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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Routine vs. Change

I've mentioned this analogy in a previous entry, but it's effective enough that I'll use it to introduce my message here.  In the movie Rattatouille, Remy's dad shows him the shop window with all of the rat traps and poisons and he tells Remy that that's nature.  That's just way it is and it won't change.  Remy replies with "change IS nature, dad".

Now I understand that there are good and bad changes people make all the time.  Not all change is good.  Some things need to stay relatively consistent, like our level of frequency in scripture study.  Elder Pearson said recently in General Conference, "Search the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets every day, every day, every day! It’s the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we are spiritually lost."  It's similar with prayer. Everyone should be making prayer a part of life many times every day.  It's easy for me to go on with things that should stay consistent as well as things that should always be changing, but my point isn't to just make a list.  My goal here is to emphasize why we should never be afraid of change.  Bear in mind that nothing I say here negates the need for good habits to remain, intensify and become more a part of who we are over time, but even in those habits, there is a critical necessity to have our attitudes, commitments and faith in habits the Lord would have us develop continually improve and multiply and that means change!

I'll start out with Alma 41:10-11 in the Book of Mormon.  It illustrates very well why change is so important. "Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.  And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness."  The nature of happiness.  Think about that for a moment.  It's not natural for us as children of God to be entertaining behaviors, beliefs and thoughts that counter His truth and plan of happiness for us.  At least it shouldn't feel natural.  It shouldn't be an instinct to treat people harshly.  Rudeness and selfishness should not feel normal.  Attitudes that diminish the someone's personal, divine nature or shows a lack of concern for their feelings and well being should not be our impulse.  This does relate to change and I'll get to that in a bit.

Alma also mentions that "Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."  If we have not made the transitions in our very nature to become godly by the time our personal interview with the Savior arrives, there will be no "Oh, ok, I'm ready to be better now."  We have to already by to that point by that time!  He wouldn't have asked us to do so if it weren't possible.

Another awesome scripture that helps to emphasize this concept is 2 Nephi 2:11, "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility."

What this tells me is that stagnancy is worse than misery.  I was talking to my wife when her health was bad a few days ago about this concept in relation to our feelings. (For those who know my wife well who are thinking "when is your wife ever in good health?", yes, yes I know, but bear with me.)  We were talking about the fact that she would rather be sad and miserable than feel nothing at all, that it reminds her of how amazing it feels to have relief and happiness.  She was doing amazing that day, responding with gratitude to her trials and thanking Heavenly Father for the reminder of the good things she has and would continue to have in life.

Now on to the point I am trying to make with these concepts.  Because it is not natural to be stagnant, because it should not be an automatic, knee-jerk reaction to indulge in ungodly attitudes, beliefs, words and behaviors, it thus becomes of pivotal, eternal importance for us to welcome change!  Does it seem easier to just let many of our daily routines stay the way they are?  Of course!  Is change, especially the big changes, scary?  Yes!  That natural man in us makes sure that we perceive change as a burden.  But where would we be if Christ had chosen to condone the age old habits, routines and teachings of the law of Moses and passively allow them to remain a part of Jewish life?  Where would He be if He had simply allowed Himself to fit into the mold of the Isrealite nation and conform to their customs and rituals during His ministry?  Where will we end up if we don't consistently change our lives to match His more and more and confront the hard changes we should be making every day with confidence in Him instead of fear?  Not with our families in the highest degree of Celestial Glory, that's for sure.

I've been to places where the really difficult, scary, but positive changes in perspective, believe and action are celebrated and consistently ingrained into people's lives.  I've also spent time in areas where everyone is so stuck in their ways of life that if someone comes into town who gives off a vibe that doesn't fit their view of the way life should be, they form, many times obliviously, opinions about them that are more close-minded and ignorant than you can imagine; and much of the time they don't even realize they're doing it!

As I pointed out in the beginning, routine is not wrong when it's based on Godly principles and there most certainly are a plethora of bad changes people can and do make all the time.  But please do not allow yourself to fall for the lie that it's just too hard to make the big changes.  Do not allow yourself to be fooled by the attitude that the pain of rejecting the natural man and changing into the god or goddess inherent within you, along side our Savior, will be greater than the positive results along the way and at the end!

Just as a side note, I've noticed that it is within many of the small towns I've lived where making changes that allow Christ to overcome my carnal natures are particularly difficult.  Not necessarily all small towns, or even a majority of them, but enough to mention it here.

I want to point out something taught to me by one of my seminary teachers growing up. If the proverbial sails on our boats are too straight, our progress will be either non-existent or so slow that we will have insufficient growth in our knowledge and faith in our Redeemer and Father in Heaven, eventually being brought to acknowledge that we failed to fill our true potential (which happens to be one of the few and most pronounced fears I have).  Granted, if our sails are turned too far in any direction we will be blown over by the winds of adversity, but if we are not making every effort to see that our sails are turned at the optimum angle to blow us more effectively through the difficulties intended to make us like the Christ, we have much work to do!

I love, so much, these lyrics to "Jesu, the Very Thought is Sweet" sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

"Jesu, Thou sweetness, pure and blest,
Life's Fountain, Light of souls distressed,
Surpassing all that heart requires,
Exceeding all that soul desires!"

The transformation we need to make to become what God wants us to be, to have that unlimited joy with our families forever, was never supposed to be something common, mundane or blandly ritualistic.  It's supposed to be something that requires our whole heart and soul, something that brings us to appreciate, at least in the limited way we can, the import of the Atonement of Jesus Christ; to make, every day, the significant shifts in our very eternal makeup that turn us into type of person the Lord is.  If you are not ready when the approaching great and terrible day of the Lord arrives, it won't be because you make too big of a change to be like Him.  If you are ready when that day comes, it will truly be a great day for you and it will be because you never let the ever falling standards of the world prevent you from bringing your nature more into absolute agreement with His.

I know these changes are possible.  I have experienced a number of them myself and I have many left to go.  Every time a major change occurs in me for the better, each time I become more obedient, each improvement in my ability to discern and follow the Holy Ghost helps calm my fears about those major transformations.  Approaching them isn't always fun, but I can honestly say I don't consider them with apprehension and fear anymore.  I ask God for them now because of the increased capacity I have to feel joy and love from Him afterward (and even during them).

Please keep and build upon the godly habits you already have, but form new ones as well, in word, thought, belief and desire.  Do it all the time.  Make a consistent ;) habit of making a big change, internally or externally (or both).  Fill the jar of your life with the rocks of commitment to Jesus Christ and our Father.  I guarantee that if you do so, everything that you need will fall into it's proper place and those that you don't will seamlessly slip out of your life and you will even be able to see it as a welcome relief!

Don't fear godly change.  Confront it, welcome it and embrace it alongside our Savior and you'll never regret it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Jesus Christ = Perfect

"Like the polar star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives. He is the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith."

This beautiful quote by the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley is one of the most complete and glorious statements I know of about the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  It confirms the truth of His absolute and eternal love for all of us.  One of the most disputed concepts in the world today, if not the single most disputed one, is the idea of absoluteness in anything.  The rise and fall of nations, the history of mankind in all it's glory as well as corruption, the reign and fall of every leader, the start and end of every war, the beginning and end of every period of prosperity or poverty, all of it, every last one, was based, if you really think about it, on a difference in opinion regarding the existence of absolute truth, a single creed or code of living or standard by which any human being could successfully live their life.

Well the point of this one is to emphasize that there is most certainly a perfect "measuring stick", an ideal standard, a perfect, fool proof, unwavering truth and example to look to for ultimate happiness.  Every decision to believe whether absolute truth exists is either manifestation or rejection of faith in Jesus Christ, our immovable, unfailing, constant, everlasting Rock of Salvation.

I may do a 3rd (or 4th or 5th or whatever) set of 5 entries down the road dedicated entirely my feelings about my Savior, but for this, the last in my current series for that purpose:

#5 Jesus Christ = Perfect

He lived on this earth while subject to inclinations of the natural man but rejected every last one of them at every turn.  As a modern prophet has declared, "He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them."  Every word out of His mouth was true, factual, eternally binding, 100% directed by the Father, flawlessly in agreement with the Holy Ghost. Every act in His mortal life was in complete obedience to our Father, out of perfect celestial love for Him and for us, complete and total selflessness and submission to the Father's plan, absolute respect for the Father's role as our Eternal Parent and His faultless plan.

The resurrected Christ appeared to the Nephites on the American continent and affirmed, "blessed are ye because of your faith.  And now behold my joy is full [underline added]".  His service to our Father and to us was based on Charity, pure Godly love, and pure, untainted joy.

Not only has He always been perfect by action and word, but by nature.  His desires are perfect.  The reason the elements of the universe obey Him is because He loves them perfectly.  He knows all of His creations, including us, by name.  His humble respect for His Father's plan and pure-hearted submission to it were key in His filling the role of Savior and Redeemer for mankind and our Advocate with the Father.  His humility enabled Him to live in perfect obedience, inwardly and outwardly, and in doing so became, by the power granted Him by the Father, our Lord and our God.

Jesus' also exercised perfect control over His mortal body and today, because of such, has a perfected body of flesh and bone.  He is perfect by action, word, intent, desire and condition (in all imaginable ways) as well.  This level of perfection came to Him by means of His absolute trust in His Father, demonstrated by the very person He was.

It's no wonder that Jack R. Christianson illustrates the following in "The Mortal Christ": "in section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants when He comes to Joseph Smith as the postmortal Messiah, most of you returned missionaries hopefully know this one, it's in section 93 verse 24, what does it say?  “And truth is a knowledge of things are as they” what? “are,” as they “were” and? “as they are to come” or will be. So truth is a knowledge of things past, present, future.  Now, that's what truth is.  It's a knowledge of the plan, because past, present, future, doesn't deal with our life, only part of it. Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, mortal life, as they were, premortal life, as they will be, post mortal life, after we're dead.  Truth is a knowledge of the plan. That's what it is.  So now I ask you again, the second question that we've got to ask. Who is the Truth? It's Christ.  So when one comes to a knowledge of the truth, they come to a knowledge of the Son of God and His plan of happiness.  Does that make sense?  So now, what was Pilate really asking?  He's asking the same question that the lion asked Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and that the big cat asked Alice in Alice and Wonderland, “Who are you?” That's what he's asking. What is the truth? In other words, “What are you? What is your plan?"

He always was, is and always will be the very embodiment of truth, His Father's truth.  Why else would one of His names be Emmanuel, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Emmanu'el, meaning "God with us"?  The Lord Himself said, in response to Philips request "Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us", "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?"  This is not, of course to say the Jesus is the Father.  Rather it is to say that He was so unified with the Him, that He was so utterly flawless in His representation of the Father's nature and will, that They are so perfectly similar that, in effect, to know the Savior is to know the Father.

Neither I nor anyone else could ever imagine a more perfect example by which to measure our lifestyle and motives.  No one can conceive of a more trustworthy figure on which to base confidence.  To attempt to counter the absolute certainty of His love for us and divine engineering of our lives in accordance with our choices is futile at best.  He is, as mentioned via the words of President Hinckley at the beginning of this, "...the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith."

He is the only sure way to happiness.  I love Him, I trust Him and want to become like Him in every way so I can partake of His eternal joys with my family forever.  I would invite you to do the same.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jesus Christ = Great

You know how society says today that those who usually end up making the most difference in the world are the weird ones, those who are viewed as a nutcase or out to lunch, those who don't look like they'll amount to much in the long run, who are the most socially awkward or most clumsy or most heavily physically disabled or something like that?  Those people who have been rejected and called the crazy one, the problem child, the class dunce or similar are, much of the time, those who end up making the biggest difference in the human race.

Yet so often society sees those same types of people today and treats them as though they really are as hopeless as they may appear.  So many in the world today have amazing gifts, uncanny abilities or intelligence or a quality of heart that seems unrealistically Utopian to many.  The problem is that the narrative I outlined in the previous paragraph, that society seems to swear by and preach so adamantly, is simultaneously and sharply contrasted by the way they actually treat those types of people, regretting it later when they see what those people accomplish.  Many of them end up being the great ones of this world!

#4 Jesus Christ = Great

I love John 8 where almost the whole chapter is a conversation between Him and the Pharisees.  He continually bears witness of His unity with the Father, being sent from Him as our example, the embodiment of truth, and His selfless commitment to bring all glory to the Father.  They were so disgruntled and angry with Him because He spoke the truth plainly to them.  They saw Him as such an outcast just because He taught truths with which they were uncomfortable and cut them to the core because, as He said, "my word hath no place in you".  When He said "and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" they responded with "We be Abraham's seed, and we were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou Ye shall be made free?"  When He said "if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death" they replied "Now we know that thou hast a devil.  Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my sayings, he shall never taste of death."  It was when He said "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" that they got ready to stone Him.

Though there are millions more today who assert their faith in Him and try their best to follow Him, it is still many of those who are the most misunderstood, viewed by the world as the most outdated, overly strict, paranoid, self-centered or delusional who actually understand truth the most purely and precisely.  People who's standards and opinions are in most stark contrast to popular views are those to whom, in most cases, we should be paying closer attention.

So many people misunderstood the Savior because as He said of Himself, He is "not of this world."  He is so committed to the glory of His Father and His Father's plan that much of what He did and taught, based on things not of this world, were naturally not understood by the majority of those in His day.  Honestly, most people on the planet today don't even effectively understand most of what He taught.

John 17 is also a beautiful example of Christ's focus on doing His Father's will by "bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man".

I'll mentioned just a few examples that show how committed He was and is to the Father:
"glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee..."
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
"I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world"
"Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee."
"I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me"
"I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine."
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."

There's more but those are a few that stuck out the most to me at the moment.
Truly Jesus' commitment to His Father is why He is so great.  He didn't let anything sway Him, not other's opinions, not His limited influence, geographically, during His mortal life, or any other factor.  He knew full well that He would be seen by the vast majority of those with whom He associated as crazy, blasphemous, possessed, and more, but He didn't let that affect His obedience to and love for His Father.  He didn't let that affect His eternal and everlasting influence, via His life and atonement, on mankind.  He pushed forward anyways and today, no one has ever been as mocked, ridiculed, insulted, or dishonored than He, yet no one has ever had as much spoken, sung, preached or published of them than He either.

Though He is probably the least understood, He is also the most important, humble, powerful, loving man who ever walked the earth and everyone would do well to cling to Him and His word with all the energy of soul they can summon, as if their very eternity hangs in the balance, because it does.

During His mortal ministry He seemed harsh, irrational, awkward, and undesirable, as Isaiah mentioned quite clearly, to many and even appears that way to many today.  Yet He is the source of all that is truly desirable in this life and the next.  It looks to me, from these observations, that it is a good idea to start looking at those who are committed to Christ who, by today's standards, seem irrational, awkward or even undesirable from the world's standpoint and take them a little more seriously than we are.  Why else would the Lord tell His true disciples that they will become a "peculiar" people?

Do be stupid and don't do crazy stupid things, go off the deep end or make any radical changes you are not ready for, but do consider that maybe it's time to start realizing that things are much better, and much worse, today than society, the media, and government want you to believe.  No matter how uncomfortable it makes you to consider the opinions of those who are seen as the "crazies" out there who are making radical claims about the state of the world and such, I strongly encourage you to open your mind and consider that they might just be on to something.  I know their claims seem pretty sensational, but the last time I checked, every single thing Christ ever did or said was pretty sensational.

Christ was seen and that type of person in His day and look where He is now.  He is the Greatest of us all! It's time to wake up!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jesus Christ = Protection

Face it.  Incident to the human condition is a test of character, the dangers of human flaws, sins and weaknesses.  Sometimes it can seem overwhelming if we focus on it too much but thanks be to God for providing His Son, Jesus Christ, as a means of protection.

As the third in the current series of articles:

#3 Jesus Christ = Protection

I'll present this concept in three parts, what, how and why.

What

What I'm referring to with "what" isn't about "what is protection" but rather the question "from what does the Savior protect us?"  It's easy to think of protection as a lack of trial or difficulty or peaceful and pleasant circumstances, but that's not always the case, nor does it need to be.  I am reminded of what Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, "Of course Jesus noticed the tremendous temptations that came to him, but He did not process and reprocess them. Instead, He rejected them promptly."  Though Jesus was entitled to perfect protection from His Father through His perfect obedience, that protection did not serve as an exemption from affliction or relief from the pains of a mortal body.  Rather, it protected Him from the ignorance of forgetfulness, being quickened by the Spirit at all times, and from fear of neglect from on high among other things.  His perfect obedience acted as a shield to Him by rendering Him impervious to the consequences of mortal weakness and sin for Himself.  He did not yield to the chemical, carnal inclinations of the mortal body in heart, mind, word or action and, therefore, of Himself, was not subject to the effects of succumbing to those things.

So how do we get the same kind of protection?  Asking anyone who is not He to live in completely flawless obedience to all of God's laws all the time is obviously ridiculous, but this is where Jesus' atoning sacrifice, made in love, comes into play.  Since He paid the compensatory price for all of our weaknesses, suffering and other ungodly conditions of mortality, He is now in a position to provide us relief from the effects of mortality when we obey Him.  As our Mediator with the Father and His justice, Christ can match our level of obedience and commitment to Him with a balanced level of His love and a measure of the Holy Ghost in our hearts that negates the long term effects of our suffering on our mind and heart, even right in the middle of it.  He paid the price for it, so, because He deserves it, He can provide is with that protection.

How

How does it work?  I love what Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, "I don't think everyone realizes that when we do sin, when we turn away from God, it does something in us, and when we repent and turn to Him, that effect in us is taken away. With [Christ's] Atonement, we become different people than we would be without it and it's power is infinite, truly infinite, and can reach down and sanctify and make holy any soul."  When we seek to change and obey Jesus more faithfully and consistently, His atonement takes effect in our lives and, for His sake, we are provided a protection perfectly balanced with our burdens.  Consider Doctrine and Covenant 3:20, "And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved...".  That part where it says "rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ and by glorified through faith in his name" is key.  I wrote a song a while ago for which a few of the lyrics are "His Son is Jesus my Savior, Redeemer of mankind. One in purpose with Father, His reward is me if I but follow Him."  That's exactly how it works.  He lived a perfect life and, therefore, His merits are really the only merits that have eternal significance for our salvation.  Because He did not need to suffer for His own salvation, the price He paid for us warrants our protection, re-balancing the scales of justice in His favor to the degree that we follow Him.

Why

Oh, that universal question, why?  Why are we alive?  Why do we suffer?  Why does the universe behave the way it does?  Why does religion matter?  Why should we obey God? In my opinion, the reason is the same for all those questions.  Love.  Why do the elements obey Him?  Because of His love for His creations.  Why do we get His protection?  Because of His love as shown through the person and atonement of Jesus Christ.

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In short we are protected, as with an eternal shield, from the eternal effects of our mortality on our mind and heart by means of His merits, mercy and grace, because He loves us; and the way to activate that protection is by obeying His laws as fearlessly as possible and acting in faith and love to Him.