Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Cramming for Finals

Peace in the scriptures.

Finding peace in troubled, worrisome times.

We are blessed, my wife and I, to have a safe haven at home right now—no illness, so far, and still able to buy food as needed. We know that so many other people are suffering, and there is heartache in knowing there is nothing we can do to help.

We are cut off temporarily from the offices where we have been doing volunteer work. Under other circumstances, we would go out and find ways to help someone else, but that could be dangerous to others and to us as well. Stuck at home like everyone else, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Sitting around doing nothing would be impossible—something neither of us can tolerate. It would be mind-numbingly boring—like, looking-for-faces-in-the-patterns-on-the-floor-tile boring.

There’s no shortage of online advice about what to do—“The Eight New Shows You Have to Watch Right Now,” “The Best Movies to Stream,”  “The Best Books for When You Can’t Go Out,” etc. But in practicality some of those things get old quickly.

TV? After news programs and PBS shows, what? (By the way, why do the British shows always seem better written?)

Streaming movies? “Action” movies mean high body count and plots that range from unlikely to impossible. “Romance”? Again, unlikely plots, and too many cases of love = sex. “Edgy” independent movies? Well, they’re edgy, and who wants any kind of downer right now?

Reading? Ah, yes. There are whole libraries of good stuff online, and this has been an excellent chance to turn to some gift books I have received in the past, because now I actually have time for them. There are also some of my favorite books that warrant another look.

Books can be so much more engaging. In fiction, the theater of the mind has always been more powerful for me than movies. In philosophy, social science, and religion there is time to ponder and absorb concepts that can enrich or change my life.

2 Nephi 25:23-27

“. . . we rejoice in Christ . . .”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the scriptures. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon— of both testifying of the crucial, eternally essential role Jesus Christ plays in our lives—I find doctrines and concepts to savor at length. In other modern scriptures and the words of modern prophets, I find elaboration and explanation that expand the intellect and feed the soul.

Certainly, I haven’t reached a level of saintliness where I spend all day pondering verses of scripture. But I’m spending a lot more time than I used to. It has something to do with what Jesus said about laying up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-20 in the New Testament or 3 Nephi 13:19-20 in the Book of Mormon.) This seems like a good time to be looking for wisdom, and treasures of spiritual knowledge that become embedded in the eternal soul. (See James 1:5 and Luke 1:16-17 in the New Testament, or 3 Nephi chapter 17 verse 3, and Doctrine and Covenants section 109, verse 7.) In all of these verses, the Lord calls on us to learn—to store up treasures that cannot be taken from our eternal spirits by death of the mortal body.

Years ago, I read an anecdote about a child who asked, “Grandma, why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Grandma replied: “I’m cramming for finals.”

The time we’ve been given at home right now seems like a good opportunity to do some cramming for finals.

 

 

 

How Mad Are You–‘Hell Fire’ Mad?

 

Protesters 3Ag17_01717BRecently, I had a call from someone I love and respect, someone I have not talked to in two or three years. I wondered if we would be able to talk congenially. I have recently responded to some of that person’s strongly worded posts on social media with an opposing political viewpoint.

But we had a fine conversation, expressed our love for each other, and said we really should do this more often. I was grateful it went that way.

These are times of tension, turmoil, and heated commentary about what is happening in our nation’s government and what elected leaders are doing. I have my own strong feelings about developments in Washington that could do long-term damage to the United States.

But there is another national problem that concerns me even more, and so I am doing something I have tried to avoid in this blog. I am repeating a theme I touched on a short time ago: the corrosive nature of hate and anger.

Some who are heavily committed to supporting one party or another seem unable to treat people who disagree with them as human beings—as other children of God. They dehumanize people they see as opponents, and this makes it easy to hate.

Most often this dehumanization begins with labeling: “fuzzy minded liberal,” “hide-bound conservative,” “left-wing do-gooder” “right-wing bigot,” “pious hypocrite,” or “[insert religious affiliation] terrorist.” That individual who disagrees with us may be a loving parent, may do a lot of good in the community, may be a very incisive thinker. But if we give them a pejorative label, it’s easier to tell ourselves they deserve some cruel fate—public humiliation, tragedy, or even death.

These days, it might be good for many of us to review “The War prayer,” in which Mark Twain reminds Christians that wishing evil on our enemies is not a Christlike attitude.

The Master Himself warned us against contention in which we seek to condemn those who disagree with us: “. . . I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: . . . but whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Are you in danger of hell fire?

Here are some questions that might help each of us determine whether our political thoughts could be putting us in moral danger. (And I write this knowing that I need to face need these as much as anyone else.)

Do you find yourself wishing that certain politicians of the opposing party could be publicly humiliated, punished, or socially annihilated?

Of course, you would never do anything to them, but would you be secretly pleased if something happened to shut them up?

Do you find opportunities to post cutting or critical things about others on social media? If you actually met them in person—if you sat down across a table from them to share bread—would you say those same things to that person’s face?

The man with the megaphone pictured here was a protester who showed up regularly at a large Church-sponsored religious pageant to protest. We called him “the Screamer.” He stood across the street and screamed vile and vulgar insults at church members attending the event. Much of what he said was lies, all of it intended to provoke contention. He wanted nothing more than to have someone confront or perhaps attack him, because then he could claim to be the wounded party. “See? See what they’re doing?”

In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?

It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I don’t really hate them. I just hate the things they do and say.” If that’s true, then how would you explain those feelings of hoping something bad might happen to keep them quiet?

Would Jesus Christ, or the great law-giver Moses, or Mohammed—or whoever you respect as your ruling moral authority—speak of people in the same way you think of them?

I believe that modern science bears out the danger of carrying around feelings of anger and contention inside us all the time. Maybe that is one reason Jesus Christ warned us about being angry at our fellow beings. If we spend too much of our lives being angry, we will create a little bit of hell for ourselves here on earth, and we will waste time we could have used to prepare for heaven.

 

“Criticism is easy; achievement is difficult.”

Churchill P1000910

There is a fine museum honoring British statesman Winston Churchill in a place that most Americans would not expect—in heartland America, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. This is the place where Churchill, invited to America by President Harry Truman, gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.

The speech may have seemed controversial at the time, but Churchill’s views turned out to be prescient. World developments he envisioned came true.

Churchill P1000911

The museum includes a gallery of sculptures of the world leader and accomplished artist.

What interested me most at the museum, however, was the material attesting to the character of the man. Admittedly, I am an admirer. I believe Winston Churchill was one of those historical figures raised up by God to shape his times. But I think anyone would have to acknowledge that Churchill was a man who achieved, and inspired, great things.

In one of the galleries of the museum there stands a photograph of Churchill, the prime minister, with this quotation above it: “Criticism is easy. Achievement is difficult.”

This is the kind of statement that almost demands self-examination by the reader. When I see a problem, do I simply criticize? Or do I try to suggest and support a solution?

Experience has taught me this truth: When you know there is a problem, it does little good simply to comment on it or to criticize someone or something that might be at fault. One who points out a problem ought to feel an obligation to help solve it. Those who look for solutions, as Churchill undoubtedly knew, are those who achieve.

Those who do not look for solutions are often part of the problem.

Long ago I heard these words from a man I regard as a prophet of God, Gordon B. Hinckley: “Cynics do not contribute. Skeptics do not create. Doubters do not achieve” (“Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” Oct. 29, 1974, in BYU Speeches at BYU.edu.) Elder Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was quoting a lesson from his father. Whether you believe in prophets or not, it is hard to ignore the wisdom and truth of that comment.

As a politician and an experienced leader, Churchill knew a thing or two about being criticized. But he was not deterred from moving forward and achieving things he envisioned. The lesson from leaders like Churchill, and Gordon B. Hinckley, is not to let critics discourage us when we are working toward a worthy, righteous goal.

Another lesson is not to be a critic. Often, criticism is a form or bullying. It does little to shape other people’s lives for good. (And why should any of us feel we have the right or duty to shape someone else’s life the way we think it should be? Most of us have trouble enough managing our own lives properly.) Ultimately, criticism damages humanity as a whole. It would be far better and more useful to spend our time building others up.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them at night over the troubled Sea of Galilee, Peter called out, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” The Lord answered simply, “Come.” And Peter became only the second person known to have walked on water.

Only doubt was able to stop him. (See Matthew 14:26-31).

Let us never be the wind of doubt for anyone.

Let us be the ones to invite others to go forward. Of course, we do not have the divine stature of Jesus, and others are unlikely to walk on water. But with our help and encouragement, they may walk where they never had believed they could go.

 

How Are You Doing with Those Resolutions?

So, here we are one week into the new year. How are you doing with those new year resolutions?

Yeah—me too.

But I’ll keep trying.

I gave up making long lists years ago. All of my resolutions could be summarized, really, in a few words often sung by Latter-day Saint children: “I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His ways . . .” All of the other ideas for resolutions come down to this, one way or another. I know I am imperfect, but I am trying to become more like the One who never fell into imperfection.

It is embarrassing to tell you this. Anyone who knows me knows how far from perfect I am.

It is painful for me to think about the audacity of this idea—humiliating, really. It makes me cringe to think how ashamed I would be of so many things if I were in the presence of Jesus Christ. And yet I am joyful when I understand that He wants to forgive me.

He said, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). He said, “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I don’t think He was kidding about either of those things. When I think of how far I have to go, the thought is terrifying in one way, and exhausting.

Maybe you feel the same way about His commandment. Anyone might be tempted to think, “How could I ever do this?” But I don’t think He meant we have to do it by tomorrow, or even by the end of this year.

If I get to the end of this year and feel like I’m better than at the beginning, then I can hope. If I keep getting a little better day by day, then I can hope for salvation through His grace. There is no other way.

I have found that I have to reduce this following Him, this striving for perfection, to one day at a time. At the beginning of the day, I pray for help to handle the things that I know may be spiritual challenges for me, along with stumbling blocks that I cannot foresee. That is the only way I know to approach this challenge. Maybe a stronger person could improve by leaps and bounds. But for me, it requires baby steps, one day at a time.

How am I doing so far today? Well, so far I’ve already felt pride and anger and impatience.

But I tried to help the person who made me feel those things, and now I feel better about him.

Maybe that’s progress.

This Is Christianity?

A few weeks ago, I stood looking bigotry in the eye and wondering how someone comes to think and behave that way. What makes it possible for someone who has feelings and some kind of sense of self-worth to treat others as though they are scum who should be eliminated from the earth?

The place was the Nauvoo Pageant, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in Nauvoo, Illinois, a town from which the Latter-day Saints were once driven by mobs. The scene was the entrance to the pageant. Protesters and hecklers stood on the public street, just off of Church property, taunting, insulting, and confronting people arriving to see the historical pageant.

Protesters 3Ag17_01717B

I’m grateful I can rely on Jesus Christ to judge my Christianity, and not on someone who is willing to consign me to hell without knowing my heart.

One man used a megaphone to shout taunts such as: “All Mormons are going to HELL!” as well as slurs like “Mormon ___________!” or “Mormon _____________!” (insert a name here for a man or woman who is gay). It was evident from his demeanor that he was using those slurs in the belief they would offend people.

Not far away were a couple of other people handing out literature designed to look like it was connected with the pageant. In truth, it was a collection of criticisms, half-truths, and distortions of LDS doctrine. I have read their literature before and investigated the claims. All of those claims have either been disproved long ago, or cannot be either proved or disproved because they are misrepresentations. The people handing out this material want it understood that they are separate from the people with the megaphone; they will tell you they are simply there in the service of Jesus. I would like to ask how they feel they are serving Jesus by handing out material that they know, or should know, is misleading.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. There is certainly room for good people to disagree on questions such as how grace is applied in our lives, what awaits us after this life, and how we should receive and respond to inspiration from the Holy Ghost. I respect anyone’s right to have a different view. It is a basic tenet of our faith that all men and women have the God-given right to exercise their own agency in religious beliefs and practices. Among the 13 Articles of Faith that define basic LDS beliefs is this one, number 11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men [and women] the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This idea is embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. And yet some seem to feel that this freedom should be applied only to certain selected religions.

I am always grateful to be among believers in God, and I have no difficulty working amicably with anyone, whether or not they believe as I do. I respect their right to worship, or not, as they see fit. I believe we are in truth all brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God, and we owe each other respect on that basis. And if that is not enough, we ought to try to live in peace together as residents of this planet.

But I have difficulty understanding those antagonistic protesters. Do they go home at night telling themselves, “I served Jesus today by screaming insults at people and trying to destroy their faith”?

The only way I can explain their behavior in my own mind is to realize that those people are haters, and members of my church happen to be their focus. If there were no Mormons, they would focus their hate on Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, foreign immigrants, Democrats or Republicans, or some other handy group. They simply need someone to hate—someone on whom they can focus their anger—because deep inside they are not right with God, and not even right with themselves.

Their actions cannot be, either rationally or spiritually, the actions of people who follow a loving God. This cannot be Christianity—not as taught by Him who said, “Love one another” (John 15:17).

I feel sorry for those protesters, and I’m sure this statement would anger them. As we watched them out in the street one evening, the sheer theatricality of the man with the megaphone made me laugh. He saw me, and focused his wrath on me: “You laugh now, but you’ll burn in HELL!”

What a sad, pitiful way to spend one’s limited time in this life—trying to destroy someone else’s faith instead of trying to demonstrate what it means to be a follower of God.

 

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.

 

 

 

“Some Assembly Required”

assembly3-7dc16_dsc01008

Bolts, washers, and end caps ready for packaging.

Probably every adult reading this has had the experience of buying something that needs to be assembled according to “simple, easy” instructions. And many have had the experience of getting part way through the task only to find that a key component is missing.
The parts list says: “Eight 5/16 X 5 ½” bolts. Eight ¾” washers. Eight tan plastic bolt end caps.” Now where was that last bolt? Let’s see . . . one, two, three, four . . . seven! Only seven 5/16 by 5 ½” bolts! Now how am I supposed to finish this???
Sound familiar? The absolute worst time for this to happen is on Christmas Eve. (I can remember making a metal shim out of a piece of copper so a bolt would stay in place and I could finish putting together a little boy’s tricycle before morning.)
Maybe all the bolts are there, but one hole is in the wrong place. Or maybe the bolt is just too big to fit.
So we mentally curse the dunderheads at the factory who left out that one bolt, or drilled the hole in the wrong place.
Well, this afternoon I found myself on the other end of the process. In fulfilling a volunteer service assignment, I ended up working in a furniture factory putting together the hardware packages—bags of bolts, washers, and bolt end caps—that go with a piece of assemble-it-yourself furniture. It is precisely the kind of work I never could have done for a living. It seemed mind-numbing at first. Back when I was 16, I had the opportunity to visit a Chevrolet assembly plant in Wisconsin. Workers standing on the assembly line used air wrenches to tighten the same two or three bolts in the car frame, then stepped away until the next frame moved into place, and repeated the same process over and over and over. Never! No matter how much it paid, I thought, I could never do that hour after hour, day after endless day. (Maybe that is why robots are doing so much of the work in factories these days.)
But this afternoon I learned several things: the work is not as mindless as it looks; I can make the assignment challenging; and my mind can accomplish others things at the same time.
The supervisor showed me how to do it: Line up eight bolts in a specially slotted board, count out eight washers and eight end caps, put them all in a plastic locking bag, roll up that bag and pack it into a storage bin, then start over. He opened a new box of bolts for me and left me on my own. Soon I was experimenting with different ways to do the job more effectively or quicker. Some things worked well, others didn’t. I found the system that worked best for me, got into a rhythm, and built up my speed. Before the end of the shift, I met the goal I had set for myself—use up that entire large box of bolts and start on a new one.
After some practice, I found I could multitask; my body and part of my brain were doing the job at hand while another part of my brain was turning over and fleshing out some new ideas.
Life can be like that. Certain tasks can seem mundane, boring, even useless, though they must be done for us to move forward. We can curse them and put them off, or we can accept the challenge, find our own ways to simplify and overcome them, then move on to things we feel are more productive.
But in meeting the challenge, we grow, and God makes us more capable of doing the things He wants us to do, the things that are most important for us to do on earth.
That is the way we move toward the perfection the Savior expects of us (see Matthew 5:48). We will never reach it here on earth, but here on earth is the place to learn how to go forward in eternity.