Blind Squirrels and the Search for Everlasting Acorns

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There is an idiom that references the unintentional stumbling upon a truth, or accomplishment that seems unlikely for the one performing the act. We’ve seen it used frequently in sports, like when Shaquille O’Neal made free throws, or when the Cubs won the World Series, or other such oddities.

It goes like this, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut in the forest every once in a while.”

I was also the recipient of this dagger when I was just beginning my anesthesia training. I wish I had a nickel for each time I heard that phrase while attempting a spinal block, or intubation by the self proclaimed comedians that were training me.

Other similar, yet not as fun, sayings may be also be used interchangeably. These are the “even a broken clock is right twice a day”, and “every dog has its day” options.

Over the last several years, I have found that this principle can apply to almost any situation. Today, I thought it would be fun to see how this principle applies in music.

Often music can be worthless, distracting, and carry messages that are detrimental. Just go look at the lyrics of the billboard top 100 songs right now…on second thought, don’t do that. But, every once in a while, even a blind squirrel finds a nut in the musical forest.

Enter Willie Nelson.

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As a disclaimer, I am not proposing that Willie Nelson, nor any of his compatriots, are secret purveyors of gospel principles in their musical repertoire. Hence the intro referencing blind squirrels and nuts. But when it happens, it happens.

The other day as I was listening to music in the car (perusing the forest for some nuts), I heard a song sung by Willie Nelson called “Sunday Morning Coming Down”.

Listen here

An interesting fact about this song written by Kris Kristofferson was that it became so popular, that it was covered by at least 14 other musicians. They ranged from Johnny Cash to Telly Savalas (I didn’t even know Mr. Las Vegas sang..?). I guess the message resonated with them…

It was an interesting take on the special nature of Sunday, albeit from the outside looking in. He sang about taking a walk on a Sunday morning, after the “beer [he] had for breakfast“, and “one more for desert“. He went outside to clear his smoke filled head, and noticed that he was missing something in his life. Shocker, I know….

“And it took me back to something that I’d lost
Somehow, somewhere along the way”

He then tries to describe how he came to realize something was missing. This “something” was apparently more obvious on Sundays. In the process of the song, Willie stumbles upon some truths, even though it’s a slightly indirect inferred kind of truth.

“In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing’ little girl who he was swinging
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And  listened to the song that they were singing
Then I headed back for home
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing
And it echoed through the canyons
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday”

“On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalks
Sunday morning coming down”

There is something special about Sundays, and about family, and music, and about what we do on Sunday. Sometimes, even those unfamiliar with that special something even recognize it through a smoke filled haze and a beer buzz.

If we want, we can choose to spend our time scouring the musical forest for food, and settle for these occasional nuts, and be happy to survive on the last remaining sip of evaporating rainwater from a hoof-print (True Grit Mr. La Boeuf reference). Or, we can purposefully take our squirrel blinders off, and indulge in the bountiful feast and drink from the fire-hose of good music that is readily available to us.

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To better contrast the difference, let’s look at the nutritional value and level of spiritual satiety we experience between Willie’s nut in the forest song, and one of my favorite Hymns.

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is amazing. It is my spiritual entree of smoked brisket, lobster mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, washed down with authentic Brazilian Antartica brand Guaraná. It was “prepared” in 1758 by a 22 year old young man in England named Robert Robinson. Even though the gospel hadn’t even been restored yet, many of the beautiful lyrics in this hymn teach principles of the fullness of the gospel. A gospel that would soon would be restored through Joseph Smith. And it is a full 7 course meal.

If we read the menu from the Mack Wilberg arrangement sung by the Tabernacle choir, we can find some doctrinal pearls hidden inside. Its quite a difference from the tangential inferences that we find in our previous song.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come,
And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

Seal it for thy courts above.

I love these verses for the imagery they creates for me. Who doesn’t wasn’t to associate with, or sing like heavenly angels? Yes, please. I imagine many of us have been in a place where we simply want to be better, and yearn for and hunger to be a part of the peace that we know exists beyond the veil.

One of the most powerful phrases in the song is when the author describes his weakness. He admits that he was “prone to wander” and “leave the God [he] loves”. We have all been there. We have all had moments, despite our love of the gospel, our Savior, and our Father in Heaven, that we have wandered. I love that in the very next sentence, the author offers his heart, and then begs the Lord to take it, and “seal” it to Him.

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In the subsequent stanza, the words “bind” and “like a fetter” are also used to describe the relationship the author sought with God. This is the part that I think I love the most.  It is the juicy, tender, and delicious part of the meal…

These phrases are colorful metaphors of the covenants we seek and receive in the temple.

The temple covenants, especially the sealing ordinance, teach us, and remind us of our potential, and worth to our Father in Heaven. They can also elevate us from any feelings of inadequacy, or unworthiness. What a completely nutritious meal that is. If we let that sink in and digest, it is incredibly satisfying.

This recipe is not new. The feeling that Robert Robinson put into words in 1758 is a hunger that has been on the earth from the beginning. We only need to read a few chapters into the Book of Mormon before we see this same sentiment expressed by one of the strongest, most faithful prophets that has ever lived.

“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted…

…And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.

And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man;…

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”

-2 Nephi 4:17-28

Nephi was able to rejoice after wading through his feelings of inadequacy and falling short. He saw the end from the beginning let’s remember. How difficult would it be to continue trying to teach, encourage, and invest in those around him when he knew that his entire posterity would eventually fall? He saw it. Yet, the deliciousness of the gospel, and the atonement satiated him so completely that he was able to rejoice despite his prophetic knowledge.

I hope we can all find inspiration, encouragement, and fulfillment in the hymns, poems, and scriptures to help us feel more fed, and “sealed” to God. Especially in these times when we all feel so disconnected from each other.

I hope we look to the best sources when we are hungry or thirsty for meaningful sustenance. I hope we strive to receive, or actively remember receiving the sealing ordinance and its promised blessings.

It is ultimately in the temple ordinances, where the earnest hopes and yearnings expressed in Robert Robinson’s hymn are realized.

It is through the atonement of our Savior that the rejoicing described by Nephi can be experienced, and our hunger truly satiated.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”

-Doctrine and Covenants 84:20

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.  Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou has made.”

-Doctrine and Covenants 25:12,13

On the Beach Beyond our Reach

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If we go the very familiar story of Captain Moroni in chapter 43 of Alma, we learn about his brilliant strategy to defeat the massive Lamanite army led by Zarahemna. Moroni, although severely outnumbered, had done everything in his power to better prepare his Nephite army to go up against the invading Lamanites. He had prepared his soldiers with thick clothing, breastplates, head shields. He also sent spies to watch the movements of the Lamanites. He didn’t just prepare physically, but also sent a petition to the prophet, Alma, to pray and ask the Lord for help in knowing where to go, and what to do in order to protect his people.

Alma did help by inquiring of the Lord and receiving inspiration. He then sent word as to where the Lamanites would be attacking. Moroni then devised a specific plan in order to maximize the Nephite’s effectiveness, and minimize the number of casualties that both sides would suffer.

He split his army on both sides of the River Sidon, and hid part of his army surrounding a valley on the far side. He assigned Lehi, a skilled and fearless captain, to hide and lead the Nephites on the near side of the River.

As the Lamanites approached the river, and passed the hidden army of Lehi, he attacked and quickly drove the Lamanites into and across the river, to where Moroni was waiting. A huge battle ensued. Even though the Nephites were better prepared, and had the advantage of surprise, the Lamanites nearly defeated them.

I never really thought about this whole scene from Lehi’s perspective. He and his soldiers had maintained their position and remained on the opposite bank of the river and had not taken part in the battle between Moroni and Zarahemna. He had to watch and wait.

And Lehi retained his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon that they should not cross.

-Alma  43:40

Lehi had fulfilled his assigned duty which was to drive them across the river. I imagine it would have been extremely hard to stand back and watch as the events unfolded, close enough to see, but beyond his reach, and out of his control. Im sure he wanted to step in, especially as the battle looked to be lost.

I think many of us at times may feel the same way as Lehi did in that moment. Possibly we feel that was as parents standing back as our kids get older and start making decisions on their own. It may even feel like they are just beyond our reach, or out of our control or influence.

We may feel the same was as employees or employers amid business shutdowns secondary to the pandemic. These are devastating and have nothing to do with our own hard work, or how well we do our jobs. Yet, we often struggle and suffer.

Some things are simply out of our hands.

Some of the lessons we can learn through this difficult time have to do with the elusive twin virtues of patience and trust.  We are all important parts of a grand master plan that our Heavenly Father is orchestrating. We are here to learn.  Sometimes the lessons come in ways we don’t understand. We simply have to do our best to trust in the Lord and his timing.

We can learn from the experience of Joseph Smith and his unfair incarceration in the Liberty jail. His fate was completely out of his hands, even though he had done everything in his power to do what was right. But still he was forced to endure some of the most excruciating moments of his life.

Even in those difficult moments, he received revelation, and assurance from the Lord. He learned the lesson that he shares with us through Doctrine and Covenants section 122, that…

All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for [our] good… Therefore, fear not… for God shall be with you forever and ever.

-Doctrine and Covenants 122:9

Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are with us. Sometimes they feel closer when we demonstrate our complete dependence and reliance on them. Sometimes it takes an excruciating event to catalyze these feelings. Sometimes we are at our most humble and receptive when we do lose control, and are left with no option but to trust and rely on the plan our Father in Heaven has for us.

Let us choose to trust in Him, and show as much patience as we can so that we may also hear the same words that soothed the heart of Joseph Smith…

“Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment”.

-Doctrine and Covenants 121:7

Effective Perspective

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In 2013, Elder Uchtdorf shared a poem written in 1872, by John Godfrey Saxe about the Six blind men of Indostan who went to see an elephant. Each man touched only a single part of the animal, the ears, tail, leg, etc., and then attempted to describe the whole animal. Although accurate in their particular portion of the elephant they had touched, when they attempted to describe the whole animal, they were all wrong. They were simply unable to see the complete picture. They lacked the proper perspective.

For many of us, it may be equally difficult to see the big picture when we are engrossed in our daily grind, and focused on the struggles we may be experiencing. These last few months have provided plenty of opportunities to struggle. 

Paul encouraged patience in our perspective when he said, “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

-1 Corinthians 13:12

It can be enormously difficult to see through the “glass darkly” to understand our big picture, or the nature of life’s elephants given our limited view. It is difficult or even impossible to understand the reasons for the struggles we face. Especially when they are completely overwhelming. 

We read of another example of this in the Book of Genesis.  After Adam and Eve had partaken of the fruit, and had been sent forth out of the Garden of Eden, their life had obviously changed. The easy life was over. The struggle had just begun. The days of ease and plenty had suddenly come to an end. 

The Lord explained their change in scenery this way…

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow…

Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life…
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee…

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground;
for out of it was thou taken:

for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” 

-Genesis 3:16-19

At first glance, this seems like a severe punishment, or banishment into a life of misery, from which there could be no relief nor hope for happiness. It would be hard to see it any other way. 

But, there was a little sprinkling of a hint that suggests another possible motive. The Lord stated that He would multiply their sorrow, and that the curse would be “for [their] sake”. And, if we keep reading, only a few verses later, the Lord opens our eyes to the proper big-picture perspective, which is His perspective.

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us…”

-Genesis 3:22

The Lord saw the Fall of Adam and Eve as progress towards becoming more like Him, not moving further away.  Maybe the obstacles in our paths aren’t stumbling blocks alone, but can also serve as steps that continuously lead us up and forward. 

In Hebrews, Paul teaches about how, and why, the Lord often intervenes in our lives. 

As we read these verses, let’s maintain the belief that the Lord has our well being and divine development in mind. Let’s swap out the word “chastise” and replace it with the word “challenge”, and see if it helps us realize what the Lord is trying to accomplish. 

“…My son, despise not thou the [challenging] of the Lord, nor faint when thou art [challenged] of him: 

For whom the Lord loveth he [challengeth], and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 

If ye endure [challenging], God dealeth with you as with sons; 

for what son is he whom the father [challengeth] not?

Now no [challenging] for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: 

nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”

-Hebrews 12:5-12

It has been a rough few months, but let’s us lift up our hanging hands, strengthen our feeble knees, and maybe try and expand our view to account for the eternal perspective. The Lord loves us.  He sends us challenges to overcome in order to help us develop into our best selves. 

Just this week, in our come follow me lesson, Alma counsels us that we…

“…should be humble and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.” 

-Alma 7:23

I know that if we keep our eyes open to the Lord’s eternal plan for us, and allow ourselves to be changed into who we can be, we can look forward to hearing the words from Heaven, just as our first parents did,  that we have “become as one of [them]”

Close Your Eyes that Ye May See

Brother of Jared

The last few months have been the quite a ride. If we listen to the different sources of news and even look outside, there is such a torrent of information. Most of the time, it is conflicting information. Our world, it seems, is in a constant back and forth as to what is true and what isn’t. What is right, and what is wrong. This seems contrary to what our Father in Heaven wants for us. 

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace”

– 1 Corinthians 14:33

These situations make it difficult to know exactly who, or what, to believe. This sets the table for massive confusion, uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety. The world needs a source that we can trust and have full confidence in.  

Our Father in Heaven is that perfect source. And He has already promised to help!

If any of you lack wisdom,  let him ask of God, …and it shall be given him.”

-James 1:5

I love the story of the Brother of Jared. We can learn so much through his experiences, and his example. He has shown us exactly how we can receive the knowledge, or revelation, and gain the assurance of what is right and wrong. This can help guide our day to day life decisions, as well as help us through the confusion of the outside world. 

We don’t all have the same problems as the Brother of Jared. He had to come up with a way to provide light for eight windowless homemade boats. This light had to last enough to travel across (or even through) the “raging deep” to a distant promised land.  

But, sometimes our problems seem just as difficult to navigate. 

In Ether we read how the Brother of Jared approached the Lord, and why he received an answer to his request. 

“Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.

And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.

-Ether 3:3,4

The Brother of Jared approached the Lord in complete humility. He recognized his faults, and  iniquity, and also recognized that the Lord had already shown mercy to him and his people. He also then approached the Lord in faith, acknowledging the power of the Lord to provide light through the stones that he had prepared. 

King Benjamin also encouraged the Nephites to practice this same humility and faith in order to receive knowledge of the truth. 

“…I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.”

-Mosiah 4:11,12

I hope we can all do our best to seek knowledge and revelation for our own individual lives from the source of all truth. Especially in this time when the truth seems so elusive. We can have the peace and direction we seek if we approach our Father in Heaven in humility and faith. 

“Learn of me, and listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit and ye shall have peace in me.”

-Doctrine and Covenants 19:23

The Ghost and the Darkness

In 1898 during the construction of a railroad in Eastern Africa, two rogue lions terrorized the construction workers that had been imported to complete the project for several months. These lions weren’t hunting for wildebeest, antelope, or any of their normal prey. They were hunting humans. The large tent camps where the workers were sleeping were prime targets largely because they were so poorly defended. These man-eating lions upended the workers lives. They worked, and slept in constant fear.

According to the records kept by the construction foreman, over 100 men were taken in just a few months. In panicked desperation, the workers hastily constructed thorn bush barriers, lit fires, slept in trees, and did whatever they could to stay safe from the two lions. The lions would come at night under the cover of darkness and were rarely seen until it was too late. Every moment of the workers lives was spent in constant worry and fear of the two rouge predators. Because of their elusive nature, these terrorizing lions became known as The Ghost, and The Darkness. 

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If we flash forward 122 years to 2020, we are dealing with our own modern day unseen version of a rogue lion. Albeit much smaller. The COVID-19 virus is an unseen force that is wreaking havoc all around us. We can seemingly do very little to protect ourselves from it. Normal barriers, made out of what we typically have available to us, just like the thorn bush walls, are insufficient. The only real way to stay safe is to to stay away from wherever it is, or, have the appropriate protection that is effective against this particular assailant. It has changed our way of life, effected our work, our schools, our routines, and our priorities.

For many of us, it has truly brought some darkness, confusion, and fear. This virus appears as a Ghost, and often leaves Darkness in its wake. Governments, leaders, and people all over are scrambling to find solutions to fight something so small it’s almost inconceivable.

The whole world economy has been shaken, and come to a halt by an organism 100 times smaller than a single bacterium. For being only 250 microns, it seems to have had a massively and inconceivably disproportionate effect on the market demand for one of the most imperative survival items known to man….toilet paper. Who saw that coming? You know its bad when even Costco can’t keep it in stock.

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The hardest thing about fighting off a virus, or apparently, a rogue man eating lion, is that you simply cannot see it coming. You don’t know exactly where it is, you don’t know exactly how or even if you’ll run into it, or from who, or where it’s been, or where it’s going. It can be everywhere, or no where. How do you know exactly when to wear a mask, or wash your hands? When should we wear goggles, or a full on hazmat suit? How do you know exactly when to sleep in a tree, or stay awake til 4:00 am with a gun pointed at the opening in the thorn bush wall? You simply have to be ready, protected and prepared all the time. You cannot take a break.

I guess we could ask the ten virgins about all of this.

Their story in Mathew Chapter 25 tells of a wedding feast, and ten virgins were tasked with the oil lamp welcoming group for the Bridegroom. In those days, the Bridegroom would come to pick up his bride whenever he was able to care for her on his own. It was not a specifically designated time at all. The virgins would have to be ready for his arrival at any time. The parable tells of five foolish virgins that took lamps without any oil, assuming they would have time to fill them. The remaining five wise virgins kept oil in their lamps full and ready for the appearance of the awaited Bridegroom.

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“Five of Them Were Wise” by Walter Rane

When the time finally came at midnight, and there was a “cry made¹” announcing that the arrival of the Bridegroom was near, the five which had not brought oil in their lamps, were now desperate. They scrambled and asked to borrow oil from those who were prepared. The wise virgins, earning their name, refused, claiming there wouldn’t be enough for all if they gave up their oil.

The Bridegroom came, and entered into the wedding feast at the very moment the foolish virgins had gone to purchase oil for their empty lamps. They missed it. When they finally arrived and knocked on the door and petitioned entrance, they were denied. The Lord, opening the door said, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not².”

Being ready and being prepared is the only thing we can do. If we wait to prepare until the Bridegroom turns the corner it will be too late. We may find ourselves on the outside of the party holding an empty lamp.

We can wait to put on protection until everyone else around us is sick, but we may develop a cough and a fever in the meantime.

We can sleep on the ground until the guy next to us is missing a limb from a middle-of-the-night lion attack, but we may suddenly and rudely be awakened by that same lion as he runs off with our left leg for his dinner.

The important thing about viruses, or bridegrooms, and maybe even lions, is that you need to be ready for them yesterday, not scrambling around the moment they appear. We need to be prepared, and ready, at all times. Even when no one else is. Sometimes, doing what is right may make us look silly and seemingly out of place in todays world, but it’s the only way to be safe.

So, what exactly are we preparing for? or preparing against?

Today, in the gospel sense, we are preparing for the return of the Bridegroom. We are preparing ourselves to be invited into the wedding feast. And we are preparing against anything that would keep us out.

In today’s world there are plenty of things that would keep us out of the wedding feast, or cause us to miss the return of our Savior. Continuous distractions, procrastination, immorality, pride, apathy and hate are just a few.

Preparing ourselves to be ready is taking all the precautions against whatever hidden lions lay outside waiting to attack in the darkness. It’s completely avoiding, or donning the most protective equipment available against a new deadly virus, or putting on the whole armor of God. It’s becoming more like the Savior and trying to keep his commandments and living by the precepts of His Gospel.

When we treat the threat of losing our spot in the Bridegroom’s wedding feast with he same urgency as we do from contracting COVID-19, or losing our limbs or lives to the Ghost and the Darkness, we are doing it right.

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Medical workers in protective suits tend to coronavirus patients at the intensive care unit of a hospital in Wuhan, China.

 The real eternal threat to us today isn’t two rogue lions, or even a microscopic virus that causes a terrible disease. The most devastating threat is missing our opportunity to be with the Savior when he comes again. Can we even begin to bear the thought of our Savior saying to us, “I know you not²“?

Let’s treat our preparation for that wonderful event with the urgency it deserves. Our eternal survival and happiness depend on it.

 

To the End Enduring

When all the worldly Lions pace, and creep, in darkness waiting,
How do we escape their bite and ravenous attacking?

How do we survive an unseen foe as it is spreading
And preventing joined humanity once felt through our connecting?

Or, how do we prepare ourselves for wedding feast approaching,
So we can enter in with Him, to live in joyous feasting?

We fill our lamps, prepare ourselves, and others who are searching,
To find the peace, that in Christ lay, because of His atoning.

Believe in Him, and follow Him, fulfill his words proclaiming
To love our God, and neighbor both, while to the end enduring.

 

  1. Mathew 25:6
  2. Mathew 25:12

The Much Anticipated, Long Awaited, Death of Death

In the movie, Back to the Future II, the bully extraordinaire, Biff, received a gift from his time-traveling future self. This Future Biff gave Past Biff a sports almanac that spanned 50 years. This future sports almanac would eventually help Past Biff place huge wagers on every sports game for the next several years and amass a huge fortune. All because he knew the future.

He had cheated. He had all the information. He had the power of knowledge. All he had to do, was wager on the events because he knew the outcomes beforehand.

remember this scene?

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Wouldn’t that be nice? How would it be to know the outcome of future events?

In some ways it would spoil the fun of competition. But, what if the outcomes we knew were more meaningful than trivial sporting contests? What if we knew the results of the bigger world events? What if we already knew of the triggering events, or the outcomes of wars, or when an earthquake would hit, or a volcanic eruption, or other cataclysmic events? What if we knew the outcomes of our own difficult life decisions, or challenges? What if we knew the outcome of every scenario including the battle of life and death?

In a way, we do.

And, we don’t need a crazy future uncle Biff or his space-time-continuum-altering almanac. We can know the outcome of Good vs Evil, and Life vs. Death.

This week I was listening to a book by Tad Callister called The Infinite Atonement. It is excellent by the way. As I was listening, I was impressed by a poem that he quotes while describing Christ’s victory over death as a portion of his Atonement. It was written in the 1600’s by an English poet named John Donne.

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John Donne (1572–1631)

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

I loved the last phrase, “Death, thou shalt die.” I have never really thought of death in this way. Who would have imagined the irony that death was alive? Who would have imagined that death could die?  I had thought of death more as an event. I imagined it as something that we all will experience, something necessary, something that is inevitable, with no inherent goodness or badness.

The way it is phrased in this poem, however, explores Death almost as if it were a person, or an idea, or something that is actively trying to claim us. It is portrayed as if it is waging a battle against what would then be its alter ego, its competitor, it’s more wholesome nemesis…Life.

These days, we seem to love stories of superheroes. Maybe we could look at this proverbial battle between Life and Death as the next best superhero story.  “Death” would be like Lex Luthor, the Joker, Thanos, or the big Green Goblin Guy that steals all the super tech from Ironman, etc. “Life” would then be the Superhero that goes largely unnoticed, fights for the little guy, and restores peace and prosperity. Through a series of drastic events, Life would engage in an epic battle with Death, and eventually overcome and heroically bring the world back to normalcy. Life would be the conquering superhero that saves the world from utter chaos, pain and despair.

What if we took that superhero storyline and rephrased it just a little? We could even say that Life would be the hero that saves us from the “pains of Death“. Wow, where have I heard that before? Maybe if we added to the storyline one more time, the Superhero we are calling “Life” could have an introductory line, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6)

I guess that in a way, we are living in a world that has a real Superhero. We are all participants in the battle of Good and Evil, and of Life and Death. We also know how it will end.

Like Biff, we have a place where we can read about the battle and the eventual winner. Lets read a few words from the Divine Almanac of Human Events both past and future…the scriptures. This is our cheat sheet where we have access to inside information, and can read about the outcome of this continual war between the two titans- Life and Death.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feetThe last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
(
1 Corinthians 15:22-26)

How have I missed this for so long? Just as the idea in Donne’s poem infers, Death is an enemy, it will be destroyed. It dies. Life will win.

Hosea also leaves little doubt as to the outcome of this epic battle…

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction…” (Hosea 13:14)

We already know the outcome of the battle and the war. So what does it mean for us? What good does this information bring? Just as it benefitted Biff, we can use this knowledge to benefit us. Because of this, we can have complete and total confidence and faith that we all will live again. We all will. We can have complete and full confidence in being able to see, be with, and enjoy the company of all those who have passed on. Death will die, and Life will live.

Over the last few years in our community, and across the country, we have been too familiar with Death and its plague of painful devastation. It rears its ugly head way too early sometimes. When it happens to come abruptly, or unsuspectingly, it shakes us and our belief. How could it not? It is a surprise attack, an ambush. Death is something that we all think will happen after a full and complete and fulfilling life. When it comes early, it causes us to reexamine all the things we believe, or have believed, or been taught about that happens after we die. We are left with nothing but faith. Death quickly morphs from a future eventuality and screams forward and slams us with its sudden present reality.

As I thought more about this, I began to realize why death is such a difficult enemy to deal with. Although we will all pass through that door, Death is powerful and painful because of the sorrow caused by its separation. We love to be, and long to be with those we love. When we are apart from them, it hurts. Even more so when it comes unexpectedly and abruptly.

This is true with both physical and spiritual death. It hurts. We are separated from either where we want to be, with whom we want to be, or even how we want to be. Does it not also hurt when we ourselves, or a loved one make choices that can bring about spiritual death, or separation from the Spirit?

But, there is good news. We know who wins. We have the Almanac. It is abundantly clear. Death dies. Life lives. Both in physical and spiritual senses.

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

In our Divine Almanac, we can also read about how some amazing people have stared directly into Death’s eyes, and overcome. It can inspire us to exercise patience in developing the faith necessary to do so in our own lives.

In order to face the end of your own life with peace and calm requires a sure understanding and a rock-solid faith. It requires a testimony hardened and engrained so permanently that it is impossible to extract even when Death unsheathes fear as his weapon of choice.

The sons of Helaman had it…

Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” (Alma 56:47)

Joseph Smith also faced his fate with faithful confidence…

I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am as calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of an offense toward God and toward all men…” (from the Diary of Willard Richards)

In the Book of Mormon, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis laid prostrate down on the ground in prayer before an advancing vicious Lamanite army and willingly gave up their lives so as to not break a covenant they had made with God to never spill another’s blood again. Imagine the unshakable faith it would have taken to conquer the fear of that moment.

When we are trying our best, yet still suffer through difficulties and tragedies in our lives, we need to understand that we are in good company. We aren’t alone. This battle of life and death has touched almost all of us. We can be assured that our experiences with these events are acknowledged and recorded in the heavens above, and that our “labor is not in vain”.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 15:55-58

The sting of death is calmed by the Savior. He won. Life wins. Death dies. His Atonement eliminates the eternal sorrow of separation. He, the Savior, is the one who gives us peace.

“…He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are boundto comfort all that mourn…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces…”(Isaiah 25:6)

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Because of our Ultimate Superhero, our Savior, we are able to overcome physical, and spiritual death. He won. He overcame. Life wins. Death dies. And he invites us to share in his victory with him by and through our obedience to his commandments, and following the precepts of his Gospel.

Because the Savior overcame all, we will all live forever.

Where we live forever, and with whom we live forever, is up to us.

The Gift of Choice

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We have never, since the beginning of time, been compelled to do or be good. We have always been invited to do, or become good. This holds true going all the way back to our the pre-earth life. The essential principle that guides our relationship with God and our progression to be more like him is Agency. It is a divine gift. We will never be compelled to action by God. He invites, inspires, petitions, prompts, nudges, beckons, teaches and leads.

In the Book of Moses we learn more about what happened in the preexistence when this gift that God had already given us, was threatened. Lucifer wanted to force or compel obedience, at the expense of agency, in order to guarantee that, “one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1). We also learn what became of him, at least in part, because of his desire to take away this essential gift.

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Stained glass window in St Mary, Hitchin, England

“Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him …. I caused that he should be cast down;”
(Moses 4:3)

So, why is Agency so crucial?

Agency, or our freedom to choose, allows for the growth and development of Godly characteristics. No one is compelling God to be God. His character is who He is. He is pure. He is authentic. He is love, He is charity. He is perfect. Because He is pure and perfect, in order for us to become like him, we must develop his attributes. This simply cannot be forced or compelled.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure…” (Moroni 7:48)

It’s like when I was a kid, my brothers and I would be caught fighting and smashing each other’s faces in the carpet. When this happened, my mom, following the mom code, broke up the fight, and subsequently compelled us to hug each other and say two good things about the other, inevitably “you’re good”, and “you’re nice”.  During those moments, I didn’t really feel sorry. I didn’t really feel that my sibling opponent of the moment was actually good or was actually nice. It wasn’t real. Unfortunately, it was not yet in my character to feel it, or even say it. It wasn’t who I really was to give that hug, and say those things. We were a perfect live example of…

…for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. [if] he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift…If he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.” (Moroni 7:6-9)

It was, however, teaching us how we should be.

We gain greater power, or growth when we freely choose faith, and when we freely choose to believe in and follow God and his plan of happiness. This progression and spiritual growth is stunted and inhibited or even reversed when we are compelled to action. Elder Tad Callister wrote, ”There exists an eternal principle—the greater the agency, the greater the opportunity for growth.” (The Blueprint of Christ’s Church)

This growth begins as a result of a desire or yearning to be with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. To be with them, however, requires us to be more like them. This seedling desire then can steer our daily decisions and influence our actions. Our personal desires to emulate our Savior and His character can effect how we view and treat ourselves, our spouses, our own families, and everyone else around us.

We all know the Book of Mormon story of Nephi and the brass plates. Nephi had exhausted all his options to fulfill the Lord’s commandments to obtain the brass plates from their wicked owner, Laban. One night, while following the promptings of the Spirit, Nephi was led to a drunk Laban lying alone in the street. In that moment, he was prompted to slay Laban. He was faced with an enormously difficult situation. The choice before him was to follow the directive of the spirit and slay Laban, or shrink, and disobey. This Laban also happened to be the same man that had stolen his family’s property, threatened them, and even attempted to have Nephi and his brothers killed in their previous attempts to obtain the brass plates.

I imagine the natural man in Nephi had some strong feelings about Laban at that moment. I imagine he might have struggled to know if the promptings he had felt to kill Laban were actually from the Spirit, or if they might have been his own. Nephi had to decide —to obey the voice of the Spirit, or disobey. He would either slay Laban and obtain the plates, or question, doubt, and shrink. I imagine it would have been enormously difficult to trust the feelings and promptings in his heart.

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He took eight full verses to explain these feelings and the honest and difficult conversation he had with the Spirit. Ultimately, he made his choice.  He stated, “I did obey the voice of the Spirit” (1 Nephi 4:18)

I imagine this experience with the whisperings of the spirit taught Nephi a great deal bout how to recognize these intimate promptings of the Spirit. I imagine he learned to trust in God more fully. I imagine this experience effected and guided Nephi with his future choices.

If we fast forward just a few more pages in the Book of Mormon, we learn about the time that Nephi broke his bow while his family was traveling in the wilderness. This fine steel bow had been the only means by which his entire family could obtain food. No bow, no hunt, no food. The family dinner situation had just taken a very bad turn. Even his father Lehi, the Prophet, was complaining. So in this terrible situation, how did Nephi’s past experiences guide his decisions?

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“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?” (1 Nephi 16:23)

His previous experience had taught him to trust in God. It had helped him build the faith and character that could now trust God enough to fashion a handmade wooden bow, and a single arrow, not a quiver of arrows, but a single arrow, and faithfully and confidently head into the wilderness for food. That is complete trust. Nephi level faith and trust is not built in a day, or built upon desperation or compelled humility. It is built upon consistent righteous choices and experiences over time.

Just like Nephi, our own righteous choices today build the character we need to influence our choices and actions tomorrow.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of agency and its practical influence in our lives, is when we attempt to honor it as parents when raising our children. At what point do we step back and allow our kids to exercise their gift? When are we teaching, inviting, or beckoning, and when are we mandating, compelling, and forcing?

I won’t attempt an answer here, as I am still working on this one. Im also not sure where the mom code section about making fighting kids hug each other fits either.  I do know, however, that our Father in Heaven lost 1/3 of his children before they even came to earth. He, a perfect Father, still would not compel his children to obey, even at the expense of losing their opportunity to gain a physical body, partake in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and have a chance at Eternal life.

When we look for an example of a perfect parent, we should look to Him, even when we see our kids choose something other than what we would have them choose. We have to remember that real growth only happens when it is preceded by a free choice.

When we freely choose the right, it means that we have aligned our desire and will to God’s desire and will.

Our choices become a way to test or trigger our own spiritual development.
Our choices become consequences of the character we have developed
Our choices become an outward expression of who we really are, and act as stepping stones in our attempts to develop Godly attributes.

In Hymn number 240 “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free” the lyrics describe this concept perfectly.

 

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.

During the earthly ministry of the Savior, he continued to honor the principle of Agency. He never mandated compliance with his Gospel. He taught and lead by perfect example. He loved, taught, then invited

“Wherefore, Hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people…”
(Doctrine and Covenants 38:22)

To the rich young man he beckoned, “…If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
(Mathew 19:21)

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRuler

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24)

If we choose to follow the Savior, his Gospel, and his law, He will receive us, heal us, and bless us.

He demonstrated this with the 5,000 who would eventually experience the miracle of the bread and fishes…

“And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.” (Luke 9:11)

In this same way, and still honoring the gift of agency, we are all invited to follow the Savior even today through the teachings of living prophets and apostles. Living Prophets have encouraged the people to exercise their divine gifts of agency and make the choice to follow God from the very beginning…

The Prophet Enoch was instructed to tell the people …

Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.” (Moses 6:33)

Joshua famously encouraged, “…Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Today we are experiencing an extension of this same timeless invitation. We have been encouraged to Come unto Christ and come to know him primarily in the safety and security of our own homes. Through his prophet the Lord is inviting us, once again, to…

Come unto Him, to “Learn of [Him] and listen to [his] words, to walk in the meekness of [His] Spirit,… [that we] shall have peace in [Him].” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23)

The name of the program we now have to study is perfectly named. Our Savior still, as he did in days long ago, opens his arms and invites all of us to “Come, and Follow Me” (Mathew 19:21) and it now becomes our choice, our decision to either follow, or not.

I hope that we all, as individuals, make the choice to accept the Savior’s invitation to follow Him, to learn of Him, and find the peace that only He can bring. As our own testimonies grow, our responsibility is then to strengthen our own families and our own homes. We can make them sanctuaries of peace in an ever more chaotic world. As we ourselves, and as families, choose to be more committed and converted to Jesus Christ and His gospel, we then have the responsibility to invite, encourage, beckon, and lead others along their path towards Him.

Freely choosing to follow and be with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ, and to ultimately become like them is the goal.

I hope that we all choose this day to accept the invitation, and follow Him.

 

Tales of the Two Ocean Walkers

Julius Sergius von Klever Tutt'Art@ (36)

It has been a minute since we last contributed on here, or shared a story…..Well, its been a little over 164,000 minutes, but here we go.

Over the last few years, I have written several times about how I’m terrible at swimming. I’ve written about my first experience trying to swim laps and how I barely made it 25 meters before nearly dying of exhaustion, and suffocation. It was a literal near death experience.

Subsequently, I wrote about how I made small improvements, and, over time, was able to refine my technique into something that resembled a stroke that could support my life in the water for a longer period of time. I even survived a couple of half Iron Man events (I owe a lot of that survival to a buoyant wet suit). I thought it was as good as it could get with me, given that I don’t have a ton of time to practice or refine the way I swim. I thought I was capped out.

But, now, I bring you the next step in my journey in the water. The story you’ve both been waiting on for hundreds of thousands of minutes, and also the principle it taught me on the way home this evening after spending an hour in the water.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a random guy on an instagram post. His name was Adam Walker. His instagram account is @adamoceanwalker. More on that name to come. His story is that he was a competitive swimmer before a shoulder injury stopped him from competition. He had to have surgery to repair it, but he never really healed in a way that would allow him to swim in the same way, so he invented/tweaked his stroke to support his now limited range of motion in his arms.

I won’t bore anyone too much with the details, but it has taken off. His ideas are simple, and efficient, and they have made a difference for people like me, in our quest to not die in the water.

I was intrigued, so I splurged, and spent the 20 bucks on his instructional video that looked like he had filmed it on a flip phone propped up on his kitchen counter. But, it has made all the difference in the world for me. It took me about 2 weeks to really relearn how to swim using his techniques. But, ever since I’ve switched and improved the way I do things, I can go so much longer, and even have energy to spare at the end, which is a full-blown miracle.

As I look back at the first time I attempted to swim up and back in the lap pool, and being ready to succumb to an early death after merely 45 seconds. It baffles my mind that tonight I was able to swim 2,500 meters without stopping, without even getting winded. It makes no sense to me. I was doing everything just a little bit wrong. I had the basic principles down, but there was a way that was just a little bit better, a way that made just a bit more sense, a way that fit just perfectly for what I wanted to do. It has taken the anxiety of swimming 1.2 miles, or 2.4 miles during iron man events off of my shoulders. Now I can simply worry about sharks eating me,  the ocean swells, and being flogged with flailing feet and hands.

So, what was the principle I learned, you might ask?

As I thought on the way home about how this made such a difference to me, I was struck by the name he chose to use for his account. Adam Ocean Walker. I’m sure it was intended to reference the way in which simplifying and easing the strain makes it so that you expend the least amount of energy in the water and trying to simulate a nice brisk walk. But, it reminded me of the original ocean, or sea walker, Jesus Christ, and of the time He taught a flailing Peter his “technique”.

I thought also about how many people in this world know of Jesus Christ, and of his miracles, and of his stories of walking on water, healing the sick, etc. Yet, they don’t have all the knowledge, or techniques completely right. They are somewhat like I was, they know the basics, but there are some key elements that are missing, or being done “almost right”. I thought of how the true techniques can be learned by following the original One who walks on water.

There are many, many people in this world who believe in Jesus Christ. They love him. They try their best to follow his teachings, treat others as he did, and do as he taught us to do. These people are amazing, and are doing everything they can to improve themselves and be worthy followers of Christ. In many ways, I want to be just like them in my pursuit to follow Jesus Christ. But there is always room for improvement.

We all can improve the way we live, and follow Christ. We are blessed, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, to have the “techniques” available to us to maximize our potential!

We have a living Prophet receiving revelations to customize the gospel message to us for our specific needs.

We have the Book of Mormon that testifies of this same Jesus who walked on water in the old world, and who visited the people here in America, and taught his Gospel.

We have living Apostles who teach us about the true nature of God.

A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we read a quote from Thomas S. Monsen from the Ensign in 1990. I loved it. It perfectly described our busy days, our flailing about trying to swim the wrong way, and the ways in which we seek Jesus. We should look to him to help us improve our “techniques” in life. We should look to him to calm our fears. We should look to him to take away our pain or grief. We should look to him when we are sinking in the busy ocean waves of life.

Here is a link…

“Before we can successfully undertake a personal search for Jesus, we must first prepare time for him in our lives and room for him in our hearts. In these busy days there are many who have time for golf, time for shopping, time for work, time for play—but no time for Christ.

Lovely homes dot the land and provide rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, playrooms, sewing rooms, television rooms, but no room for Christ.

Do we get a pang of conscience as we recall his own words: “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20.) Or do we flush with embarrassment when we remember, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7.) No room. No room. No room. Ever has it been.

As we undertake our personal search for Jesus, aided and guided by the principle of prayer, it is fundamental that we have a clear concept of him whom we seek. The shepherds of old sought Jesus the child. But we seek Jesus the Christ, our Older Brother, our Mediator with the Father, our Redeemer, the Author of our salvation; he who was in the beginning with the Father; he who took upon himself the sins of the world and so willingly died that we might forever live.

This is the Jesus whom we seek.”

I look at what we enjoy and have access to in The Church of Jesus Christ, in much the same way I see the knowledge of a better way to swim. We can always improve, we can always do just a bit better. But, in order to do it, just as in swimming, we need to truly seek out and learn from the One who walks on water.

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Green Eggs and the Great I Am

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Every six months during general conference we take a couple days and listen to our Prophets and Apostles and other leaders speak and teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over all, it consists of about 10 hours of gospel instruction over a two day period. Throughout that 10 hour instruction period, we cant really expect ourselves to remember each and every phrase, idea, instruction, and encouragement, but the ideas and feelings we get can last forever. Sometimes a certain phrase, or sentence really resonates with us and it triggers a train of thought that inspires us, or helps us to want to learn more about that topic or principle.

Last week I had one of those moments. It wasn’t necessarily an awe inspiring, life changing, burning bush moment, but a fun idea that Im looking forward to. 

It was during Elder Bednar’s talk Saturday morning entitled, “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ”. The part that triggered my idea in his talk was when he quoted the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians…

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  

-Ephesians 1:10

I loved that. I had the thought that we can look for and find signs of Christ, and his gospel principles all around us here on earth. We can find the gospel in everything. That we find the things of Christ in Heaven, and in Heavenly places is obvious. But, the fun part is in the second half of the phrase about finding the things of Christ “on the earth”. Those things are a little less obvious. But, If we look close enough, we can find these lessons in the most unlikely of places.

So, because I can only look on things here on earth, I thought I should start looking around to see what I could find.  Also, because I’m sure all 3 of our readers are tired of reading about how swimming is hard, lets mix it up a bit. So, the obvious first place to expand our search for gospel lessons, is…..?

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss. 

This literary masterpiece is a story of a seemingly annoyingly persistent little character named Sam, who, for some undisclosed reason, finds it necessary to try and convince the main character that green eggs and ham are delicious. He tries to offer them in a wide variety of places, situations, and with several differing scenarios. All in an effort to get the main character to try green eggs and ham. 

The main character stubbornly refuses to even try them based on the obvious outward appearance of the green eggs and ham, and maybe in part by the relentless optimism and cheery disposition of Sam himself. Eventually, and mostly to get Sam to leave him alone, the main character actually tries green eggs and ham, and, to his surprise, he actually likes them. He then thanks Sam for introducing him to green eggs and ham and everyone lives happily ever after. 

So, where is the gospel lesson in this story? To start, lets refer back to one of my favorite scriptures on how to gain a testimony. It comes from the New Testament in the book of John. 

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.                                                                                       -John 7:17                                                  

And, what about this famous one in Malachi, that invites us to try the Lord with regards to tithing?

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

-Malachi 3:10

And, of course, one of the most famous scriptures we know in the church, the scripture that in essence, triggered the restoration of the gospel.

”If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”                                                            -James 1:5

These scriptrues all have one thing in common, they are invitations to act, or to try. When we try, we gain a sure knowledge. We know for ourselves whether we like green eggs and ham. We know for ourselves because we live the gospel, whether its true or not. We know when we pay tithing, whether the Lord blesses us by opening the windows of Heaven. We know when we ask for wisdom in faith from God, that he provides answers. 

But we need to jump in, we need to try green eggs and ham. We need to ask God and live the gospel as it is meant to be lived in order to gain a real knowledge of its truthfullness. It cannot happen in any other way. We can’t live hoping green eggs and ham are good because they have amazing reviews on yelp, or that our friends, or parents say they are.

We need to try them for ourselves. When we do, we know for ourselves. 

From the book….

“You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may I say.”

“Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”

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“Say! I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat! And I would eat them with a goat. And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good, so good you see!.

I do so like green eggs and ham! 
Thank you!
Thank you, 
Sam-

I-am.”

Hearken and listen to the voice of him who is from all eternity to all eternity, the Great I Am, even Jesus Christ—“                                                                                               -D&C 39:1

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Hidden in a manner that the people did find them

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In Luke chapter 24, it chronicles the events that take place shortly after the resurrection of the Savior.  Starting in verse 13 we have the story of two of his apostles walking “to a village called Emmaus”. Let’s remember that they are apparently making this journey almost immediately (“that same day”) after hearing the news that the Savior was no longer in the tomb.  During this journey, these two disciples “talked together of all these things which had happened”, and while they did that Jesus himself “drew near, and went with them”. Now, we know that their eyes were “holden” during this journey, and through the night while the Lord speaks with them, expounds the scriptures to them, until finally as “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” their eyes were opened, “and they knew him”.

In John chapter 20, we read that Mary is “weeping” at the empty sepulchre, only to see with her own eyes the Lord himself and hear him ask “Woman, why weepest thou”?  We learn that Mary, in her grief or in her pain or in her state of distress “saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” and was “supposing him to be the gardener”.  Then, only after the Lord calls her by name, she “turned herself” and recognized him.

The story (hymn 29) of the poor wayfaring man of grief details six entire verses of good works that the narrator was anxiously engaged in.  He loves this stranger, shares his meal with him, he quenches his thirst, he clothed him and provided rest to him, he nurses him back to health and revives his spirit, and finally honors him amid scorn from others before stating that “in a moment to my view the stranger started from disguise” allowing him to recognize the Savior.  

The point of these three stories, and certainly my point in highlighting them in this way is that the Lord does indeed come to us, but he often comes in disguise.  

Nevermind that the two apostles on the road to Emmaus, Mary at the tomb, and the unnamed man in the hymn were not only pondering the events that were happening around them, but they were thinking of the Lord, and expressing sincere gratitude at their blessings, trying to piece together the reality of what was happening and what it meant to them, and they were acting and serving in faith while.  Each of them were doing the very things that we are encouraged to do to invite the Lord into our lives – and he did come – yet he still appeared to them in disguise.

Even further, 3 Ne. 9:20 teaches us that there were people who – because of their faith (which is a principle of action, likely indicating that they were acting in way very similar to these individuals listed above) were “baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”  All these examples help me to understand that not only that it is possible to experience something spiritually wonderful, or incredibly important and not even know it, but also that it is pretty common, and for most of us, we feel like we are giving 100% effort in doing the right things, yet have a difficult time recognizing the Lord and hearing his voice clearly.    

Why is it this way?  Why doesn’t he just make himself and his hand totally and unmistakably obvious to everyone?  Why do things have to be hidden or disguised at all? What purpose does that serve?

There are likely several reasons, but remember that the Lord taught in parables, which means he still does teach in parables.  And that a parable conveys to the hearer religious truth exactly in proportion to his faith and intelligence; to the dull and uninspired it is a mere story, “seeing they see not,” while to the instructed and spiritual it reveals the mysteries or secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is that only he who seeks finds.

I like to think that the examples above were used because in each case, the people involved had the mystery revealed and they received a wonderful treasure and the end of their wrestle.  The apostles had their eyes opened “and they knew him”. Mary and the hymn writer were able to recognize, speak with and have an experience with Him because of their good works. Joseph Smith wrote that “the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.” (History of the Church 3:295-96).  But he didn’t say we’d find them out immediately.

Now, before we get too far down the road in thinking that everything is disguised or hidden so well that we cannot find it.  Let’s remember that it’s only hidden in proportion to our faith and intelligence, and that if we seek we will find, and the more faith and intelligence we gain, the more we will find.    

When I was 16 or 17 and a senior in High School, I thought it was incredibly important to have chewing gum on my person at almost all times.  This meant that I bought gum with my own money, and since I didn’t want my younger siblings tasting the fruits of my labor, or dipping into my secret stash of gum I kept it from them by hiding it.  And, because I really wanted it to be safe, I put the unopened gum, and any partially opened packs of gum in my underwear drawer – and not just in my underwear, like underneath and all around my actual underwear.  In other words, I hid it so that it would not be found.  This shouldn’t be a hard concept for us to understand since really anytime we hide something, I think it’s assumed that it is not meant to be found (except maybe by us) right?  After all, the very meaning of hidden is “to conceal from sight, or to prevent from being seen, or to keep secret”.  

But the Lord hides things differently than we do.  As odd as it may seem. He hides things so that they will be found.

Take the plates of Ether for example. The Lord knew how important the record of the Jaredites would be not only to the Nephites, but to all of us, so after Ether finished recording their history, he “hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them” (Ether 15:33).  How many of us think to hide things in a manner that they will be found? Probably none of us, but I think this phrase indicates exactly how and why the Lord hides things. Both the Lord and Ether desperately wanted the record to be found, so he “hides” it so that the looker will know that they should search and the finder will know that they actually found something.  I’m sure the people of Limhi left plenty of stuff untouched when they found the Jaredite civilization, but they somehow knew what to find.  This idea could be used for the Gold plates as well. 

The Lord has prepared a wonderland of lessons for us all to learn here on earth. People, places, things, and especially our own experiences as we struggle through the mundane provide the Lord with the hiding places, and he inserts hidden and disguised treasures in a manner that we will find them.