Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hand Over Your Whole Self

C.S. Lewis
"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves,' to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good.'"

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Far Too Easily Pleased

C.S. Lewis
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

Don't Do Acid

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey series.  Click here for more information.

The following talks were given during the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

    Priesthood Session

    Blessings of the PriesthoodJoseph Fielding Smithwatchlistenprint
    You Can Get There From HereMarvin J. Ashtonwatchlistenprint
    “Strengthen Thy Brethren”Robert L. Simpsonwatchlistenprint
    Love UnconditionalMarion D. Hankswatchlistenprint
    A New Health Missionary ProgramJames O. Masonwatchlistenprint
    Strive for ExcellenceDallin H. Oakswatchlistenprint
    Continuity of ServiceN. Eldon Tannerwatchlistenprint
    Responsibilities of the PriesthoodHarold B. Leewatchlistenprint
    I read these talks.  The testimonies, doctrines and principles taught in them are still true today.  All of the talks were uplifting, edifying, inspiring, and worth reading.  Nevertheless, there are a few highlights in particular that I would like to briefly mention.

    Elder Marion D. Hanks had his audience rolling with laughter before he took on a more serious tone.  In his talk, Love Unconditional, he made this simple, but profound statement:

    "We cannot, my dear brethren, condition our love by a beard or beads or habits or strange viewpoints. There have to be standards and they must be enforced, but our love must be unconditional."

    Why is unconditional love so important?  Elder Hanks shared the following tragic note from a boy who had decided to end his own life:

    "I have no hope, only dreams that have died. I was never able to obtain satisfactory interpersonal relationships. I feared the future and a lot of other things. I felt inferior. I have almost no will to achieve, perseverance, or sense of worth, so goodbye. I should have listened to you but I didn’t. I started using acid last summer. It’s purgatory."

    Several of the talks in this session mentioned the importance of helping people to know that they are loved, and that their lives matter.  Whoever you are, God loves you.  He knows you.  He has confidence in you and a plan for your joy and success in this life and eternal life hereafter.  Show unconditional love.  Don't do acid.

    It was interesting to read about the new health missionary program.  Although it is true that the advancements of modern medicine have done much to relieve suffering in the United States and in third world countries, now it often appears as though we might need missionaries from third world countries to come to the United States to teach people how live healthy, drug-free lives. 

    One of my favorite talks, or one that most resonated with me, was Elder Oaks' talk Strive for Excellence.  It is further proof, both spiritual and intellectual, that Elder Oaks has long been a true prophet, seer and revelator.  Elder Oaks begins his talking by citing, of all people, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.  Since I am currently reading Hobbes' Leviathan, Elder Oaks' message stood out to me, and his testimony sunk deep into my heart:

    "In describing the nature of man, Hobbes wrote that “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This is a classic example of the philosophies of man. I am grateful that my education exposed me to that thought and others like it, because my familiarity with these thoughts has helped me to understand the world and its peoples and its problems.

    But most of all, I am grateful that my educational program was such that at the time I was exposed to this view of man, I was also being taught these lines:

    “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)

    “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10.)

    The worlds were created by the Only Begotten of the Father, “and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:24.)

    “For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth. …” (“O My Father,” Hymns, No. 138.)

    “… they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abr. 3:26.)

    “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—Wherefore, all things are theirs. …” (D&C 76:58–59.)

    My personal experience converts me to the wisdom of the educational philosophy that joins spiritual with secular instruction. At Brigham Young University and in the other institutions of the Church Educational System, we are concerned with teaching the fundaments of spiritual and secular knowledge and with bringing those teachings into harmony in the lives of men and women in order to prepare them for a balanced and full life of service to God and fellowman."

    It is helpful to discern the contrast between these two views of man and of human nature: Thomas Hobbes vs. Elder Oaks; the philosophies of men vs. the wisdom of God; error vs. truth; despair vs. hope.  Elder Oaks also distills four thoughts, or principles, from his spiritual education that are well worth applying to our own lives.

    Furthermore, if ever one is tempted to become complacent in the service of the Lord, Elder N. Eldon Tanner offers an antidote:

    "Thank the Lord for the privilege you have had of testing in your lives and improving your testimony. Never feel that you have finished or completed your tour of duty in church service. You have only prepared yourself to be of further service in the work of the Lord."

    Finally, President Harold B. Lee's talk, Responsibilities of the Priesthood, is powerful and memorable.  He relates the following story:

    "One of the mission presidents, with a group of his missionaries back in the Eastern States some years ago, was meeting in a hall with pillars that ran down the center of the hall, and he said to one of the missionaries, “Get up and push that pillar over.”

    “Well,” said the missionary, “I can’t.”


    “Because the weight of that ceiling is all on top of the pillar.”

    Then the president asked, “Suppose that weight were lifted off. Could you push the pillar over then?”

    The missionary replied, “Why, sure, I think I could.”

    Then the president said, “Now, brethren, you and I are just like one of those pillars. As long as we have a weight of responsibility in this church, all hell can’t push us over; but as soon as that weight is lifted off, most of us are easy marks by the powers that drag us down.”

    Now we want to put a weight of responsibility on every holder of the priesthood and on every father in every home.

    The parallel to Elder Bednar's recent talk, Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease, is uncanny: 

    "I pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I emphasize vital lessons that can be learned from this story about my friend, the truck, and the wood. It was the load. It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward. It was the load that enabled him to return to his family and his home.
    Each of us also carries a load. Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints. Two guiding questions can be helpful as we periodically and prayerfully assess our load: “Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the strait and narrow path and avoid getting stuck? Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?”

    Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness. Because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most."

    The connection between President Lee's talk and that of Elder Bednar, lo, these many years later, reminds me of the principle of repetition that I emphasized in my first blog post for the General Conference Odyssey

    "I have always been impressed by how seamlessly the voice of living prophets confirms the truths that were taught by ancient prophets. This seamlessness is also discernible in the living prophets' witness in relation to their more immediate predecessors. In other words, the voice of the living prophets takes precedence over any previous prophets, but there is a seamlessness to the message that they proclaim, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Jesus Christ is the head of the Church."

    Thus we see, in conclusion, that we ought to love unconditionally, to strive for excellence, and to come unto Christ, that our burdens may be made light.

    Timeless Counsel from Beyond the Veil

    "Almost three years after the Prophet Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young saw him in a dream or a vision. President Young asked the Prophet if he had a message for the members of the Church. “Joseph stepped toward me, and looking very earnestly, yet pleasantly said, ‘Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go. … They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God’ ” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1846–1847,comp. Elden J. Watson [1971], 529)."

    Monday, February 8, 2016

    The Funniest Religious Joke of All Time

    Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"

    He said, "Nobody loves me." 

    I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

    He said, "Yes." 

    I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" 

    He said, "A Christian." 

    I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" 

    He said, "Protestant." 

    I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" 

    He said, "Baptist." 

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" 

    He said, "Northern Baptist." 

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." 

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" 

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." 

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" 

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." 

    I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

    - Emo Phillips

    Sunday, February 7, 2016

    Christ, Conversion, Covenants, Commandments, and Common Sense

    This post is brought to you by the General Conference Odyssey. Click here for more information.

    The following talks were given during the Saturday afternoon session of the October 1971 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
    I read them.  Interestingly enough, the testimonies, doctrines and principles contained in these messages are still true today, even after almost 45 years.  I'll spare you the most of the commentary, but here are a few highlights:

    Elder LeGrand Richards tells the following story in relation to the unique doctrine of eternal marriage:

    "A few years ago while I was president of the Southern States Mission, I delivered a sermon one night in Quitman, Georgia, on the eternal duration of the marriage covenant and the family unit. I read from Brother Rulon S. Howells’ book Do Men Believe What Their Church Prescribes? (Deseret Book Co., 1932.) He has a chart there where he lists all the major churches and then their statement and attitude toward the major doctrinal principles, including this one about the eternal duration of the marriage covenant, and not one believes this.

    I just cannot understand how they could read the Bible and yet not believe, and how marriages could be performed in the churches all over the world until death do you part. What a flimsy concept! Why don’t they go back to the time when God had finished the creation of this earth, and looked upon it and found it good, and placed Adam here, at which time he said: “It is not good that the man should be alone. …” (Gen. 2:18.) He made a helpmeet for him, saying, “… and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24.) Now what God joins together and makes one flesh, you couldn’t separate without having two halves instead of two wholes. Jesus repeated that statement when he said:

    “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

    “… what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:5–6.)

    At the close of that meeting, I stood at the door to shake hands with the people as they left, and a man came up and introduced himself to me as a Baptist minister. I said, “Did I misquote you here tonight?” “No, Mr. Richards,” he said; “it is just like you say. We don’t all believe all the things that our churches teach.” And I said, “And you don’t believe them either. Why don’t you go back and teach your people the truth? They will take it from you and they are not ready to take it from the Mormon elders yet.” He said, “I’ll see you again,” and that is all I could get from him that night.

    The next time I went to that branch to hold a conference, about four months later, my coming was announced in the newspaper because I was the mission president. As I walked up to that little church, there stood that Baptist minister waiting for me. As we shook hands I said, “I would certainly be interested to know what you thought of my last sermon here.” He said, “Mr. Richards, I have been thinking about it ever since. I believe every word you said.” Then he said, “But I would like to hear the rest of it.” How could any man who has a true love for his wife and his children not want to believe that principle?

    I like the little verse written by Anderson M. Baten, “To His Wife Beulah,” in which he said:

    “I wed thee forever, not for now,
    Not for the sham of earth’s brief years,
    I wed thee for the life beyond the tears,
    Beyond the heart pain and clouded brow.
    Love knows no grave and it shall guide us dear
    When life’s spent candles flutter and burn low.”

    There are people like that who believe that marriage ought to be eternal, but there is no other church in all this world, outside of our church, as far as I know, that believes in the eternal duration of the marriage covenant."

    He also shares the following story:

    "While I was president of the Southern States Mission, a schoolteacher loaned a book to one of our Mormon children; and when the book came back, in it was an Articles of Faith card, and that schoolteacher read it. She went to her minister and said, “Why can’t our church have something like this?” The minister could not give her any satisfactory explanation, and so she wrote a letter to the Bureau of Information here in Salt Lake City. They sent her literature, they sent us her name, the missionaries called on her, and she joined the Church."

    Elder James A. Cullimore speaks clearly on the elements of genuine repentance, including confession and forsaking of sin:

    "Confession and forsaking, then, are the two important elements of repentance. After one has been brought to realize his transgression and made his determination to turn from it, he must humble himself to make his confession. It would be much easier to simply cease doing the wrong, in the case of serious sin, and say nothing to anyone. But to humble himself to confess it to the ones offended and to the bishop is a more sobering matter and takes real humility."

    Elder Victor L. Brown relates a few beautiful stories of repentance and conversion from prison.  But the lesson for us is this:

    "There are many who find themselves in circumstances similar to those of Jim and Ed—not necessarily confined to a correctional institution, but nevertheless in prison, a prison from which legal authorities cannot release them, a prison of personal habits such as alcohol, drugs, immorality, selfishness, dishonesty, laziness, aimlessness; yes, these can be more confining and damning than any state prison. Yet there is a way to escape to a freedom that surpasses anything designed by man—the kind of freedom Jim and Ed have found."

    Elder A. Theodore Tuttle reminds us of the things that matter most.

    "The world is full of foolish schemes. They contravene and hinder the purposes of the Lord. Some seek to change the God-given roles of the sexes. Some invite mothers to leave the home to work. Others entice fathers to find recreation away from their families. These questionable practices weaken the home!"

    What matters most?  Elder Tuttle explains:

    "We must learn, before it is too late, the truth spoken by Elder Richard L. Evans: “There never was a tonic that would cure more social ailments than a healthy, happy home. There never was a greater source of social stability than an affectionate and understanding family. There never was a better way of helping children to happiness than the close confidence of wise and loving and responsible parents.” (From Within These Walls [New York: Harper & Bros., 1959], p. 191.)"

    (Fast forward from Elder Tuttle's talk, or rewind from now to 2010 when Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk on a similar topic: Of Things That Matter Most):

    Elder Sterling W. Sill reminds us that the ten commandments are not just helpful suggestions.  The ten commandments are still the same, even after all these years, and they're still commandments:

    "1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
    3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
    4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
    6. Thou shalt not kill.
    7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    8. Thou shalt not steal.
    9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
    10. Thou shalt not covet."

    Elder Delbert L. Stapely teaches of our responsibility to save the world.  Here are a few important points to consider:
    • "Surely if the transgressions of men continue in an upward trend, and the world becomes ripe in iniquity, the judgments of God will be poured out in great measure upon the wicked of the earth. Our only hope of heavenly protection is in establishing righteousness and humility in the hearts of men everywhere. The Lord has promised that he shall have power over his saints and shall reign in their midst. It takes real courage and purpose to live a saintly life."
    • "I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can save the world if its members will live as saints of God should. Each time we let down in living gospel principles, someone is sure to observe our conduct and form an unfavorable opinion about us and the spiritual values of the Church. Our faithfulness gives meaning to the doctrines we teach. The Savior emphasized this statement by saying: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)
    • "A recent convert wrote a letter in which he stated that he found the Mormon religion “a breath of sweet fresh air,” and then he gave eight reasons for leaving his former church and joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will list them and comment briefly on each."
    Here are the eight reasons, without the commentary (you can refer to the talk itself for the commentary):

    "1. Wholesome family life.

    2. Self-reliance and responsibility. 

    3. Moral and physical discipline.

    4. Obedience of children to parents.

    5. Striving for perfection and excellence in all things.
    6. Chastity and holy observance of the marriage covenant.

    7. High standards in education. 

    8. “Last, but not least,” this recent convert said, “is common sense.”"

    To read what others have written on these talks, consult the following links:

    Friday, February 5, 2016

    All Your Losses Will Be Made Up to You

    The Prophet Joseph Smith
    "Those who have died in Jesus Christ may expect to enter into all that fruition of joy when they come forth, which they possessed or anticipated here. … I am glad I have the privilege of communicating to you some things which, if grasped closely, will be a help to you when earthquakes bellow, the clouds gather, the lightnings flash, and the storms are ready to burst upon you like peals of thunder. Lay hold of these things and let not your knees or joints tremble, nor your hearts faint; and then what can earthquakes, wars and tornadoes do? Nothing. All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it.

    God has revealed His Son from the heavens and the doctrine of the resurrection also; and we have a knowledge that those we bury here God will bring up again, clothed upon and quickened by the Spirit of the great God; and what mattereth it whether we lay them down, or we lay down with them, when we can keep them no longer? Let these truths sink down in our hearts, that we may even here begin to enjoy that which shall be in full hereafter."

    - The Prophet Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:361–62

    Monday, February 1, 2016

    Pied Beauty

    Glory be to God for dappled things –
       For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
       Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
          And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
       Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
          With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him.