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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Answering the Futurist: Question 2

Mr. Frey, here is answer to question #2: "Why do logic and reason fail to explain that which is true?"
(read my answer to question 1 here)

It can be found collectively in at least a few places.  Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my way higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

The answer also requires the question to be reworded slightly: "Why does our understanding of logic and reason fail to explain that which is true?"  That scripture helps to clarify that because God (Our Father in Heaven) and His Son Jesus Christ live on the highest plane of existence this means they are in control of everything.  They have a perfect and complete understanding of how and why the universe and existence as a whole operate the way they do or, in short, of truth.  And as Doctrine and Covenants section 93, verse 24 says, "...truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;"  The Father and the Son have a perfect understanding of truth, in part, because they are the very embodiment of all the is good, including truth.  We are unimaginably far from that so, naturally, our perception of truth is fundamentally flawed when left to our own understanding alone.

I am reminded what Fight the New Drug said in one of their memes, "We do not see the world as it is.  We see it as we are."  Jesus Christ sees the world the way it truly is because He and the Father are the only true realists.  They are perfect in every imaginable way and because they are perfect and perfected in their perspective and understanding, they see everything as it truly is.  Their logic and reasoning is the only logic and reasoning that is completely untinctured with even the smallest degree of bias, taint, flaw, distortion or any other possible impurity or source thereof.  They see everything as it is really is.

Going back to the verse in Isaiah 55, because God's perception and comprehension of all things is perfect all in ways imaginable and because ours is so imperfect and faulty by nature, it makes sense to assume that any possible logical analysis or patient winnowing of mankind's discoveries and learning will always include some kind of blemish in our rationale and our resulting conclusions will have at minimum a trace of distortion and/or fallacy (however innocent it may be), and often even flat out deceit, or at least be incomplete at best.

Mr. Frey, you also asked as a part of the question: "Is order more perfect than chaos? Or is chaos just a higher form of order? How will we ever know if we can’t explain it with logic and reason?"  Relating to my answer to your previous question, the reason the universe works the way it does is because it follows the ever immutable laws of justice and mercy.  If something isn't perfectly just and merciful, it will eventually be corrected and/or fully compensated for, God Himself seeing to it.

As the second law of thermodynamics states, the total entropy of an isolated system can only increase over time.  God is the reason why chaos is not constantly raining down upon all of creation, possibly tearing or even destroying the fabric of space and time.  His perfect and complete understanding and application of justice and mercy enables Him to keep everything under control and operating how it should.  Whether order is or isn't more perfect than chaos or whether chaos is or isn't just a higher form of order, the answers can be found if we look to the logic and reasoning of God, for His logic and reasoning can and does satisfactorily explain everything, absolutely everything.  We may not have access to all of His answers right now but, as the Lord Jesus Christ explains in the Book of Mormon, "I will give unto [mankind] line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more;"  We will eventually be able to explain things we can't right now if we align our reasoning with His.

I testify to you from my own experience that His love is so unending and perfect that His "work and [His] glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man[kind]." (See Moses 1:39) He wants us to become like Him, to enjoy all that He does, to learn, comprehend, understand, and live the abundant glorious life that He lives, but we have to get there one step at a time.  We've seen what too much knowledge and power at once does to humans.  Things get bad fast when you give someone too much understanding or power when they're not ready for it.

Our logic and reasoning is flawed by nature.  That's why it doesn't always explain that which is true.  It can't because it's not based on the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the first place, but if we keep trying to change our logic and reasoning to match God's, we will eventually get to the point where our logic and reasoning does explain that which is true because ours will be His.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Answering the Futurist. Question 1

There is an article written by someone called the Futurist Speaker that I found recently who posed 10 of what he termed as "Unanswerable Questions".  To the atheist community perhaps they are unanswerable, but anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I may just be the farthest thing from an atheist within at least 100 miles of where I live, so if you are an atheist, no disrespect intended, but this article probably isn't for you, unless of course you have any interest in exploring faith based answers to questions posed by the Futurist Speaker.  He claims that religion can't answer these questions either, but there is one religion that can and it is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I'll spend 10 entries outlining answers to Mr. Frey's questions from my extensively LDS perspective and, to be fair, I'll do my best to cite scientific sources as well so as to make the "playing field" as even as possible.

So here we go.  Question 1.

Why are there exceptions to every rule?

Mr. Frey stated, in part: "On the surface this seems like a rather trite question, and if you ask the average person on the street, most will simply smile, shrug, and move on. But in a world where scientists have spent countless billions to research and understand such topics as the relationship between matter, energy, particles, and waves, everything has to make sense, except it doesn’t.

Even with our basic understanding of math, 2+2 does not always equal 4. It depends on what type of measurement scale you are using. There are four types of measurement scales – nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. Only in the last two categories does 2+2 = 4."

To address this matter, I'll start out by going to the reason for rules in the first place.  Whether it's rules and laws based on the divine, mankind's legal systems or nature and the cosmos, all of them are based on the principle of keeping order and keeping existence as stable and balanced as possible.  This concept is further explained by Elder Tad R. Callister, "[Justice and mercy] are certain laws of the universe that are immutable, that are without beginning of days or end of years.  They were not created by an intelligent being, nor are they the product of moral thought, rather they are eternal, coexistent realities with the intelligences of the universe.  These laws are immutable in that they cannot be altered or modified in any form.  They are unchangeable from eternity to eternity.  They are self-existing, self-perpetuating laws to which even God himself is subject."

This is not to say that God is not all powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.  It is to say that He is all of those things because he has mastered the laws of justice and mercy.  He knows that any rule or law of the universe and eternity must fall under the broad expanse of  justice and mercy to keep things balanced.  If it doesn't it must be applied differently.  Similar to what Mr. Frey stated about 2+2 equaling 4 only in interval and ratio scales, there are circumstances where certain laws must be applied toward each other in different ways in order to be both perfectly merciful and just.  Take for example the Book of Mormon where Nephihah was given power to enact laws as he pleased provided they fell within the confines of the laws which he was given, similar to the way state law can be different from state to state as long as it agrees with the constitution in the U.S.  Sometimes choices are made or events occur that warrant a different application of justice and mercy in order to keep things as orderly as possible.

A few examples of this include the Lord's command to Nephi to kill laban (1 Nephi 4:10-18),  Abraham Lincoln's pardoning a soldier sentenced to die for his mothers sake (can't find the original source), Mormon polygamy being commanded only at times where it was needed and could be practiced justly and safely.  In each of these and in all other cases, the reason for exceptions are there are circumstances what would normally satisfy the eternal laws of justice and mercy didn't accomplish that purpose.

If Nephi didn't kill Laban, we wouldn't have the Book of Mormon today and the glorious restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If Abraham Lincoln hadn't pardoned that soldier, his mother would have suffered a great injustice of losing her son, merely because he fell asleep!  If many of the early Latter-day Saint men hadn't taken on the responsibility of more wives, many women, including widows, would have been left homeless, helpless and likely dead.  Today we don't practice that because justice and mercy don't require it.  There are more than enough means for every woman to find a worthy priesthood holder for an eternal companion when the time is right.

Many things in life are always constant.  Principles of faith, patience, service, humility, charity and virtue are eternal and unchanging in nature.  How they are applied, however, often varies from one situation to the next.  Something that is completely edifying to me, just the thing I needed to hear, may cause more damage than help to someone else.

So how do we know when something will satisfy the laws of justice and mercy?  Thankfully God is omniscient and omnipotent and, as pointed out earlier, is God because He has mastered those laws and knows each life, each situation and each perspective perfectly and flawlessly.   If we look to Him and His prophets we will be able to eventually discern what is right for each and every situation and that takes practice.  As Elder David A. Bednar said "Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong.  It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant and the necessary from that which is merely nice."

Nephi was so in tune with the Holy Ghost that when he got the command from the Holy Ghost to murder, he wasn't unsure or confused, just shocked.  Of course he didn't expect a command like that, but he as at least in tune and familiar enough with the Still Small Voice to know when it was speaking to him, even to give him a command as drastic as that.

 There may very well be exceptions in some circumstances to even some of the most rigid laws or commandments, but in order to know what they are and when they apply, look to Jesus Christ and His prophets.  He has promised He will never let them guide us the wrong way.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Overcoming Pornography - 5 Virtues That Will Help You Beat It

I left a review on the Porn Harms page on facebook in March 2017 that said "Don't listen to all the naysayers who dismiss the dangers of pornography. They're the ones who are too afraid to admit they are addicted to it and that it's ruining their lives. This agency is helping to save people's lives and repair torn families. I have seen first hand the damage pornography does to marriages and families. It rewires the brain to completely ignore feelings of love, empathy, respect and trust.
Thanks NCOSE for all the hard work you do."

Of course I expected people to comment with things like "Oh, it's not as bad as you're making it out to be" or "Stop trying to tell people how to live."

On the contrary, to my surprise, I had people saying things like "k tell me first move", "I like it too... I need to stop" and "I watch it almost everyday... [Please] I want to stop this what can i do"

I have struggled myself with this plague off and on for over 15 years and I know exactly what works and what doesn't when it comes to overcoming that kind of addiction.  Below I have explained 6 different virtues that will help you overcome it.

1. Accountability.  As Neal A. Maxwell said, "Ever wonder why the sensual scene so often features flashing but fading lights? Or why all the reinforcing glitz? Or why all the loudness masquerading as music? Because, fearful of the dawn, evil cannot stand the steady scrutiny of bright truth, nor can it endure the quiet reflections of soul-searching!"  If you want bad behavior or sinful habits out of your life, expose it.  I guarantee you there are few things that will make you overcome the impulse to indulge in pornography more than making it known.  No matter how hyper-sexualized society has become, people in general usually look down on those who they label "perverts".

This doesn't mean you have to spew out on facebook something like "I am addicted to pornography and I watch it every day!"  Embarrasing, much?  However, do find someone (or more than one if you can) who you love and trust and ask them to be a "confession board" for you.  It needs to be someone who can appreciate and support you in your recovery and will treat your addiction seriously enough to help talk you out of consuming pornography when the urge strikes.  Whoever you choose, they must be firm enough in their resolve to help you that they will never say or do anything that even accidentally makes you think you can indulge or that it's "not as bad as you think."  You should feel guilty about it!  But guilt is not shame.  Shame is based on "I am bad."  Guilt is based on "I did something bad."  The worth of your soul is based on your eternal identity as a child of God, not on what you have done.  Make sure your "confession board" person is aware of that and is firm enough to be clear that consuming pornography in any form and to any degree is wrong, but loving enough to make it clear that you can make better choices, you can beat it and you can train your brain to think differently.  When you've found that person (or people), be relentless and even painfully open and honest about the details of your addiction, it's frequency, when your weak times of the day are, what your triggers are, etc. Only use your computer in public places if don't live alone so others can see what you are doing if you are afraid to start with verbal accountability.  Get to that point by making it harder for yourself to "get away with it."  But do find someone who you can talk to.  I promise you will not be able to beat the addiction without help from someone else.

2. Honesty.  Speaking of being open and honest.  You need to be willing to not mince words, sugar coat or in any way attempt to "sneak" around direct, detailed acknowledgement of the nature of your addiction.  I understand how scary that can be.  It's hard to say things like "The first thing I impulsively think of and the first place my eyes go when I see a woman is her breasts/vagina" or "I often fantasize about what it would be like to touch her/him in [private place] or have them [sexual act] to me" or "I saw a person in tight jeans today and all of the sudden I had a powerful urge to [insert response here]."  When you say things like that to your "confession board" person it's going to make you feel awkward and probably dirty or sleezy.  That's okay!  It should make you feel like that!  Godly sorrow - meaning guilt, not shame - is an effective catalyst for change.  You also need to clearly and precisely talk about what you use as rationalizations.  Perhaps you think "So many people do it, what's the difference with just one more person does it?" or "It's a bikini. It's not like their naked" or "It's just a pose, they have all their clothes on.  They're just comfortable in their own body" or "It's just art.  It's meant to focus on the beauty of the body" or "Wow they're hot!  I'll just search for their name and focus on the pictures with clothes on. I just want to see how truly beautiful they are or how their reached their goal weight."

Stop it.  Stop it now.  You're lying to yourself.  These rationalizations and all others are lies.  If you are truly honest with yourself, you know that the mind of an addict will look desperately, even subconsciously, for reasons that look innocent enough to justify "just one search" or "just one click".  The health, weight loss, fitness, clothing, sports, entertainment, food, and even mental health industries use, more often then not, devious means to sneak little "hints" of sexual ideas into everything they sell.  I saw an advertisement the other day on facebook from Screenrant that said something like "Photos the cast of Harry Potter never wanted to get out" with a picture of Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) facing her boyfriend, both of them in swimsuits having an intimate moment.  Wow are those people ever sly.  Using social drama to put crap like that out there.  And that's not the only means they'll use.

Pay attention to your thought patterns and be ridiculously honest about them.

3. Vigilance.  The process of over coming sexual addictions take time and keeping your guard up for the many triggers that I'm sure you know so easily get to you.  As you work harder at it, you may find yourself staying further away from whatever it is your addiction involves and feeling like "you got this.  You're good now.  You've beat it."  Whether you're talking about pornography or masturbation or something worse, you cannot let your guard down like that.  Just because you've stopped your addiction for a time doesn't mean those connections you formed in your brain by indulging for all that time will go away that fast.  You can't just detox from pornography.  It's not something you can just "clean out of your body."  You can't just unsee what you have seen.  Your subconscious remembers everything.  All your subconscious needs is the smallest of triggers when your guard is down and, slam! You're on your way back into the addiction. Our minds as humans are easily programmed but very hard to reprogram.  We are naturally creatures of habit.

My addiction started when I was... 7? 8? 9?  Somewhere in there.  Some cousins of mine were over for a family reunion and they had parked their trailer out in the front of our house.  I was curious one day about the trailer and went to explore it with permission because I had never traveled with one before.  Glamour Magazine was in the trailer and while there were no naked women in there or any suggestive poses, etc. The swimsuits, some of them, didn't leave much to the imagination.  My initial response was "This is bad! These women need more clothes on!" and said something to that effect to my cousin.  All he said back was "Oh it's just swimsuits.  It's not that bad."  That was all it took.  I was scared to talk about it with my parents and it kept festering in my mind for years until I found myself fully immersed in an addiction to pornography and masturbation.  You. can. not. be. too. careful. This doesn't mean you can never go to a mall again or walk by a magazine rack in a store.  It just means you need to be on guard everywhere you go and, as mentioned above, stay completely accountable about every detail.  You will probably notice quickly how often you find yourself thinking "Dang! These triggers are coming up way more often than I thought.  This is the 5th time today where I've be triggered/indulged and it's not even 5 o'clock!".  Vigilance will help that decrease and the person you use as a "confession board" will notice the decrease as well as you improve.

4.  Patience.  Speaking of improving, remember what I said about connections in the brain?  It's true.  I've been a pianist for more than 20 years.  I know what it takes to form and strengthen new connections in the brain and replace bad ones with good ones.  It takes years of repetition of a good habit to permanently break strong negative impulses.  It will be difficult at first.  I can almost guarantee you will have relapses.  You will slip.  You will come to points where you are just so sure that you've got it kicked and then fall back into it one random day when you least expect it.  Things like that are typical in addiction recovery.  If that doesn't happen to you that way, great!  Fantastic!  Well done!  But please, do not make the mistake of abstaining for months or even years at a time and use that fact to think "I did it!  I beat it!  I'm done!"  Maybe you are one of those kinds of people who I have heard actually did kick it cold turkey and never went back.  If so, I commend you profusely for this extraordinary achievement.  But please don't count on it.  This kind of thing is HARD.  REALLY HARD to break out of.

I know better than anyone else I know personally that you can go 5 years or more without it and still have just one time where the situation is just right for the devil to work, to tease you with something so subtle that he convinces you that you are "still in control", that "you already beat this, you're fine."  The next thing you know you can't believe you've fallen right back into your old habits.  You need to couple vigilance with patience.  I promise you will have days where you yell and scream at yourself, maybe even throw or break something and say "THAT'S IT!!  I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN! EVER!!! I'm so sick of feeling dirty and sleazy!" and then break down and cry and cry and cry.  And then you'll find yourself sometime afterwards doing it again.  And get how horrible that feels.  It hurts like nothing else you've ever felt before.  Words do not do it justice.  You don't feel worthy to live.  Perhaps you may get suicidal.  I really have been there.  I've been to that horrible, dark, seemingly endless and inescapable abyss.  I know how hard it is to beat something like this.  But patience and faith in yourself and vigilance and accountability and honesty will get you a long ways.  But as my next point illustrates it won't get you all the way there.  You'll need just one more thing.

5. Faith.  Specifically, faith in Jesus Christ.  You need Him.  He already overcame all the temptations, guilt, hurt, shame, weakness and sin you have or ever will commit.  He has done so flawlessly.  He knows what you need to beat it.  He knows that you're efforts and even the help of those around you, who He puts in your path, will only get you so far.  The boost you need to permanently conquer sexual addiction, heal from it and heal those you hurt in your addiction as well can only come by the enabling power of His grace, made available to you because of His atoning sacrifice, His payment for your soul.  Even if you are not religious or an atheist or agnostic or whatever you are, I promise you from my own personal experience, the only thing that will bring you to conquer your problem forever is turning to Jesus Christ, having faith in Him sufficient to follow Him and center your life on Him.

He knows your needs better than anyone else.  Whatever it was that sparked your addiction, a bad breakup with a boyfriend/girlfriend, the pain of divorce, pressure from friends of family, bullying, abuse of any kind at home, stress with work or home responsibilities or whatever else, He understands that perfectly.  He knows how to break that cycle to heal the hurt and harmful effects of it all, both in your heart and cognitively.  No one can transform you like He can.  I know I said earlier that sexual addiction is really hard to beat, but if you are looking for the easiest way out of it, Jesus Christ, The Son of God, is the easiest and the only way out no matter what anyone else tells you.  Just because it's the easiest way out doesn't mean it's just easy, period.  Christ asks us to repent and the pain that sometimes accompanies that is far better than suffering in the chains of addiction.  Repentance comes from the Greek "metanoia", which, literally translated, means "to think differently after" signifying a change of mind and heart, a permanently new and ever improving view of ourselves, God and the world.  It's still hard, but centering your life on Him is better than waiting until the pain of the problem gets worse than the pain of the solution.

___________________________________________________

Before I wrap this up, I'd also recommend utilizing the LDS Addiction Recovery Program.

I've said it probably a hundred times before and I'll say it again.  If there's one thing you can do for yourself that will help in these 5 ways and even help you to come up with more ways to help you beat this or any other kind of addiction, it is this: Stop asking "How good do I have to be?" and start asking "How good can I be?"  In the moments where I was backed up to my wall of faith - staring my weaknesses and sins in the face as they mercilessly, attractively and viciously taunt me - and I actually came out victorious, that is the attitude that made all the difference for me, especially when I do it with faith in Christ.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Easter - The Bunny or the Beloved Son?

What's the most celebrated holiday?  Christmas, right?  Well, not in all parts of the world or in all cultures, of course, but generally speaking.  Everyone sees or catches in some way the Spirit of Christmas that time of year, or, more accurately the Spirit of Christ.  It's a wonderful time of year that often brings out the best in people.

But there's another holiday that gets much less attention than it should.  I believe it should get as much, if not more attention, than Christmas.  That holiday is Easter.

Why is there not more hype about it?  This is something that has bothered me more every year.  It's the day the full force of His Atonement became complete, the day we were all granted eventual immortality, and it's His real birthday (And don't go there, yes it is.  You seriously don't believe that shepherds would be out feeding their sheep on green grass in the middle of winter do you?).  I have asked my wife every year if I can please keep some of the Christmas decorations up until April for that reason and the last few years she has been gracious enough to let me keep the mini tree up on our piano as well as (this year) our nativities.  This year we are also putting up (permanently) next to our front door a framed copy of The Living Christ alongside The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

For satan to have things his way, what a better way to distract from the supernal wonder of the Resurrected Lord than to give plenty of distractions to draw people's attention away from Him?  I'm not saying the Easter bunny is a bad thing.  I just think that if we take an honest look at where our focus is and where we are putting our families and children's focus the result will be a realization that we are not centering our families and homes on Him enough.

How would you feel if you had given all your heart and soul to provide someone the most sacred and everlasting gift that could be offered and they brushed it aside or split their attention between it and something totally irrelevant?  The answer to this question I believe can be illustrated by something President Nelson wrote in his book Accomplishing the Impossible, "Many years ago, two colleagues of mine-a nurse and her doctor husband-asked me why I lived the way I did.  I answered, 'Because I know the Book of Mormon is true.'  I let them borrow a copy of the book, inviting them to read it.  A week later they returned my book with a polite 'thanks a lot.' I responded, 'What do you mean, thanks  a lot? That's a totally inappropriate response for one who has read this book.  You didn't read it, did you?  Please take it back and read it; then I would like my book back.'"  The result from his experience with was two people returning the book with tear filled eyes, saying "We know it's true! We'd like to know more."

This is how I feel when Jesus Christ and/or His atoning sacrifice for us, including His victory over death, is brushed aside or given a few brief moments of thought followed by an "okay, moving on now." It's so saddening.  As Tad R. Callister said, "One does not speak lightly of the Atonement or casually express appreciation.  It is the most sacred and sublime event in eternity.  It deserves our most intense thoughts, our most profound feelings, and our noblest deeds.  One speaks of it in reverential tones; one contemplates it in awe; one learns of it in solemnity.  This event stands alone, now and throughout eternity."

How can we possibly claim to be true Christians if we're taking the greatest and most miraculous of all the achievements in human history - the conquering of death, sin, weakness, etc. - while in any degree allowing ourselves to get distracted from the One who beat them for us?  The answer is simple.  You can't.

A true disciple of Christ will view Him and His example, sufferings, death and resurrection as a reason to center Easter - and, really, your whole life, heart and soul - on Him.

As the hymn says:
"He is risen! He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days' prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory."

It reminds of the beginning of the first Harry Potter book when Vernon was met by wizards out in broad daylight and was even told by one of them "Don't be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today!  Rejoice for You-Know-Who has gone at last!  Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!"

When I see Easter "decorations" all over the stores and public areas based on a bunny and eggs (which doesn't even make sense, since bunnies don't lay eggs), I feel disappointed at how successful the devil is at keeping people's attention away from Christ during a time of year where our attention should be on Him more than ever.  I think it would be awesome if it was a hunt for an empty tomb and folded sheets instead of for eggs.  We have plenty of Christmas pageants and nativities done for kids during Christmas time, so why not more portrayal the scene at the cross and 3 days later of Mary Magdalene at the Garden Tomb being greeted by the risen Lord?

I know He lives today.  I know His life, His example, His church, His gospel, and most importantly His atoning sacrifice for us are just as efficacious today as they always been.  I have seen and heard things throughout my life that don't leave any room for doubt about Him.  I know for certain He has personally stood with me, helped me, wept for me and sent angels from both sides of the veil to lift, strengthen, correct and console me in my weakness and my burdens.  He is real.  He is our perfect, glorified, immortal Redeemer and Son of God.  I know this from my own personal experience and you can too if you but follow Him by striving to live how He did and following the counsel of His prophets today.

My testimony of Him echoes that of modern prophets, certifying "the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice."  I stand with them in their declaration that "none other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth."

The Prince of Peace lives!
#princeofpeace

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 10 - Finale

For the finale of my 10 part Songs of the Righteous series I want try and take something that seems overused and make it exciting again.  I know that often times we as mortals tend to get bored when something is heavily repeated, but careful observation of the scriptures will show that when the Lord wants us to pay particular attention to something He repeats it several times.  Well, I don't know of any gospel truth repeated more often than the reality of our eternal identity as children of God.  This time I'm not taking the song from the hymn book but from the Primary Children's Song book because there is a fourth verse that I feel needs to be included that isn't in the regular hymn book.  Besides, I think many of the songs in the Primary Children's Song book teach gospel principles much more simply and beautifully than many of the hymns.

"I am a child of God, and he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

*Chorus
"Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way
Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.

I am a child of God, and so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words before it grows too late.

I am a child of God. Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will, I'll live with him once more.

I am a child of God. His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine if I can but endure."

To be totally candid, I don't see a need to expound much on this hymn so my comments here will be brief.  One of the beauty's of simple doctrines is that they don't need much explanation.  All of humanity is one big family with a Heavenly Father and Mother and the fact that they are the most loving and powerful beings in the all the universe says more about our potential and our purpose than can be adequately expressed in mortal language.  It's no wonder this song can say things like "His promises are sure" and "rich blessings are in store".

I love Him and am forever thankful to Him for His Perfect Son, Jesus Christ and the chance I have because of Him to "live with Him someday".  I know this is true and I testify of it in the Holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 9

Second to last Song of the Righteous is hymn 293, Each Life That Touches Ours for Good 

"Each life that touches ours for good reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above thru words and deeds of those who love.

What greater gift dost thou bestow, what greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

When such a friend from us departs, we hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory, bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim devotion to the Savior's name,
Who bless our days with peace and love, we praise thy goodness, Lord, above."

I know this hymn is usually meant for funerals (not always the happiest of occasions), but the message has a wonderful reminder for all of us.

Today (3-26-2017) in Sunday School the subject matter was missionary work and there were several examples given of people who's efforts to share the gospel might have seemed relatively fruitless at the time.  One was of Samuel Smith, the prophet Joseph Smith's brother.  On his mission he found Phineas Young who accepted the gospel and Phineas' brother, Brigham, read the same Book of Mormon that Samuel gave to Phineas.  As is well known, Brigham became the President of the Lord's church and lead the saints to establish Zion in the Western U.S.  I might be wrong, but if I recall correctly, Samuel felt that his efforts didn't amount to much at first because Phineas was the only person received the truth from his efforts.  You can read more detail about that story here.

Another example of this is Abinadi in the Book of Mormon.  He taught the gospel to a people who didn't care about it and had nothing but contempt for the word of the Lord as he (Abinadi) was tied up and interrogated by a wicked king and threatened with death.  One, just one, of the the kings corrupt priests, Alma, felt the truth of Abinadi's words and escaped the kings soldiers when they pursued him for speaking out in favor Abinadi.  He wrote down what he heard, repented, became the prophet of the Lord's church and was the means of fulfilling the Lord's promise to Nephi that the sacred records of his people would be preserved and come forth in our day as the Book of Mormon.  So really, partially because of Abinadi's efforts, we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ today.

These are just two examples of countless more of how one life can touch even millions of others for good.


I'm sure this story has been told in many Christian congregations throughout the world, but it's worth repeating here.  During World War II, a statue of Jesus Christ in a German town had been destroyed by bombing.  After the war was over, the people of the town where the statue resided found the pieces among the rubble and were saddened with the destruction of this great symbol of their faith.  Some skilled men were able to restore most of the statue, but the hands were so badly damaged that they could not be repair.  So the towns people decided they would simply leave the hands off the statue and ad an inscription as the bottom that read "You are my hands."
This story is quite the effective reminder of how much good we can do for others by simply living a Christ-like life.  Sometimes when I'm picking up groceries or running errands at our street corner and I see a miserable looking cashier I use a line I heard in college to help snap them out of it and hopefully brighten their day.  Pointing downward, I say "excuse me Ma'am/Sir, you dropped your smile!"  They usually take a split second to catch on to what I did but the smile they always respond with gives me opportunity to say something like "There ya go!  There's always something to be happy about!"

I have been the thankful recipient of an encouraging favor or remark on countless occasions as well and while you sometimes may not think it is worth much, I can tell you that with the kinds of things that go on in the lives of my wife and I, small things like that often make all the difference between the rest of my day going rotten or getting better.


I also love the mention of "hallowed memor[ies]" in verse 3 of this hymn.  It goes along very well with 2 Nephi 9:14 where it mentions the righteous having "a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" at the resurrection.  As I mentioned in another blog post, "I love having even the smallest reminders of His love for us.  I'm not as good as I want to be at keeping those memories fresh, but when they are there, even only if for a small moment, I'm home."

The last verse has a message that is very personal and particularly meaningful to me because of how often I feel like a loner spiritually. "For worthy friends whose lives proclaim devotion to the Savior's name, Who bless our days with peace and love, we praise thy goodness, Lord, above."  When I find someone who's experiences are as deeply spiritual and wonderful or, conversely, devastating, it serves as a relief and a breath of fresh air for me because I don't feel a need to 'sugar coat' or socially 'tip-toe' with anything I say because those friends lives "proclaim [the same] devotion to the Savior's name" as I feel in my heart and I know they'll understand what I mean no matter what I say.

I will forever be thankful for those many people who served as both a "balm of Gilead" for me in rough times and a pleasant reminder or enhancement of truth, goodness and love during days of peace.  And, of course, when it comes to the most important life that touches all for good, God be thanked for the matchless gift of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 8

Song of the Righteous #8 goes along very well with President Packer's statement about hymns in part 1, "If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  It is hymn 272, Oh Say, What is Truth?

"Oh say, what is truth? ’Tis the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when the proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth? ’Tis the brightest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies, or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
’Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp when with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last, and its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.

Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, for the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore."

This hymn is correct when it says that truth is "the fairest gem that the riches of worlds can produce."  You see, truth does not change to align with cultural, social, political, or economic fluctuations.   It does not bend to accommodate fads or whims of special interest groups.  It cannot be diluted by public opinion and is not in the eye of the beholder.  To be honest, I don't understand why anyone would even see any value in truth if it was.  We mortals always crave something and someone that is forever reliable, completely honest, always perfectly and infinitely fair and loving, flawlessly just and merciful and in all ways imaginable immune to any shadow of wavering or temptation to be anything else.  So it's just irrational that anyone would want truth to become subject to our ever changing, unsteady, unreliable, often self interested desires.

So where do we find the truth?  What did the Lord Jesus Christ say? "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  So one of His names is Truth.  So, as Jack R. Christianson pointed out, when Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:38, "What is truth?" What's he really asking?  Who. Are. You?  You want to know truth?  Come to know the Master.  He is the truth, the very embodiment of it.

Well does this hymn recommend that we "go search in the depth where it glittering lies, or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies."  If there is truth, we need to find it.  For only it will guide us to what we truly want, peace in this life and eternal life and love in the world to come.  There was a video I watched on youtube just yesterday where a returned LDS missionary said "When Nephi talks about how he pondered the things of the gospel ... I think ... if I just read the scriptures [as opposed to studying them], there's not really a lot to ponder about... I believe it was President Eyring who said 'If we become casual in our study of the scriptures we will become casual in our prayers.  We may not cease to pray but our prayers will become more repetitive, lacking real intent, our hearts cannot be drawn to a God we do not know, and the scriptures and words of living prophets help us to know Him.'"


It is so important to know the truth, to know Him, that He took on the infinite weight of all things evil and overcame it so that we could.  "The most knowledgeable farmer with a horse and a plow is no match for an equally proficient farmer with a high tech tractor at his command.  The mathematician with a slide rule is no challenge to his colleague with a high speed computer.  A Galileo with a handheld telescope will never discover the universe like a Galileo with the most advanced telescope at his disposal.  The Lord must expect much more of us in gospel scholarship than he did of previous generations, because we have so much more at our disposal.” (The Infinite Atonement, pg. 21)  

We have so much more access to truth than anyone else ever did in the history of the world that to not seek it like "horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed [Elder Holland, New Era, October 1980]" to obtain it is not only is not only a dismal and selfish waste, but a direct antithesis to our purpose on earth, to prepare to meet and become like our Father in Heaven, which means therefore to become, ourselves, embodiments of truth.  We can't do that if we don't continually make the truth a part of who we are, our very nature.


I think that, quite possibly, many in the world today view the concept of absolute truth as unfeeling, discordant, cold, sterile, or lifeless.  If they'd look closer at the Embodiment of Truth (the Savior), what did He say about His purpose?  "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."  Absolute truth, if adhered to, results in that "abundant life".  As Parley P. Pratt said of the conduit by which all truth flows to us, "The gift of the Holy Ghost... quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use.  It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature.  It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity.  It develops beauty of person, form and features.  It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feelings.  It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man.  It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves.  In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being."

I'd hardly call that sterile, cold or unfeeling.


To be honest, the fact that truth is so universal and unchanging should be an ultimate comfort to us.  As the last verse reminds us, "Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, for the limits of time it steps o’er. Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, Eternal, unchanged, evermore."  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 7

Now in the last few "Song[s] of the Righteous", hymn 7 on the list is #240, Know This, That Every Soul is Free.

"Know this, that ev'ry soul is free to choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is giv'n: that God will force no man to heav'n.

He'll call, persuade, direct aright, and bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind, but never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men; take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well the beasts may think of heav'n or hell.

May we no more our pow'rs abuse, but ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve His grace and seek his perfect love."

Though this one is relatively short, it is packed with wonderful messages about the second of two forces that make God's plan possible.  The first is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the next is our Agency, our ability to choose.

This concept goes all the way back to the reason I began blogging in the first place.  I gave a talk on agency in church, I think... 4? 5 years ago? Preparing my comments changed my perspective completely on the importance of agency in relation to the Atonement of Christ and helped me want to be like Christ enough that preparing that talk wasn't enough.  I had to do more.  Since I can't give a talk in sacrament meeting whenever I want, I thought I would just write about my thoughts elsewhere and just share them with the world.  Doing so has been such a huge help to me and I hope to my readers.

The most profound thing to me about agency is that it is the gift that will either damn us or, because of Christ, save us.  Not even God in all His mighty power can intervene with that.  As the hymns says "God will force no man to heav[e]n."  Instead He "call[s out to us], persuade[s us], and direct[s us] aright, ... bless[es us] with wisdom, love and light."  In other words, He follows the very word He gave us in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-43, to lead by "persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge,"

Choice is part of what makes us children of God.  He entrusted us with the same ability that makes Him God, the power to choose.  Of course, the reason it makes Him God is because He uses that ability perfectly, but, it's value is still incalculable.  "Freedom and reason make us men; take these away, what are we then? Mere animals..."  We humans are the race of God and in order for us to become like Him (note that "become" is a verb) we must choose so and coupled with the Savior's power, granted us because of His atonement, we can!

But only if we learn to use it perfectly, like He does. "May we no more our pow[e]rs abuse, but ways of truth a goodness choose."  Citing Cecil B. De Mille, "[God] did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules.  He made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free.  We cannot break the Ten Commandments.  We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."

Do you know why God called Christ His "Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"?  Well, of course there are many reasons why, but one of them for sure is that He was totally obedient to His Father.  There is a part of the missionary manual Preach My Gospel where a story is told by one missionary of a man who had "hemmed and hawed" about baptism, delaying it as much as possible for fear of what everyone else would think of him.  Eventually the missionaries read the account of the Savior's visit to the Americas as the resurrected Lord in 3 Nephi, where the Father uses that phrase, "well pleased".  According the the manual, conversation was as follows. "...he looked up at me and said 'Heavenly Father was really proud of His Son, wasn't He?' 'Yes,' I said. [The man] looked back at his book again and stared at the open pages as if in deep thought.  Finally he said, 'I would want Heavenly Father to be proud of me too.  I wonder how He would introduce me.  I guess, if I ... well, if I want Him to be proud of me then I had better do what He wants me to do.' 'Yes, I think that would be important,' I replied. 'Well', [the man] continued. 'I think I've been worrying too much about what everybody else thinks and not enough about what God thinks.'  After a brief pause [the man] nodded and with a determined look said, 'I think I had better be baptized.'"

No wonder the hymn ends with "Our God is pleased when we improve His grace and seek his perfect love."  He is pleased when we use our agency correctly because it brings us closer to the happiness that He enjoys.  Using agency the way God asks us to is the best way to happiness, no matter what anyone else says.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 6

Coming in at number 6 of 10 is Hymn 220, Lord I Would Follow Thee:

Savior, may I learn to love thee, walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee--Lord I would follow Thee

Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see.
Who am I to judge another? Lord I would follow Thee

I would be my brother's keeper; I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother's keeper--Lord I would follow Thee

Savior, may I love my brother as I know thou lovest me,
Find in thee my strength, my beacon, for thy servant I would be.
Savior, may I love my brother--Lord I would follow Thee.

The first verse of this is an excellent reminder of what it means to love.  For my more frequent readers, sorry if I refer to Tad Callister's words too much, but his point that charity is the quintessence of Godhood makes this verse even more wonderful.  The crowning spiritual gift, as well as the culmination of all spiritual gifts, is Charity, the pure love of Christ.  If we truly love, we will live as the embodiment of all that is love did.  We will live as Christ did and act towards others the way He acted towards others, "paus[ing] to help and lift another, [and through Him] finding strength beyond [our] own."  When we live our love Him, loving others and living in love for others will naturally follow.

That also means acknowledging how dependent we are on Him and hopefully letting that fact permanently distract us from any comparison to how we are doing relative to others or how far ahead or behind we think they are from us.  As Jack R. Christianson said, "I'll leave final judgement to ... Christ. ... He's the Judge.  You and I need to quit judging each other and ourselves.  And, you see, if you care about pleasing the Father you don't have to worry about ever carrying the burden of being a judge, unless you're a Bishop or a Stake President or a General Authority or a Mission President.  They're the only judges there are with ordained authority to judge people, you don't have to do it!  Isn't that a relief?  You never have to judge anybody else.  I mean, as in, whether they're going to make it [to heaven] or not.  You still have to judge their character if you're going to date [th]em."  There's another article that talks more about this here if you're interested.

Now the message of the next verse can be taken one of two ways.  Either one in excess is unhealthy and unChristlike.  On the one hand you have those who take the concept of being their brothers keeper as an invitation to take charge of every decision they make, giving every effort to dictate how wrong or right they think people are and what they should be doing at every turn.  Their claim is that they do it out of love, always misusing the idea of "I will not help you one inch to hell."

On the other side of it, you have those who think being our brother's keeper means that we are to be there to help someone at their every beck and call, even if what they want isn't what they need.  Indeed we should be willing to put our more trivial pursuits on hold to lift another.  For priesthood holders in the LDS church, this also means always staying worthy and willing to provide a priesthood blessing whenever the request comes.  However, this does not mean we go as far as giving requested "help" if it means enabling something dangerous or otherwise harmful to... well... anyone.  Situations like that are times where "I will not help you one inch to hell" is more of a loving stance than a rude and mean one.  Kindly offering a better alternative to their request that actually will help them is the more loving option in those situations.  Being our brothers keeper, I believe, simply means keeping the Savior's best interest for them at heart.  Notice how I did not say their best interest, but rather the Savior's.  His will for us is always the best thing to pursue, even and especially if it doesn't match the desires of our hearts.

The easiest way to let the message of this hymn truly sink in to our hearts and become a part of our nature, I think is to consider the message the Lord gave us in 3 Nephi 27, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;" as well as chapter 12, verse 48 where He commands us to be perfect.  More about that here.

The more we are like Him, the easier it becomes to follow Him and vice versa.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 5

At least one sacrament hymn had to be in the list, so for Song of the Righteous number 5, #185, Reverently and Meekly Now.

Rev'rently and meekly now let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one; Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain, Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree I have ransomed even thee.

In this bread now blest for thee, emblem of my body see;
In this water or this wine, emblem of my blood divine.
Oh, remember what was done that the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary I have suffered death for thee.

Bid thine heart all strife to cease; With thy brethren be at peace.
Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e[v]en forgiven now by me.
In the solemn faith of prayer cast upon me all thy care,
And my Spirit's grace shall be like a fountain unto thee.

At the throne I intercede; For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend, with a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore, prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me, that thy Savior I may be.

Aside from the New Testament and the Savior's personal ministry among the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, I don't know of many places where we have large concentrations of the His words to us as a whole in this manner.  Hymns where the idea is that the Savior Himself is speaking to us are something to which I believe we should pay special attention.

As encouraged in the sacrament prayer, this one starts out by setting the tone for us to "always remember Him."  There are so many times where I know my choices would be very different I would simply remember that I will be contributing to His pain in Gethsemane and making myself more a part of that awful scene if I make what I know deep down is the wrong choice.  As W Cleon Skousen noted, "The [capillaries] of His [blood]stream couldn’t even contain [His blood] and it spilled out into the sweat glands and poured out on His skin as ... great drops of blood."  Only Christ could have done it and He only could have done it if motivated by His perfect, infinite love for us.

Jack R. Christianson once referred to a few of the words of "This is the Christ" as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "How many drops of blood were shed for me?", and responded "far, far too many".  The same goes for me and I echo brother Christianson further when he expressed how sick and tired he was of being a part of that scene.  I hate it.  I want to be, as my dad has paraphrased Nephi's sentiments about sin, "scared spit-less" of being a part of that any more.  I want to be better at remembering what He did and letting that knowledge and His love determine my desires and choices instead of the loud, rude, immature screaming demands of the flesh.

After reminding us to put Him first, He reiterates His second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  "Bid thine heart all strife to cease; With thy brethren be at peace. Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e[v]en forgiven now by me." There was a letter written, I know not by whom, meant to sound like it was coming directly from Heavenly Father.  A part of it says "My child, be a peacemaker.  It breaks my heart to see so many of my children fighting.  If they could only see what I have hoped, planned and wished for them, but you, you faithful child, are my hope.  It is through you that my work must proceed.  You haven't much time.  There is so much to be done.  I beg you to get started, accomplish the mission I gave you before you left me.  I'll help you.  I'm always nearer to you than you might suspect.  I'm never too busy or too far away to come to you."

The beautiful end to the hymn is a reminder of His constant and close relationship and love for each of us, followed up by Him urgently begging us ("imploring") to stay "constant to Him" so that His sacrifice for us may take full effect and that "[our] Savior [He] may be".

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 4

Song of the Righteous number 4 is hymn 145, Prayer is the Souls Sincere Desire.

"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh, The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye when none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air,
His watchword at the gates of death; He enters heav'n with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice, returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice and cry, "Behold, he prays!"

The Saints in prayer appear as one in word and deed and mind,
While with the Father and the Son their fellowship they find.

Nor prayer is made on earth alone: The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus at the Father's throne for sinners intercedes.

O thou by whom we come to God, The Life, the Truth, the Way!
The path of prayer thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray."

I don't know if this seems selfish or not, but part of the reason I picked this hymn is because I need help building my faith and testimony of prayer.  Usually, when I write about something I end up learning more about it and Heavenly Father uses the opportunity to show me something I'm missing or just ignoring, even if I don't know I am.  I may end up taking the verses here a bit out of order looking for an answer to my own prayer for Him to help me with this particular shortcoming in me.

One thing I can say for sure is that I whole-heartedly agree with verse 4 calling it "the Christian's native air."  Even though I lack ability to recognize answers to my prayers as easily as I want to or even know what to pray for or if I'm even praying for the right thing, I at least know my knee-jerk reaction to go to God in prayer when I find myself at a loss for answers or peace is a good thing.

It's the same thing I'm sure with verse five's calling prayer "the contrite sinner's voice".  For those aren't familiar with my older entries here, I have Asperger's Syndrome, which for me includes a sort of social "dyslexia".  I so often lack the ability to tactfully and respectfully express how I feel or what I think to others that I inadvertently come off to people as the opposite of what I'm trying to.  Many times when I'm trying to amend something I've done or even trying to get it right the first time, I accidentally say something that actually makes it worse.

I have special gift in this area as well, however.  The instant I know I've done something wrong - which I usually find out pretty fast - I immediately feel bad about it want that much more to make it right.  I hate when I mess up.   I hate it.  I want so badly to become like Christ, meek, gentle, good, speaking with persuasion rather than compulsion and all that other good stuff in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42.  I'm just not nearly as good as I want to be or often think I should be.  Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by something that I fear or feel hurt about that I go off like a bomb, feeling completely unable process anything going on around me without spewing out what I feel without filter.  I hate when that happens because I'm not a Jekyll and Hyde type of person.  I'm aware of when I'm making a mistake and I want to correct it quickly.  The same applies to when my sin is just between my wife and I or God and I.  But I guarantee you I'll never stop trying to overcome.  That's for absolute certain.

Something I also find comforting about this hymn is that it portrays the most subtle and personal, even non-audible expressions as a form of prayer, from random expressions from "infant lips", a sigh, a tear, an upward glance even!  This shows how truly in tune and intimately involved God is in every little detail of our lives.

Then there's something in verse 6 that I never noticed before, even in the standard works, though now that I think about it's everywhere in them.  The power of prayer to unify us.  I had never thought of prayer as a principle of unity until now, but it's a really beautiful concept though.  I guess I always keep my private prayers so detailed that the and more focused that the concept of unifying with others in prayer isn't something I have paid as much attention to as maybe I should be.  At least that's one more thing I can work on to be more like Christ.  Come to think of it, He taught the principle of unity in prayer by His example in 3 Nephi 17.

Verse 7 actually goes further in how great of an example of prayer Christ is by reminding us that Christ is constantly petitioning the Father for our sake.  Doctrine and Covenants 19 may just be the supreme example of this when He says, "Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."

His example is always the best thing for anyone to follow, especially in how to pray.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 3

Next in line at number 3 in my Songs of the Righteous is Hymn 113, Our Savior's Love

Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above it breaks thru clouds of strife.
Lighting our way, it leads us back into his sight,
Where we may stay to share eternal life.

The Spirit, voice of goodness, whispers to our hearts
A better choice than evil's anguished cries.
Loud may the sound of hope ring till all doubt departs,
And we are bound to him by loving ties.

Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray
In rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice.
Praises we sing. We love thy law; we will obey.
Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice.

Just yesterday, my wife and I watched Finding Dory on Netflix.  It's a great movie by the way.  As noted in an article quite a while ago, I find it very easy to notice gospel parallels in movies.  In that one, it shows when Dory was young how her parents helped her find her way back home when she was little if she got lost by always having a long path of seashells that she could follow back to their home.  God does a similar thing.  He leaves a path of little spiritual reminder "seashells" to help guide us back to him.

I wanted to point that out to parallel something in this hymn.  Contrast is often an effective teacher.  This becomes more apparent the more often and more deep our experiences are in this life.  Sometimes it's within our darkest moments that the light of Jesus Christ pierces the darkness, often in even the smallest ways and even when that is the case, it still feels like enough to pull us through and "break thru [our] clouds of strife".  I am confident that that is because the love and light of the Lord is so intense and powerful and beautiful that it doesn't take much of it to last us a while.  For me, even the mere memory of my deepest experiences like that lifts me again and often helps me feel like he's leaving much larger and more beautiful "seashells" along my path, bursting with his "perfect light."

Interestingly enough, the fact that Dory ends up having her memory improve little by little throughout the movie (don't worry, that doesn't spoil anything) ties in very well with the second verse.  Even though the veil has been drawn over our mortal minds, our spirits still have a perfect memory of everything about life with our Heavenly Father before we were born.  Dory's flashes of memories from her childhood remind me of the little flashes from the Holy Ghost we get sometimes of "Oh yea, this feels familiar!" which also kind of goes along with the second verse of "Oh My Father", hymn 292, which I may write about in a later part in this series,

"For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere."

Memories of that love reignite in us a sense that, really, we belong with our Father in Heaven when all is said and done. So it's not an exaggeration or a merely symbolic statement when it says "we are bound to him by loving ties."  Love literally makes the world go 'round.  The elements of the universe operate solely by and in response to the love of God.  His love for all of His creation is why the earth, the solar system, wind, water, magnetism and radiation, the human body and brain all work the way they do.  It is an eternal agreement of love, faith and respect.  It's those ties of love that keep us bound to Him if we elect to keep them strong on our end.

Whether we remain or regain our state of belonging to Him is totally up to us.  Of course, the reason it's even possible to grow to be like Him and His Son, our Redeemer, and remain His is brought to our attention in the last verse of hymn ,

"Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray in rev'rence, awed by thy Son's sacrifice."

The highest form of love is sacrifice and I've spent a significant portion of my life working to increase my understanding of and faith in that principle.  Some things I've sacrificed I've seen as more of an investment than "giving up" something I love for something else, because of the love I have for what I'm investing in, whether it's a person or something else.  But I'm still trying to get to the point where the following statement is a more accurate reflection of my mind and heart: "If you have nothing but God, you have more than if you had everything but God."

Clearly, Christ saw us as an investment for which giving His all - every last bit of His vast, Godly sized reservoir of love - was completely worth it.  He wants us all back that much.  And what a better way to respond to such love than that way the last verse of this hymn concludes, "Our heav'nly King, in thee our hearts rejoice."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 2

The second Song of the Righteous I want to analyze immediately follows the first, Hymn 86, How Great Thou Art.

1. O Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the *worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;

Chorus:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!

2. When thru the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze

Chorus

3. And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin

Chorus

4. When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

*Authors original words are works and mighty.

The first thing thing that comes to mind when I reflect on the mood of this song is what Truman Madsen said (back in the 1980's) about the prophet Joseph Smith:

"Even in the days that he was in Vermont - Vermont, where even today there is little pollution and where the sky at night is clear and the milkyway is milky - he would look up at night and marvel at the symmetry and the beauty and the order of the heavens.  And something in him said, as has happened to sensitive souls from he beginning, 'something lies behind that. There must be a majestic creator to account for that majestic creation."

It is always a healthy thing for us to think of ourselves as a part of something greater, even staggeringly so, than ourselves.  What a glorious thought!  "I am a part of something so grand, so great, so vast and good and glorious, that I'm going to need a lot of time to understand it all."  What a way to realize there's really no good reason for us to ever be bored.

A while ago when my wife and I were playing Minecraft together, we had been working really hard on some projects on her server when she said something like "This is so awesome and so satisfying to see how much we've accomplished here and this is just a game!  How much greater and more wonderful and joyous and satisfying must it be for Heavenly Father when He creates things in real life that are greater and grander than we can possibly imagine!  How amazing will it be when we are able to participate in that kind of creation!"  She was overcome with joy at the thought.

So should we be!  The best thing, I think, about this hymn is it's focus on what He did so that we have a chance to get to that point.  Sending His Son Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Perfector so that we can reach that level and become clean and pure as He is, as loving and glorious and mighty and powerful as He!  The infinite sacrifice the Lord made for us should be at least what it was for B. H. Roberts as He studied it, "By deeper delving into the subject, my intellect also gives its full and complete assent to the soundness of the philosophy and the absolute necessity for the atonement of Jesus Christ."  Tad Callister writes of this, "...such intense study of the Atonement proved to be both a mind-expanding and soul-stretching experience.  The intellectual and spiritual blended in wonderful harmony."

I know the world looks dismal at best to the average human mind and heart, but there really are amazing things coming if we are ready when they come.  The last verse of this song reaffirms such. "When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, "My God, how great thou art!"

I have had experiences that have shown me the magnitude of God's love for us in ways that would have blown my brain straight out of my head (figuratively speaking of course) had I had them 10 years ago.  He has such amazing things in store for all of us if we just pay more attention to the Holy Ghost and making our dealings with others a matter of "persuasion, ...long-suffering, ...gentleness and meekness... love unfeigned; kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile." (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42)

Believe me, I know how hard it can be to maintain a positive attitude amid one heavy blow after another.  That's been the story of my life ever since my marriage to my beautiful, amazing wife, Lorraine.  She has learned to do it way better than me because she wasn't raised in the little Mormon bubble in Western Colorado and what she has been through, even just the small stories, has given people nightmares just listening to them.  Some of those stories will be included in the book she is writing.  But her experience has been invaluable to me and even though I'm a hard shell to crack, I feel like I'm able to do things (and not do things) I never could before and even see more good in all of it because of her example.  There is so much good and higher purpose to see out there, even in the middle of our darkest moments.

This hymn is a good reminder of that for me.  Let's all shout, both literally and in the way we live, "My God How Great Thou Art!"

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 1

Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."

The power of good music in the last few days, especially hymns, has been a balm of Gilead for me through stressful moments.  The peace I have felt and the calm reassurance of the love and power of God in my life, brought to me through them by the Holy Ghost, is the driving force behind my next several entries.  I will doing an in depth look at a number of LDS hymns and attempting to give a Holy Ghost guided presentation of the spirit, message and power of each of them.

As President Boyd K. Packer said: "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  So hopefully, these analyses will serve as both and instructive and sanctifying force for my readers.

Without further delay...

Hymn 85 - How Firm a Foundation

(Play the music from here if you are not familiar with the tune)

"How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord Is laid for your faith in His excellent word
What more can he say than to you he hath said Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled

In every condition - in sickness, in health, In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea - As thy days may demand so thy succor shall be

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove My sov'reign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn, Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be born.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

There are just a few hymns where it's as if the Savior Himself is speaking right to us.  This is one of them and I'm not sure I can imagine a better hymn to parallel Isaiah 54:2.  I'm surprised this one isn't in the that little scripture reference section in the bottom right corner of the text in the hymn book.  It's so encouraging: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

Consecrating our afflictions for our gain - "laying [our] 'stones' with faith colors", etc. - is one of the most reassuring and empowering doctrines of the Father.  This is sometimes a difficult concept for many to understand.  Something else that helps to clarify such a doctrine is where I was actually studying today (Feb 20th, 2017) in my scriptures, 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi says in verse 11 "there must needs be an opposition in all thing" and in verses 14 and 16 "...for there is a God, and he hath created all things ... both things to act and thing to be acted upon ... it must needs be that there was an opposition; ... the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.  Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the [good and bad]."

The test of life is to basically see whether we will say, by how we choose to live, "Yes, I'm sure I support Heavenly Father's plan for me.  I'm stand by what I chose before I was born here on earth, to side with Jesus Christ, to have faith in and use His atoning sacrifice to the fullest extent intended." over and over and over until each test of our commitment is either passed or, if failed, hopefully repented of in the end.

Each time we indicate faith in Christ by responding to opposition and trial with optimism and faith and obedience, we choose to "act" instead of being "acted upon" by those trials. When that happens, the Lord promises us, in this hymn, that He "will be with [us], [our] troubles to bless, and sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" meaning that He will make it so that our acting will result in such trials become a purifying and elevating experience rather than something that "acted upon" us and pulled us down.  His grace makes it all possible.  Our faith activates it.

"As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be" adds an additional source of comfort and encouragement from the Lord as well.  He always gives us exactly what we need in the exact moment we need it.  Whatever necessity is required through out each day, whether it be temporal or spiritual or both, the Lord promises us that He will succor (run to our aid) exactly as the laws of justice and mercy require or "as [our] days may demand."

Something else I love about this hymn is when He says "I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."  In metal work, dross is the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal as a result of oxidation.  Basically garbage that is completely useless and will only make the finished product look bad.  In symbolism, the Lord is basically saying that anything that we didn't need to go through for our own salvation - like effects of the fall put upon us by others sins or weaknesses - will be like dross.  All of those effects on us will be consumed so that all that is left is purity and holiness - "thy gold to refine".  More generally speaking, that was the whole purpose of the atonement of Christ in the first place, the reverse all the effects of the fall.

In the end, this glorious hymns exits with a short anthemic response of allegiance to our Savior: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes; That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!

Why would we want to?  He promises us in this hymn that He'll be there as often as we reach for Him.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Moral Absolutes

Yes, the age old battle between moral relativism and moral absolutism.  Today that battle is more prevalent than ever before.  However, something most people miss is that neither side is entirely wrong or entirely right all the time.  That very sentence can seem to side a little with moral relativism, and I realize for sure that not everything is just black in white in this life.  Not every question can simply be answered straight forward or with a yes or no.  However, I definitely do not sympathize much with moral relativism and view it way more as a threat to mankind and the earth.

I will attempt here to show the advantages and disadvantages to both sides of this, but in the end my goal here is to help people understand why the only true morality is God's.  His perspective is perfect and only He sees absolutely everything as it really is.

Of the many examples I could use to illustrate the pros and cons of relativism vs absolutism, few to none may be as poignant or recurring these days than the ubiquitous conflict between the crowds that call themselves "pro-choice" and "pro-life" in the debate on abortion.  On the one hand people are arguing that a women has a right to choose what she does with her body, and that's true.  On the other hand people are arguing that it's murdering an innocent child and that's wrong, and that's true as well.  What neither side seems to be acknowledging is the reason why it's wrong for us to take the life of an infant, born or not.  That reason is where the conflict between relativism and absolutism comes in.  Yes, a mother has a right to choose what she does with her body, but that life inside her isn't her body.  It's the body of another human being.  Yes, it's wrong to kill, but it's not wrong to defend our families and our country from tyranny, even if that means taking a life.  So is it or isn't it wrong to murder?

The answer?  It depends... and it doesn't.  The Lord said "thou shalt not kill".  He didn't put any qualifiers on that statement and everything He speaks is valid and true.  But even He knows that there is a higher principle than truth.  To edify.  Edify: To instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement."  Doctrine and Covenants 50:23 - "And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."  If the truth does not edify someone, if they are not prepared to receive it, if their perspective isn't at a point where they will be edified by it, it should not be given. Do speak the truth.  Give it boldly.  Teach it completely.  Publish it liberally.  But do it to the right audience, at the right time, in the right place.

To the LDS community this will be an age old example, but lets look at why God told Nephi to kill Laban.  In this instance, would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Nephi?  No.  He would not give the scriptures to Nephi, which the Lord commanded him to retrieve and when agency is misused, it is lessened until it is taken away.  Nephi's people would have suffered and, as the verses in that chapter point out, dwindled in unbelief.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to Jerusalem?  No.  God had already pointed out to Lehi and Jerusalem was going to be destroyed anyways very soon.  So to be honest, it was better for Laban to die before such a horrific thing happened than to suffer as a live witness to the destruction of his own city.  Would keeping Laban alive be edifying to his family?  Even then, the answer is no.  While his wife and children may not have understood the reason for his death, but when final judgement comes and they see the good that came to an entire nation (via the scriptures) because of his death, I'm sure they'll agree that it was justified, especially considering he was leading his city and his family straight down the devil's path to misery.  Really, taking his life was an act of mercy on the Lord's part through Nephi.

So when it comes to taking the life of another, unless it is edifying to all parties involved (and the Holy Ghost confirms it as such), the morally correct answer is don't do it.

Let's look at same gender unions.  I don't want to call it marriage because marriage was defined by God to be a legal (and preferably spiritual) covenant and bond between a man and woman, so anything else by that standard isn't marriage.  Therefore, what some people call "same sex marriage" is immoral.  However, does this mean that we should be parading around to everyone who chooses to participate in or support that kind of thing and tell them they are immoral without regard to the individual and their circumstances?  No.  Even though it's true, if their minds aren't prepared to hear it, it will not edify them.  It may only cause them to turn against the truth more vigorously than before making it take that much longer to be prepared for the truth than it would have if patience was applied initially.  As the scriptures point out, the Lord works by small and simple things to accomplish His purposes.  He works to prepare people's minds to be ready to receive the truth and how well they do or do not work with Him to be ready will dictate if, when and how we should teach the truth to them and encourage them to follow it.  The Lord knows their heart and knows perfectly what will edify them and when.

Consider for a moment if your undeveloped pallet had tasted a raspberry for the first time and it was too sour for your liking.  (I saw a video with a kid who had that very thing happen).  Someone would have a hard time convincing you to try it again for a long time.  However, if the person who offered it to you, knowing the benefits but having patience, waited to offer it to you until your pallet was developed enough to enjoy the flavor, you'd forever remember that "raspberry = good".

A wise person once told me "Advice is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind."

However - and this is where I put a different twist on things - this does not mean we should be hyper focused on making sure we please everyone. Nor does it mean that the only time we tell someone the truth is if it will make them happy.  Do you think repentance is supposed to be feel 100% wonderful and peaceful and butterflies and rainbows, etc.?  I don't think so.  Certain kinds of suffering are, believe it or not, edifying.  Look at Ghandi for example.  When his people were at war with each other (unfortunately I cannot find the official source of this), he decided to fast until, in desperation to keep their leader alive, they stopped fighting and there was peace.  This kind of suffering, on Ghandi's part, was edifying to an entire nation and to himself, since sacrifice is the highest form of love.

The same goes for repentance.  It is supposed to involve a motivational type of suffering, encouraging the repentant sinner to sin no more, thus enabling them to become more like Christ in all His might, majesty and glory.  Of course, there is the kind of suffering that was described in Mormon 2:13, "their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin."  The truth wasn't edifying to those people because the more they heard of it, the more they fought against it and it was actually harmful and damning to them.  But for the repentant sinner, the Godly sorrow experienced during repentance is quite edifying because causes in them "a mighty change... in [their] hearts, that [they] have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)

So not all edification feels pleasant.  Either way, the bottom line here is as follows.  If something does not edify all parties involved according to the dictates of the Father through the Holy Ghost, it is wrong.  I will say this though.  Certain things are always wrong, no matter what.  Breaking a promise we make with God to follow Him, for any reason, is wrong.  In the LDS community we are reminded each week when we partake of the sacrament, that we have made promises to God to "take upon [us] the name of [His] Son, Jesus Christ, and always remember Him, and keep His commandment which He has give [us]."  

Some covenants are higher priority than others or encompass others.  A few weeks ago, my wife's sister's celebration of life (in lieu of a funeral) was scheduled on a Sunday at a time that meant missing church to attend.  At first, I had heavy reservations about going, thinking "I have to keep my covenants to my Father in Heaven to attend church meetings and fulfill my calling as ward organist".  However, upon discussion with my wife and other trusted sources, I realized that I was forgetting the principle taught by the Savior, when He said "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me".  The principle here is that by missing that event, where no one was asking me to forsake a habit of going to partake of the sacrament at church every week, I would be putting those at church who depended on me as the organist ahead of my wife, who depends on me for moral and emotional support in her time of need; and her needs need to take higher priority than ward needs.  They found someone else to fill in for that week and everything was fine.  And I also kept my covenant to always remember Him by remembering the covenant I made with He and my wife in the temple, therefore attending His sister's event as well.  He suffered for my wife's loss and felt it the same way she did, so by supporting her first, I also kept my promise to Him.

Of course, if I was asked to put something to do with family before church on a more consistent basis, that would be wrong to go along with that because the Savior also taught "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

There are countless situations where there is grey area in what may or may not be morally right.  I firmly believe abortion in 99.9999999% (rough estimate there) of cases is wrong.  I firmly believe that gay unions are wrong.  However, since everyone is different and God knows that each of His children have a wide range of spiritual capacity, in understanding, comprehension and depth (3 different things), learning to discern the right way to approach something for one person as opposed to another requires lots of practice aligning our hearts and minds with the Holy Ghost.

In expressing frustration, pain or fear, for example, I need to hear someone say and provide evidence, perhaps with a similar experience, that they understand. Maybe an "that totally happened to me, too", or an "I feel the same way!"  That tells me that someone else knows how it feels, even if not from my perspective.  My wife on the other hand, hates hearing things like that.  To her those kinds of comments feel like they are saying "Me too! Look at me, give me the attention" in the middle of what she is saying.  She prefers to have people say "I'm so sorry, I can't imagine how hard that must be for you.  I've never been through that."  She says it helps her feel like her problems are unique, so that makes her and her situation special.  So the morally right thing to say to me in time of crisis is the wrong thing to say to her and vice versa.  I really does depend on the person.

As alluded to earlier, somethings are just right almost always or even 100% always or just wrong to the same degree.  Infidelity in marriage always has been and always will be 100% wrong in all circumstances.  Putting our relationship with the Lord first has always been and will always be 100% right in all circumstances.

Just keep in mind that edifying is better than merely speaking or enforcing the truth if it's not done in the right way, to the right person, at the right time.