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Friday, May 29, 2015

There and back again: Celebrating Differences and Stretching Our Souls

Saturday morning May 9th my wife, Lorraine, and I pulled into Grand Junction, Colorado on a Greyhound bus.  It had been about 6 years since I last saw anyone from my family in person.  I felt so different about being back than I thought I would be.  I was aware, of course, that things would have changed in that time period.  People had moved in and out, some businesses had been created, changed or closed down, and much more.  Heck, here in Hamilton, things had changed a lot as well in 6 years.  I have to thank Jean Orton for letting my parents borrow their wheelchair van and ramp so Lorraine and I would get around and enjoy the area more.  It made a huge difference for both of us.

But one thing about both places hadn't changed much.  I don't know how to explain it very well, but I'll do my best.  There is a certain cultural feeling, an aura, if you will about both places that makes it easier to do certain things and harder to do other things.  After growing up in Colorado, spending enough time in Hamilton, Ontario and then going back I feel like I have a much better perspective of the similarities and contrasts to each place.

In the city in Canada, I feel stretched more emotionally, persuaded to go way outside of our comfort zone more for the sake of improvement in our strength in an commitment to Christ.  There seems to be so much more pulling from the opposite direction and I have to work hard enough to counter those influences that the automatic effect of those efforts is frequent, in depth self evaluation, resulting in a more frequent change in perspective; and honestly, I find those positive major shifts in spirituality and perspective really refreshing and I feel a greater measure of the Spirit of the Lord when those changes are permanent.  That being said, when I mentioned the level of persuasion from Hamilton society in the wrong direction, I really meant it, and the general effects of that are not good on the atmosphere here.

For those who are around me frequently I'll sound like a broken tape recorder here, but the health care system sucks and since medical finances are controlled by people without medical degrees or experience, motivation to provide effective health care (physically AND mentally) is low.  Living in a city with steel companies and bipolar weather doesn't help an already suffering population.  Seriously, you almost can't even go 2 blocks in this city, no matter where you are, without seeing someone with a scooter, walker or wheelchair.  This kind of creates a reverse effect in how the population thinks about those with these difficulties, though, and induces a slightly more open minded and accommodating demeanor towards them.

Though there is, in my view, a less versatile or malleable population in western Colorado, people are willing to bend over backwards and at least make their best efforts to put more TLC into everything they do.  No matter the lack of true understanding regarding those who are likely more frequently and intensely stretched and molded by their circumstances, they don't allow that to effect the amount of effort they put in to making people feel at home.

It seems to me that:

Here in the city, there is less pressure to stick to moral absolutes or favor what is right over who is right and many times, policy is valued more than people, but our circumstances invite me to change more and seek more for the Spirit of the Lord, I have more opportunities to serve (that's kind of a given I guess, considering there are more people here to serve), and since there is so much more variety of people here they won't think you're as crazy or deluded if you say something that seems a little weird to them.  In western Colorado I feel like it's so much easier to get so comfortable and secure in lifestyle and habit that it limits my chances for the real spiritual growth, going way out of my comfort zone for a better cause.  However, I also feel more down to earth there, focused on and appreciative of the good old basics of life, concerned about meeting temporal needs and more appreciative of the beautiful creation that is the earth.

Both places have their benefits and downfalls for me.  Perhaps some of this is biased because I had the most wonderful spiritual experiences here in Canada.  Keeping such in mind, I have come to realize that I grew up "in a box".  Mind you, it was a more nurturing, loving, Christ-centered, appropriately protective "box" than most, but I never knew how sheltered I really was until I served a mission and got to know my wife. This has helped me realize how ignorant I was to the benefits of soul shaping difficulty; coming to my breaking point and then being gloriously rebuilt and transformed by the Lord with no one to turn to but my Father in Heaven.  It also helped me realize how blessed I truly was through my childhood, how vital the foundation was that my parents, friends and teachers laid for me by centering my surroundings on the Savior as much as they could.  That's not something very common in the world today.

If there's one great thing both places share, it's that I find it easy to live the gospel in either place.  There are absolutely fantastic examples and types of Christ in both areas.

But regardless of where anyone lives one goal should be common everywhere: "Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him." (Moroni 10:32)

I doubt there's anywhere on the planet right now besides an LDS temple where all the good from every place on earth is properly balanced.  I do know, though, that as we make our homes, no matter where they are, a place where our potential is pushed, our comfort zone is coincident with Christ, our souls are stretched, our differences make a difference, our perspectives are permutated and our character is consummated with and by the Lord, we will come to know His true, lasting peace and infinite love for us.

No matter where you are or what your experience, I invite you to go way out of your comfort zone every single day and move yourself towards the Savior in a way that totally blows you away and overwhelms you with joy. I invite you to take to heart what Elder Richard G. Scott said "To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done" and I'll add, you must see yourself and everyone around you in a way you never have before. Don't let your circumstances prevent you from becoming, as the Lord Himself put it "one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us... that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and loved them, as thou hast loved me."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pure Testimony

Of all the posts so far on this blog, all of them have been an effort to contribute my perspective and testimony of truth to the reader regarding whatever subject matter about which I felt guided to write.  I recently thought of something that Mormon pointed out about Alma in Alma 4:19: "seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them."

My purpose is not to single out a specific type of person.  Regardless of your activity with or in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this is simply dedicated to my witness of what I know to be true, to testify of truths I know by the power of the Holy Ghost.  These are things I know for myself, independent of any earthly authority, having obtained an assurance of them from the source of them from the Source of all truth.  This is my pure testimony.

The Nature of God and His Son

I know that God is our Heavenly Father, that He is completely perfect, flawless, all powerful and all knowing and that we are His children.  We were created in His image and likeness, with bodies of flesh and bone.  His love is infinite, unending and personal for each of us.  His love is the force behind the elements behaving the way they do, the shaping of people's lives for the better, the miracles and otherwise unexplained good things we see throughout our lives.  He is our literal Heavenly Parent, the author of the Plan of Happiness, designed to cleanse, heal, transform and exalt us and make us equal with Him.

His love for us is so all-encompassing and perfect that He sent us His perfect Son Jesus Christ for the sole purposes of setting an example for us, living every moment of His life in service to us and His Father, and making the ultimate sacrifice, Himself, for our weaknesses, sins, sorrow and pains.  I know that, though separate in identity from His/Our Father, They are One, perfectly united in power, love, purpose, and pretty much everything else except physical identity. I love Him with all my heart and am eternally thankful for Him as my Elder Brother and Savior.

Scripture and Divine Guidance

I know that God has given us, through and because of His Son, His word and loving guidance through families and prophets, as recorded in scripture.  He has provided us with His loving counsel, in the form of commandments, that He has promised us will bring lasting happiness if followed exactly.  I have personally seen nothing but good come from complete obedience to His truths as we receive them via confirmation from the Holy Ghost.  I have seen doubt, fear, pain and chaos come from disobedience as well as peace, strength and a change of heart and character for the better from faithful observance of His laws.   The Book of Mormon is true.  It's account of our Lord is factual.  I know that the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly, that revelation from our Father continues to flow from and through His prophets today.

Every six months when these prophets and apostles of our Lord speak to us, it is a feast more valuable than any earthly substance, a soul building experience like no other outside the temple.

His Church, His Order, His Prophets

I know that Jesus the Christ set up His church on this earth.  I hear so many people bear truthful, beautiful testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His and, therefore, that it is the only completely true church on the earth, that He is at it's head, and I stand with them in this witness.  I know that it is only within His church that the fullness of the His gospel, His power, His love and His authority are manifest.  This is why religion is important, because God gave us religion to guide us back to Him, a religion formed by His Son, a means and organization whereby our Father's prophets, commissioned by Jesus Christ, act under His guidance to direct us to come to know Him; to continually build our relationship with Him and be changed by His almighty hand.

I know that Joseph Smith Jr. was the boy in the early 1800's through whom our God and our Savior restored Their church.  They appeared to Him in person and directed Him in the formation of their church in these the last days in the history of this earth.  The authority from God was conferred upon him by Jesus' original prophets and has continued in an unbroken chain of authority straight from Jesus Christ Himself to every priesthood holder in the Lord's church today.  I feel humbled and privileged to be able to serve our Father and His children through such.  In eleven steps I can trace this authority and my sacred calling to serve the children of God back to Jesus Christ Himself.  I know that as I seek to be like Him I will be given the right and ability to bless the lives of others and bring His light into their lives.  I have seen this happen in my life and my heart is thankful to Him for every opportunity to do good.

The Atonement of Christ

I know that Christ alone had the infinite, Godly capacity to make payment for our mortal, fallen, condition and it's effects.  As the English translation of the Greek word "έχρισε" (echrise) - "Anointed" - suggests,  He was the Anointed One, the Chosen Savior and Redeemer of the world.  I know that His payment to compensate for our mortal condition and it's effects was an act of divine love for us and enables us to return to He and our Father if we obey His gospel.  I know that He lived without sin and entirely with love, that He was, therefore, the only one would could have saved us.  He is our Savior from sin, weakness, pain and death in all forms, our Redeemer from the grave our Advocate with the Father, our Source of everlasting peace, the Light and Life of the world.  The transforming, healing, cleansing power of His grace is accessible to all who will follow Him.

I know that as much as we use our God given ability to choose to follow Him we will be happy.

Missionary Work

I know that there many of life's greatest joys coming from serving others by continually inviting them to "come unto Christ and be perfected in Him" (Moroni 10:32).  I have seen and felt the joys of watching the Holy Ghost change people and bring the infinite light of the Lord into their lives and the lives of their families and friends.  As we set a Christlike example and unapologetically and deliberately hold up the standard of the Lord, others will want to have the happiness we do through obedience to God's Plan of Happiness.  I look forward to the happiness I will share with those who I have been able to help bring into His church and gospel as I have worked with my Savior to serve them.

Talents

I know that as we find, develop and serve others with the talents God has given us, our self worth will be enhanced, our abilities will be exponentially multiplied and the lasting peace we will find in doing so will be sweeter than any other.  I have been blessed with gifts in music. Developing and using this gift as He would have me do so as best I can has brought me the most complete satisfaction and the most rewarding kinds of success I could have ever wanted from it.  As I have sought out, noticed and developed some of my other gifts and talents from God and used them to improve myself, bless others and further His work I have come to better know the purity and value of His love for us.  He wants to bless us, build us up and improve our abilities, motives and character.

Home and Family

I know that the family is ordained of God as the fundamental unit of mankind, the most effective means of gaining the full benefits of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including life's deepest love and joy.  As families live by principles such as love, hard work, prayer, forgiveness, patience, service, faith, sacrifice, repentance and righteous habits they will stay unified and eternal.  The ultimate projection from the forces of satan, aside from temples of the Lord, is in a Christ centered home, uncompromising to the standards of the world and consistently conducive to peace, love, revelation and inspiration from Holy Ghost.

Conclusion

I know that as we willingly, joyfully, selflessly, boldly, humbly, lovingly and thankfully give our all to serving each other and the Lord Jesus Christ we will be cleansed, healed, restored to our divine nature, have our individual worth magnified and be strengthened and transformed beyond anything we could ever accomplish without Him.

I know these things because God has witnessed of their truth to me via the Holy Ghost and pray that the truth of these words will be carried to the hearts and minds of readers so that it may be clear in their hearts and minds that I bore my witness of truth to them and I do it in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Kindness Begins With Me

Primary Songs have always served as a good reminder to me of the beautiful simplicity of the most valuable truths.  I remember playing He Sent His Son when filling in a few months ago when the usual pianist was away and how powerful of a reminder it was of the role and love of our Heavenly Father and our Savior and their kindness.  This is just one example of the ability of Primary Songs to carry the love and truth of our God to the heart of the listener.

The concept I want to focus on, though, is the two line 'jingle', Kindness Begins with Me.

I think it's appropriate to assume that everyone in our lives has moments where something just clicks, something huge; those moments where our perspective does a permanent, pivotal shift to something so far outside our comfort zone that we are either forced to acknowledge and accept a permanent change in our nature and behavior for the better or live a lie.  Sometimes those shifts come more gradually, but I have had several of them since I served a full time mission and more since I have been married to the love of my life.  Each time, something about the truth of God's Plan of Happiness and the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes much clearer and much more real to me.  In the last year (ish) I have come to realize something that I would have argued against adamantly before I was married.

I have always found good answers from the words of modern prophets and the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell are no exception: "Especially helpful are the memories of those individuals and friends who are exemplars for you and me by the manner in which they strive so steadily and unapologetically to wear the whole armor of God."  However, I clung to that concept so tight for a time that I would allow it to override and even oppress the equally vital idea of which Elder Oaks so eloquently reminded the world. "Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious."

These two seemingly contrasting ideas are actually not as opposing as they seem, despite the easily assumed mentality that the coexistence of these two virtues are ironic.  They actually work in perfect harmony together the same way that, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, eternal laws of justice and mercy complement each other for our good.  On exceptionally rare occasion I say (verbally or in writing) something that I look back on and think, "Did I just say that?"  I don't consider myself to be any kind of professional of expert with words of wisdom, but once in a while something pops out of my mouth that shocks me.  One of those times was today, when I told someone "I'm not very good at discerning what will sound offensive or not, but I believe that we can be bold and unapologetic in our declarations of truth and still be intentionally conscious of speaking to someone on their level so that they understand and see us as their friend without offending.  That kind of approach doesn't make us spineless [and doesn't] dilute the truth, it just makes it so that it can touch their hearts more easily and still be just as effective."  I say moments like that shock me because I am so far from where I need to be relative to an expert conversationalist like the Savior that when I do say something "just right" it's like, "Whoa! Wait a sec, is the world going to blow up?".  The only explanation I can think of that fits is divine intervention.  I'm just not patient enough to come up with just the right wording on my own.  Seriously, I'm just no good at it right now.  It's always God telling me what to say when I happen to say something super amazing.  It's not me.

But the point is that those two contrasting ideas, working together in perfect unison, can and must eventually become a part of our nature if we want to become like and be cleansed and perfected through our Lord.

Look at how the Savior handled the situation when that woman was brought to Him, caught in adultery, and her accusers tried to trick Christ into violating either the law of justice or the law of mercy.  His response to the accusers and the woman was brief, kind, blunt and completely effective on all counts.  He starts with "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."  Short, to the point, no labeling or pointing fingers at anyone, just instructing in the truth and letting the truth speak for itself in the hearts of the listeners.  So they leave and the woman and Jesus are there alone.  He says to her "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?" She responds with, "No man, Lord." and then the perfect response once again from Jesus, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

That is so amazing!  The message is basically, "I will pay for this sin myself and I'm her eternal judge, not you, so you don't have worry about this.  Let me handle it."; and then regarding the sinner, "I love you and my Atonement will pay for this.  In order for that payment to take effect, be on your way" and then a firm but loving commandment, "and don't do it anymore."

This is just one example of many where the Savior handled people in process of a sinful act perfectly, with the perfect amount of love, mercy and judgement.  Another is from Elder Orson F. Whitney's dream about the Savior, 

“One night I dreamed … that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. … I stood behind a tree in the foreground. …Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, He passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed … : ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.’
“As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was [turned] toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with His great sorrow. My whole heart went out to Him. I loved Him with all my soul and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else.
“Presently He arose and walked to where those Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least show of anger or scolding, asked them if they could not watch with Him one hour. …"

Again, amazing!  He was in the process of suffering and overcoming the full weight of the sins, weaknesses and pains of the entire human race and when He finds His number three most faithful followers at the time sleeping, opposite of His request of them, He responds with perfect kindness and power at the same time!

That kind of balance is, indeed, a very difficult thing for us mortals to achieve, but if it was impossible, Christ wouldn't have commanded it, and He did.  His gospel is a gospel of love, joy and peace to those who choose to follow it and it should be presented as such when we teach it to others or encourage them to follow Him.

I'm not where I want to be yet in this respect, but I know that God will strengthen and change me as I work to find this balance so I can be at peace with everyone, especially and most importantly, with my Heavenly Father and His perfect Son.

Let's all work to be a little less afraid, speak the truth more firmly and fearlessly and be more loving and kind in the process.