Friday, December 13, 2013
Friday, November 29, 2013
A chief aim, a highest ambition, before which lesser desires must bow,
The light of the body, the heart's treasure.
If you choose such a focus, it will enlighten your mind or shroud you in darkness,
So choose well.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Sunday, July 28, 2013
I recently quoted Elder Perry’s beautiful description of how the picture in a recipe book motivates us to cook, much like our hope of the celestial kingdom motivates us to move towards it. Ether’s statement on the topic is worth repeating.
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
The stronger your hope is, for whatever it is you want, the less it matters what you’re scared of. In the words of Bill Cosby,
In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.
This principle is most applicable when we are keeping one of God’s commandments or fulfilling our end of a covenant with him, because we are entitled to his help. The more faith and hope we have, the easier it is to get that help.
So, how do we develop such confidence in God’s promises? How can we get the surety that will let us call down the powers of heaven when we’re in God’s service, as Jacob describes?
Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
I think Jacob gives us a pretty good description of how he became that kind of man. Ammon’s father was promised that Ammon would be safe while he taught among the Lamanites, and it was Ammon’s faith in that promise that led him to face down an entire band of robbers, single-handedly. His good friend Alma described him much the same way:
They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
“Read the scriptures, fast, and pray? But Michael, those are just the Sunday School answers! I already do that!”
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a quick prayer every morning and night. I’m not talking about perusing the scriptures for a few minutes before you start your day. Those are good habits, and they can help you stay close to God. But I’m talking about going to the temple and needing an answer so badly that you won’t leave until you get it. I’m talking about searching the scriptures to find out what you can count on God to do, once you have sufficient faith. I’m talking about expecting God to change your life, and being willing to sacrifice in order to develop that faith. In the words of King Lamoni’s father:
What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Whenever I have asked God anything, over and over, without giving up, I have gotten a clear answer. With some questions, it takes longer than others, and I get a little at a time, “line upon line, precept on precept.” Some of the quickest answers come when I ask about what I can sacrifice in order to develop my faith or be worthy of a blessing, because I’m trying to bring my will closer to God’s.
Monday, July 1, 2013
America? We've done terrible things, too, as we've gone from isolationist Republic with a lot of farmland to worldwide empire with territory around the globe. We now have hundreds of overseas military bases, with a military presence of more than 1,000 soldiers in over a dozen countries, and we spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined. Some say that blowback from our involvement in the Cold War has led to resentment in countries where our forceful anti-Communist policies made life worse for people--particularly in Afghanistan.
But the fact is, when our leaders sent soldiers into Iraq and Afghanistan, our leaders spoke of liberating the people from oppressive leaders. They spoke of leaving voluntarily as soon as a legitimate authority could keep the peace, as soon as the country was no longer a threat to our security. And then they got criticized when they didn't leave fast enough.
Machiavelli is rolling in his grave. Doesn't America know that the proper thing is to conquer other countries permanently, to add them to the ever-growing power of the greatest country on earth? (I'm being sarcastic.) We're very different from the imperialism of earlier empires.
Of course, it'd be nice to go back to George Washington's advice to not get entangled in stupid wars at all. I'd like that. But I have to admit, America has been more respectful and less selfish than any other world power in history.
And that is something to be proud of.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
For this post, I'm going to set aside the issues of whether homosexual relationships should be included in marriage, whether they should be normalized, and whether the government has the right to define marriage at all. Instead, I'd like to focus on the role of the courts in our American democratic republic--our country where the people rule, and they select representatives to do the day-to-day work of governance.
Our government is filled with checks and balances to keep these representatives from abusing their powers. It is commonly accepted that the Supreme Court has the final say on interpreting the Constitution. While the Constitution itself makes no reference to this power, generally called "judicial review," Alexander Hamilton is quoted as saying that their job is to interpret the law and reconcile any contradictions between laws, with the Constitution as the highest law of the land:
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
And lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love; for with all the other excellencies in his character, without this one to influence them, they could not have such powerful dominion over the minds of men; but when the idea is planted in the mind that he is love, who cannot see the just ground that men of every nation, kindred and tongue, have to exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life?
Lectures on Faith 3:24
Monday, May 6, 2013
I believe that with all my heart, but that's not what it means to be a Saint.
A Saint is someone who gives their life to God. Therefore, as required by him, they must recognize the gifts, knowledge, and wisdom he provides through their friends and neighbors. In the words of Paul:
And Satan went berserk. That boy wrote: "immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak." Satan did everything he could to silence the boy whose testimony would enlighten tens of thousands in his lifetime. Millions have now grown because of Joseph Smith's testimony.
But God delivered Joseph! He gave the boy prophet protection from Satan, work to do, and power to do it. Soon, under the new Prophet's direction, other children of God began to be called to serve:
Every person has a gift. Your gifts may include the ability to share knowledge, or to share wisdom, or to be comforting. The scriptures guarantee that you have at least one. The Lord used astronomy as a metaphor in D&C 88 and in the book of Abraham. D&C 88:44 could be describing how our gifts all complement each other in God's work:
We all benefit from each other in different ways. I believe that some promptings are more likely to come to men, while others are more likely to come to women. The poor seem to get more revelation about taking care of each other, while the rich seem to have more light on spending their money efficiently. And the scriptures are clear that our own interests and questions have a huge impact on what revelations we get:
Like with Joseph Smith, Satan wants to silence each of us. Of course the light we have is incomplete, there's no way we're going to save the world on our own, but Satan wants us to believe that our gifts, ideas, and interests are irrelevant. He wants us to close our mouths. He will tell us whatever lies are necessary: that women can't be leaders, that men can't be loving, that children can't be wise. Even well-meaning people may believe some of Satan's lies and tell you to be silent. But could the Lord be any clearer?
Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.
Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Again, most of us know we all have limitations on our authority over others. We don't have the right to declare new commandments, to judge others' worthiness, or to become angry. We do, however, have the right to speak as we are guided by the Holy Ghost. We all have the right to ask hard questions of others, to point out important deficits in what the Lord has revealed so far, and to propose possible solutions until the Lord reveals more on the subject. We can pray with all our hearts for revelation, and we can receive it.
If we open our mouths, we can literally become like Nephi. His father, the authoritative Prophet in the story, saw a vision of a tree and an iron rod leading to it. After Lehi explained the vision to his family, Nephi desired to see the same vision.
And he did.
Nephi learned some different things from the same vision, things more applicable to his own perspective and needs. And when his brethren were arguing about what the vision meant, Nephi could explain with confidence.
I plead with you, don't wait for someone else to be Nephi (who could explain the vision so clearly), or Esther (who saved Israel by lifting up her voice), or Emma (who got us the Word of Wisdom by objecting to church leaders' tobacco use). Don't let anyone tell you that your gifts are worthless. Their light does not invalidate yours.
After all, you are a child of heavenly parents. Is there anything you can't do, if they are behind you?
Saturday, May 4, 2013
But why should I be ashamed of liking Twilight? People have justly criticized using Bella and Edward as role models, because of how obsessive they are. They have few interests outside of each other. But in spite of that--which, by the way, is common in romantic stories--I found Twilight's ultimate message to be inspiring.
The main message of Twilight is about the nature of passion. Unbridled passion makes us into monsters, but so many people fear that they are monsters even as they bridle their passions. Bella and Edward balance each other--she's a little too unbridled, and he's a little too controlled. He fears being a monster, and she fears losing what she values most.
This is the reason for one of the major plot points of the series: Edward's refusal to turn Bella into a vampire. He doesn't want her to have to share in his curse, which makes life more vivid and comes with stronger emotions and a passion for blood. (The non-monsters bridle this passion and drink animal blood.)
His control over his passion for her is another way this message is taught, particularly in the first book. Her smell, her personality--everything has a powerful effect on him, but he controls himself.
I believe that, consciously or unconsciously, Stephanie Meyer took this concept from our religion's scripture:
Friday, April 26, 2013
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Play and work, work and play,
I bask in all life's joys today.
Work and play, play and work,
Else all my joys in shadows lurk.
Like sun and moon, or moon and sun,
Seasons come, and seasons go.
The world says to change it up;
Our Father tells us all to fast.
Then fast from joy, however great,
To find in it another day.
Learn to rest, and learn to pray,
And work again at morning's gate.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
April 2008 General Conference