9), and that if we lack wisdom, we have but to ask of God in faith (James 1:5-6). God has not left us alone. He has provided the way for us to receive guidance, provided we are willing to hear him when he speaks!

This promise remains in effect today. "Knowing the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony requires each earnest seeker of truth to study the record and then exercise sufficient faith in Christ to ask God in sincere, humble prayer whether the record is true. If the seeker asks with the real intent to act upon the answer revealed by the Holy Ghost, the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s vision will be manifest" (Gospel Topics Essays: First Vision Accounts). I share my own testimony with you that I know from my own experience it is true: God answers the prayers of those who ask in faith. He spoke to Joseph, and He still speaks with His children today.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Mourn and Comfort

Followers of Christ have pledged to serve others. That includes bearing their burdens, visiting them in times of sickness or loneliness, providing for their physical and spiritual needs, and in short, loving them as Jesus would love them. Perhaps one of the more difficult things we've been asked to do is to mourn with those that mourn. We'd much rather try to cheer someone up than watch them be sad and even partake of their sadness. However, this is often what is most helpful to one who is struggling emotionally.

Consider the story of the raising of Lazarus. As always, Jesus is the perfect example for us. Even though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He wept with those who were grieving (see John 11:33, 35). When we encounter those who are sad, even if we believe the cause of their sadness to be trivial or short-lived, we should acknowledge their feelings and allow them to express those feelings, even if seeing their pain causes us to feel pain ourselves. When we do so, we are, in a small way, emulating our Savior who took upon Himself our own pains.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

All in our power

At the time of this writing the world is currently experiencing a pandemic of the novel corona virus. Many schools, businesses, and places of worship and recreation have shut down. It's true that there are many other things in the world that cause significantly more suffering and death. However, perhaps what's most distressing about this present challenge is a feeling of lack of control. This virus doesn't discriminate and isn't caused by any lifestyle choice beyond the simple act of going about our normal day-to-day lives and interacting with those around us. It can feel like an unstoppable force. It can feel as if we can do little more than wait for the storm to pass and hope it does as little damage as possible.

And yet, during this and other challenges, there are still things we can do. There are things we can control. No matter how frightening or insurmountable things may seem, let us focus on the small things we can do to improve our situation and that of others, and let us ask God to show us what those things are. For, if our God is able to multiply five loaves and two fishes into a banquet for over five thousand, He can surely multiply our meager efforts to the blessing of our lives and those of our friends, family, and neighbors.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Forgotten purge

Imagine a person imprisoned for a crime. They know their guilt and that their imprisonment is just. But then somebody sets them free by making things right in ways that they could never have hoped to do on their own. This person makes arrangements for the prisoner to leave their cell and lead a happy and productive life outside.

How tragic would it be if the very next day they forgot that they had been freed and continued to live their life in prison as if nothing had changed?

In the verses leading up to this passage (see 2 Peter 1:4-8) Peter encourages us to exercise godly virtues such as diligence, temperance, patience, and kindness. He then promises that if we will do so, we will not be "unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We are warned however that if we don't strive to develop these attributes, we can forget the light and knowledge we once possessed, reverting to living life as we hadn't been forgiven and saved from former sins.

As dire a warning as this is, it can also give one hope, for the inverse is also true. If we want to increase our knowledge and understanding of our Savior and our confidence in His ability to free us from the ills of this world as well as the negative effects of our misdeeds, we can do so by being more charitable, more patient, and more loving to those around us. For by doing these things we will be more closely modeling our life after Christ's perfect example.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Rod of Correction

Some have interpreted this verse and others like it (e.g. Proverbs 13:24) as a justification--if not admonition--to use corporal punishment to discipline children. There is evidence in the scriptures that this is indeed a valid interpretation (such as Proverbs 23:13-14, which explicitly mentions beating children with a rod in order to save them from hell). I would, however, offer the following considerations when it comes to how followers of God should discipline our children.

First, it's important to remember that God uses language that His people will understand. At the time that the Proverbs were written, that included a reference to corporal punishment. Corporal punishment includes all methods of deliberately inflicting pain or discomfort in order to discourage bad behavior, though usually not with the intent of causing lasting injury. It was a very common form of correction for centuries. However, modern studies have shown that it is not an effective form of discipline and can actually cause more inappropriate behavior rather than discouraging it. (Exploring the negative effects of corporal punishment and their causes is beyond the scope of this article, but many scholarly sources exist, including this one for those who'd like a place to start.) Why then does the Bible seem to encourage the practice? It is probable that these verses are referring to discipline in general. Rather than being prescribed a specific method of discipline, we are being commanded to teach our children the right way and correct their behavior when needed.

Second, let us consider other possible meanings of the word "rod" in the scriptures. It can refer to a shepherd's rod, used to guide sheep, giving them a gentle nudge in the right direction or even pulling them away from an incorrect or dangerous path (see Psalm 23:4). It can mean the rod of a ruler, which represents authority, either that of God or His chosen servants (see Exodus 4:2-5). It sometimes refers to a measuring rod used for determining lengths and distances (see Ezekiel 40:3). And finally, Latter-day Saints are very familiar with the symbolism of a rod representing the Word of God (see 1 Nephi 11:25). Any of these interpretations could be applied to the teaching and correction of our children. Like shepherds, we must watch over and protect our children, sometimes (or rather, often!) pointing them in the right direction and pulling them away from physical or spiritual danger until they reach the level of maturity where they can find the right path for themselves. We should teach our children to respect parental authority, as well as the authority of God. We should not shy away from regularly measuring our children's behavior against what God has commanded so we know when correction is necessary. And finally, we must remember to always nourish our children with the good word of God and teach them to hold firmly to it.

Finally, let us not forget that we are all children. All of us, no matter how old and learned, still make mistakes and need to be corrected from time to time. And we are all children of God, who is our Heavenly Father. He is perfectly wise, kind, just, patient, and merciful; in short, the perfect Parent. We needn't doubt that He corrects His children in whatever ways will be most effective at helping those willing to be taught so that they may learn, grow, and eventually obtain lasting happiness. In order to be successful parents ourselves, we would do well to consider the ways in which we have been corrected by God and how we can apply those principles to the teaching of our own children.

Make no mistake, we absolutely must discipline our children. We must correct them when needed, and sometimes that correction takes the form of appropriate punishment. But we must not forget that the ultimate reason for doing so is to help them learn to make correct choices of their own free will as they mature rather than doing so out of fear. And the best way to accomplish that is to correct with love.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Wrath of Man

So many in the world today are angry, and understandably so. There are a great many injustices not to mention heated disagreements over how to overcome them. Anger is not inherently bad. It's a useful emotion that alerts us when something is wrong, particularly when something could be a potential threat. It spurs us to take action. However, once we recognize that something must be done and are determined to take action, anger ceases to be as useful, except perhaps as a motivating force to keep striving when obstacles arise (though even then there are arguably much more powerful motivators for that purpose). While anger can cause us to take action, it doesn't help us to think rationally in order to determine what that action should be.

There are those who try to justify feelings and acts of hatred and even violence and even go so far as to use scripture to defend themselves. One of the most notable examples is the story of Jesus chasing the money lenders from the temple (see John 2:14-17). It seems clear that he was angered or at least indignant because of the way in which they had desecrated His Father's house. However, it should be remembered that Jesus was not like mortal men and women. He always demonstrated a prodigious level of control over His actions. How many of us can say the same? Noble as our intentions may be, our pride has a way of hampering our judgement and causing us to forget the things Jesus actually taught about how to treat those who have wronged us (see Luke 6:27Mark 11:25, etc.).

We don't have to be ashamed of our anger. We just need to remember not to let it rule us.