Friday, May 23, 2014

How unsearchable are his judgments -- How flawed are mine

I'm quite judgmental of other drivers on the road. I label drivers based on their acceleration, their speed, their ability to stay in the lines, whether they're using a cell phone, their age, their gender, how they sit in the seat, and how they hold the steering wheel. I almost make a game out of it, trying to guess some of those variables while only knowing a few. Young females using cell-phones are the easiest to predict.

I was surprised when I saw someone I knew driving the speed limit on the highway in a wide-eyed, stiff-armed, 10-and-2 driving position. He was obviously unconfident and nervous. I hadn't seen him for almost a year, so I quickly ran through everything I knew about him. We used to ride the bus together from Spanish fork to Salt Lake. I often watched him closely because he was somewhat of an enigma. He was tall, a little more broad and bulky than I was, and had a shaved head. He looked like a marine. But I only ever saw him with a suite on. He worked in the editing for the LDS church. I tried talking to him once but couldn't get much of a conversation going. I suppose what intrigued me most is that his looks never matched his manners.

Then the following thoughts rushed through my mind:
  • "How sad the he has to drive every day between Spanish Fork and Salt Lake on this crazy highway."
  • "I bet it's nerve racking for him."
  • "He must do it because the train is unreliable and takes too long."
  • "I pity him for not being able to get a job closer to home."
  • "Boy, some people sure have it rough in life."
  • "I wish there was more I could do to help people beyond my immediate sphere of influence."
Suddenly I felt an unusually extreme amount of compassion for this man I knew, and for many other people in the world that I didn't know. And then the Spirit spoke to me:
I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my sheep.
The thought brought comfort laced in chastisement. My pity almost brought me to question the usefulness and requirement of mortality. "Show many experience show much suffering. I wish it wasn't necessary."
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? - Romans 11:33-34
Who was I to doubt the justice, mercy, and power of God?

I know that God has a plan and that mortality is a key part of it. I can't explain why some seem to be more prone to suffering than others, but I do know that the Atonement of Christ has the power to make right all that may be wrong with this life.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Burdens and Friendship on Old Rag

Every year my scout troop would camp and hike on Old Rag Mountain, the "most popular and most dangerous hike" in the Shenandoah National Park. The views on top of Old Rag mountain are spectacular, especially in the fall. The typical hike is a 9 mile circuit, hiking and bouldering up the front and then descending down the back and around the side.

We started our trips by hiking 3.8 miles up the backside on Friday night to camp near the Old Rag shelter. Saturday morning we would hike the 3.8 miles back down to the cars to drop off our camping gear, then turn back around to begin the 9 mile hike. It was a tremendous and exhilarating accomplishment for young boys.

First-timers always made the same mistake: their camping pack would be too heavy for the Friday night hike. 3.8 miles isn't too far; it's a steady uphill incline that makes it feel like forever if you're not prepared. Chris made the same mistake his first time. We weren't even 2 miles into it when he started getting lethargic and grumbly. It was the worst I had seen.

I got behind Chris and begin to push on his pack. There were two thoughts going through my head: first, he needs all the help he can get; second, he needs to know he's not alone. It seemed to work. Chris began to move faster and complain less. Slowly I backed off how hard I was pushing until I wasn't pushing at all but just kept my hand on his pack. He kept pace for the rest of the hike up to the shelter.

That experience taught me a profound lesson about sharing the burdens of our friends.
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:2

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gabriel's Baptismal Prophecy

While serving in an area around Villa Alemana, Chile, I met a 15-year-old boy name Gabriel. He had been attending church for eight to ten months alone. Well, he had friends at church but no family; his parents didn't want anything to do with the Mormons. Gabriel wanted to be baptized into the church but his parents wouldn't let him (anyone below the age of 18 needs parental permission).

Gabriel was intelligent, outgoing, and spiritually inclined. You couldn't tell that he wasn't baptized, nor that he had only been attending church for under a year. Everybody wanted nothing more than for his parents to grant him permission.

One day we saw Gabriel walking home with his parents. I told my companion that I wanted to meet them, but my companion didn't recommend it. I felt courageous, if not a little brazen. By then I had been in Chile for at least 18 months so there wasn't much that would phase me. As we caught up to them and yelled hello, his parents quickly picked up their pace and left Gabriel behind with us. Perhaps my companion was right. They really didn't want anything to do with us.

Some time later (days or weeks), we ran into Gabriel while visiting another member's home. We took advantage of the opportunity to share a scripture with him. I felt impressed to share D&C 31:1-3, replacing the name Thomas with Gabriel (and of course we were actually reading this in Spanish).
Gabriel, my son, blessed are you because of your faith in my work.

Behold, you have had many afflictions because of your family; nevertheless, I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones; and the day cometh that they will believe and know the truth and be one with you in my church.

Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.
I told him this was prophetic of events in his life: he would soon be baptized and eventually see some of his family members join him in the church. It was difficult to see how it could happen, but the Spirit manifested strongly to all of us that it was true.

Gabriel mentioned that he was prepared to leave or be shunned by his family if that's what it took to be baptized. I asked him when he made that decision. Gabriel responded, "The day that my parents were willing to leave me behind with two good friends from the church."

Gabriel's 16th birthday was coming soon. He only asked his parents for one thing: permission to be baptized into the Mormon church. The ward held a special fast for him. To our surprise his parents allowed us to join a portion of the celebration in their home. It would be the first time that missionaries were in his home.

Sure enough, Gabriel excitedly called us a few days later to say that his parents gave him permission to be baptized. The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled. He served a mission when he was 19 and baptized his little brother. The second part of the prophecy is being fulfilled.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth

One day, when I was about 16, I was particularly troubled about something. I retreated to my bedroom to petition the Lord for relief. I said a prayer then opened my scriptures and began reading where I had previously left off at D&C 97. Afterwards, I knelt down and prayed again then left my room to continue on with my day. I was only a few steps out of my room when an impression from the Spirit told me to go back and continue reading the scriptures. I cannot describe how overwhelmingly strong the feeling was. I do not remember questioning it; I don't remember wondering where it came from nor whether I should listen to it. The instant I felt it, I turned around and returned to my bed to continue reading. I opened up to D&C 98 and read the first three verses:
Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;
2 Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.
Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.
I was astounded. "Your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." I could not deny that my prayers had been heard after that powerful answer. It was a pivotal experience in the development of my faith. Since then, I have not doubted that God hears all of our prayers.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Miracle of our Little Red Car

While expecting our first child, we knew we needed to get a car. My wife's mobility was rapidly decreasing, soon the doctor visits would become more frequent, and we could only continue borrowing other people's cars for so long. Not to mention we would eventually need to go to the hospital without much notice...

One day while browsing the classifieds on KSL, I received a very clear impression to call my bishop. I was the assistant financial clerk at the time, and I did have a small item of business to talk about, but it wasn't urgent. I called, he answered, and after quickly discussing the one item of business, I mentioned that we were looking for a car. He didn't know of anyone at the time that was trying to sell a car but he would keep an eye out for us.

The bishop called us back about a week later. Somebody in our ward was going to move soon and wanted to sell one of their cars. It was a 1991 Toyota Corolla, red, automatic transmission, with 150,000 miles on it. They were only asking $500. It was worth at least twice that, but they would have none of it. What a relief! I was preparing to pay a few thousand dollars for a car which was a difficult prospect because we were so poor at the time.

Shortly after we bought it, my wife revealed that she prayed for a car just like that. A sister of her's had a red Corolla when she was first married. So my wife asked God for a similar car and even said in the prayer that it would be nice if it only cost about $500.
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." - Matthew 21:22

Monday, February 10, 2014

Preparing for The Second Coming

It is a glorious time to be alive. We live in the latter days: the priesthood and its ordinances have been restored, the gospel is being preached to all the earth, and the kingdom of God is being established in preparation for the return of it’s king, Jesus Christ. What a blessing to be one of the servants that is preparing the kingdom for his return.

But not all of us will be ready when he comes. There is a dire warning about this in the parable of the ten virgins. When the bridegroom came, only five of the ten virgins were prepared. As Elder Oaks once pointed out, "the arithmetic of this parable is chilling" because the virgins represent the members of the church. All ten of them knew he was coming but only five were prepared.

What will cause some of us to be unprepared for Christ's return? The Lord reveals one prominent way in a prophecy to the early leaders of the church:
"And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes. … And … the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people." - D&C 88:88-91
The terrible destruction and commotion will cause faith to be overcome by fear, even among many of the faithful saints. We cannot allow this to happen. We must be sanctified; we must be strong..
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man” - Mosiah 3:19
The Spirit is trying to warn us and prepare us. It is trying to show us how to shed the natural man. Do we listen? Can we hear it?

Every week when we take the sacrament we are promised “that we may always have his Spirit to be with us”. Always. I don't know about you, but that promise is not always fulfilled in my life. Our responsibility in the covenant is simple: take upon us the name of Christ, keep his commandments, and always remember him. I struggle with the third part to "always remember him."

There are too many distractions in this life, too many ways for us to forget about Christ. The adversary has made it very easy for us to vegetate, be entertained, and waste time.

The parable of the talents warns us about this. It tells of a master who would be gone traveling for a long time so he divided up his goods among three of his servants. When the master finally returned, he asked his servants what they had done with his goods (talents) while he was gone. Two of them made good use of the talents they had been given and were blessed.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
But the third servant was cursed for doing nothing with his talent while the master was gone.
cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness
What a terrifying prospect. We cannot afford to waste time and become an unprofitable servant.

There is hope in what the master says to the faithful servants. If we yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit then we will be found ready when He returns, be welcomed into his kingdom, and be crowned with eternal life and joy.

Adapted from a talk I gave in church on February 9, 2014.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Eudaimonia and the Abundant Life

Eudaimonia is a Greek word which means happiness, welfare, or more correctly a flourishing life.
"The best understanding of eudaimonia is not that it's some point reached; it's not some transient state, but a veritable form or mode of life. It's life of a certain character and stripe, properly described as a flourishing life." - Daniel N. Robinson, The Great Ideas of Philosphy, 2nd Edition, Course Guidebook
How to obtain eudaimonia was a common point of discussion in early Greek philosophy. Aristotle proposed that eudaimonia was obtained when we fulfilled our essential nature as human beings. This can be better understood by examining animals. A fish cannot fulfill it's nature when it's out of water. This is where we get the phrase "a fish out of water". A fish needs to be in water, a bird needs to fly, a horse needs to run. Likewise, we are only happy when we can fulfill our essential nature.

Philosophy has never been able to definitively answer what human nature is, but the gospel of Christ has the answer. It teaches us that our essential nature is divine. We are children of God, and as children we have the potential to become like him.

The gospel of Jesus Christ also teaches about a concept similar to eudaimonia called the abundant life. "The abundant life is a spiritual life" which promises rewards of happiness and prosperity (though people disagree on whether prosperity includes a promise of material wealth).

Despite it's teachings on the abundant life, I don't think that the gospel adequately explains why righteousness makes us happy. Why does doing good satisfy our conscious?  It can't be purely due to the delayed gratification of eternal life. The other common answer is that the Spirit of God endows us with happiness as a reward for righteousness, but if we are to become like God then we must be able to feel that on our own.

Aristotle's teachings on eudaimonia is the answer. Righteousness makes us happy because it fulfills our divine nature as children of God. This also bring a new level of clarity to the 13th Article of Faith:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Eudaimonia. The Good Life. The Abundant Life. Eternal Life.