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Category Archives: Spirituality

Saving Mr. Banks

Three months ago today, I began a journey to become George Banks, the father from the beloved children’s books and Disney film “Mary Poppins.” I love David Tomlison’s portrayal of the proper Mr. Banks and the music from the film has always enchanted me. So when the opportunity came to play Mr. Banks in both casts of Alpine Community Theater’s 2015 summer production, I just couldn’t resist.

Mr. Banks and I have a lot in common. We are both business bankers, tasked with the important job of deciding how best to invest our banks’ money. We are both fathers — my daughter Lily and son James are roughly the same ages as Jane and Michael. We share the common struggle of meeting the unique challenges of fatherhood, including how to provide a strong, steady positive influence while maintaining a balance between discipline/respect and love/friendship with our children.

At the beginning of the show, George is disconnected from his family and disengaged from his most important role as a husband and father. When Mrs. Banks suggests that the children would like to come and say goodnight to him, he replies dismissively, “Tell them you’ve given me the message.” The line illustrates just how distant he has become from his children. He is totally absorbed in advancing his career and in keeping up appearances to the determent of all else.

It takes a stern, yet loveable nanny to jolt him out of this negative state of improperly placed priorities. Mary Poppins comes to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane with a positive, but no-nonsense attitude that whips the children into shape, but also sets in motion a series of events that gives George the opportunity to change. Faced with unemployment and foreclosure, along with the return of his own nanny Miss Andrew (who represents abuse and neglect from his own childhood), George is forced to decide what’s most important.

“Illusions may shatter, but memories stay; the things that really matter, I lost on the way,” he sings while despondently reflecting on the sorry state of his life while walking through the park. He finally recognizes the need to change. Moments later, a whole host of chimney sweeps descends into his house just before he takes the long walk to the bank to learn of his professional fate. (Turns out he gets a promotion and a healthy raise because his decision was the right one. Check out the following clips.)

There are several moments that I love in this show. I love the scene where Mary Poppins teaches the children about happily serving those who can’t possibly repay your generosity in “Feed the Birds.” I love the message of remaining cheerful and energetic even when we have tasks we’d rather not do, as conveyed in “A Spoonful of Sugar.” I love the scene between George Banks and chimney sweep Bert in which Bert reminds George that “childhood slips like sand through a sieve and all too soon they (the children) have up and grown and then they’ve flown, and it’s too late for you to give a spoonful of sugar…” It’s a poignant moment in which George finally realizes that he is letting the precious moments of childhood slip by and that his priorities have been wrong. I know I’ll think of this sweet lesson when I’m tired from a long work day and I’d rather not be bothered by my kids. I will strive to enjoy and be “fully present” for those fleeting moments with my children.

Yes, there are many moments that I love in this show. But my favorite is one in which Jane and Michael come to George with some coins that they have been saving. They know that he’s been going through a difficult time lately (on unpaid leave from his job awaiting a decision about his future) and they tell him that they think “a bit of extra cash might loosen things up a little.”

Wide-eyed, they willingly offer their father the money, exclaiming, “It’s a WHOLE SHILLING!” In their minds, they have just given their father a precious gift because it is all they possess. In the grand scheme of things, a shilling would have made very little difference in the family’s financial situation. George knows this and yet he is deeply touched with their willingness to give it. This tender moment on the stage is my favorite of the show. As the children look up at George and reach out their hands to offer their “widow’s mite,” he accepts their offering with gratitude.

Offering

I have reflected on the beautiful symbolism of this little exchange and how it relates to the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are children of God who has given us everything. Our loving father asks us to freely, lovingly give Him a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Compared to the tremendous weight of the debt we owe to Him, our offering is meager at best. But as we offer Him our whole hearts, He accepts our offering with joy.

Often when I think about the message of the atonement embedded into this little scene, I get tears in my eyes. In the grand scheme of things, our offering to God is miniscule. Our repentance and willingness to follow Him is so very small in comparison to all that He has done for us. And yet, it is enough. The Lord Jesus Christ embraces us and expresses His joy at our willingness to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.” (Moroni 10:32)

For me, this is the most powerful message of the show. God’s love for us knows no bounds. It is sweeping and unconditional. He has given us everything and all he asks of us is our willingness to give our “widow’s mite.” He asks for the ONE thing that is ours alone to give: our heart. And while it may seem wholly inadequate, it is enough.

This is the story of the redemption of George Banks. As an actor, I dedicated three months of my life rehearsing for and then presenting to audiences this heartfelt transformation. May these lessons sink deep into my soul. May I never forget.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Music / Theater, Spirituality

 

Lead Kindly Light

Over the past few months, I’ve been pondering the role that uncertainty plays in our lives. Why does God allow us (and sometimes require us) to walk in the dark? I believe it is because the Lord knows that we MUST learn to trust him. Light and darkness must co-exist, just like faith and doubt must co-exist. If we had a perfect knowledge of things, faith would not be necessary.

A few weeks ago, I was in a play at the Lehi Arts Center called “Wait Until Dark.” The main character of the show is a blind woman who is visited by a trio of thugs who take advantage of her blindness to deceive and manipulate her. The show made me extremely grateful for my sight — it is hard to imagine what it would be like to live in a world of complete darkness all the time. Not being able to see would be extremely frustrating and I think that many of us have gone through that metaphorical blindness at periods of time in our lives.

I am an avid runner and jog around my neighborhood every morning with my dog Buddy. As the days have been getting shorter, my morning jogs often start in the dark. I recently went on a trail run in the dark and forgot to bring my headlamp. I was afraid I might get lost or sprain my ankle on the rocky terrain. Then the words of the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” came into my mind:

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene–one step enough for me.”

The hymn’s author, John Henry Newman, wrote it as a prayer, pleading for the Lord to provide light and direction in a world filled with darkness. The writer doesn’t demand all the answers immediately — he simply implores the Lord for enough light to help him take the next step. This is especially important to remember as we seek for direction in our lives regarding relationship with a friend or family member, our career path, a Church assignment or a difficult trial we are facing.

The third verse continues the author’s prayer and expresses his confidence in the Lord’s power to give us the light and knowledge we so desperately need:

“So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!”

Jesus Christ is the Light which guides our path. He illuminates a darkened world. He heals our blindness and provides direction for us, if we are willing to seek for it. It is my hope that as we gaze upon the lights on our Christmas trees this season, that we will remember the kindly Light that dispels fear and uncertainty and fills us with love.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Spirituality

 

40th Birthday Reflections – What Makes Me Happy?

Today is my 40th birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on the last four decades and the amazing journey I’ve had so far. My life has been incredibly enriched by the wonderful people around me, and I’m exceedingly grateful for them. I feel so blessed to have good health, energy and enthusiasm. Though not without its challenges, struggles and disappointments, my life has been very happy and I look forward to the next 40 years with great excitement and anticipation. So many new mountains to climb — literally and figuratively.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes people happy. Happiness is universally sought after but often elusive for many. Often we point to the lack of money, possessions or leisure time as a reason we are not happy. While these things help, there are many who have more than enough of all of these things who are extremely unhappy, while there are many who have next to nothing who live very joyful lives.

I believe that our level of happiness and personal fulfillment and satisfaction are closely related to how well we are able to follow our passions. Our happiness also depends on how well we are able to help those around us to find and follow their own passions. If we choose to be anxiously engaged in activities that we are passionate about, we are happy. Our passions help us meet our core needs. Inasmuch as we’re filling those core needs for ourselves and helping those around us meet their core needs, we find happiness.

I recently took some time to reflect on my passions — what really drives me, what I get excited about. Through this process, I came to understand myself better and it has helped me understand others better as well. Here’s the process I recommend:

1. Ponder on the things that you really love doing: your passions. These are things that get you most excited about, that you just love to do. These are activities that you don’t have to be prodded or nagged to do, they are pleasurable to you on many levels. Make a list of those things.

2. Now think about WHY those things are interesting and exciting for you. What core needs do those passions fill for you? Make a list of those things.

3. Finally, think about what you want to do with your passions in the future. What are your goals, dreams and aspirations that you’ll achieve by following your passions and fulfilling your core needs? List these things.

Here are my results from doing this activity.

Core Needs

  • Accomplishment/Achievement
  • Attention/Admiration
  • Adventure/Novelty
  • Connection

Resulting Passions

  • Performing
  • Teaching
  • Travel
  • Fitness
  • Social Interaction

Goals and Dreams

  • Build an awesome marriage
  • Raise a righteous family
  • Serve others with love
  • Travel the world
  • Participate in fitness events
  • Sing in choirs and smaller groups
  • Perform in plays and musicals
  • Organize reunions and social events

Here are a couple of examples of things I’m passionate about and why.

Over the past three years, I’ve done two marathons (Utah Valley in 2011 and Top of Utah in 2013), two Wasatch Back Ragnar Relays (regular team in 2011 and ultra-team in 2012) and two triathlons (Salem Sprint and Rock Cliff at Jordanelle Olympic in 2014). In analyzing why I’ve enjoyed these racing experiences, I realize it’s because they help fulfill multiple passions. When I finish a race, I feel a sense of accomplishment and I experience a great sense of adventure as I explore new places. My dog Buddy and I are constantly exploring the hills behind my house, and I hike in the mountains whenever possible. I just love to exercise and explore this amazing world.

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It is my passion for adventure/novelty that drives my intense desire to travel all around Utah, the USA and to foreign lands.

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It is my core need for attention/admiration that drives my passion for the theater. There’s nothing quite like entertaining an audience — all eyes are on me and I’m bringing audience members laughter and enjoyment. It’s an adrenaline rush that’s hard to explain.

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It is my need for connection that makes me passionate about organizing special reunions for family, high school and mission. It is that need for connection (and also my need for attention/admiration) that drives my active participation on Facebook, and to a lesser extent now, this blog. It is my need for connection that gets me excited about technology like iPhones, texting, email, social media and video chats. My need to make a connection with the past drives my passion about preserving audio visual memories through archiving family videos, writing blogs and taking pictures. Learning about history is one of my greatest passions, and I love learning about what life was like for my ancestors.

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I am also passionate about constant self-improvement, and that’s why I find the gospel of Jesus Christ to be so beneficial in my life. It teaches me how to be a better man and inspires me to make good choices that will lead to positive outcomes. I am passionate about serving in the Church and helping my fellow brothers and sisters along this journey of life.

At the end of the day, it is my family that I’m most passionate about. They help fulfill all of those core needs above and I’m so grateful that I have them in my life. My 40 years have been so much better because of them! I hope that I can help them find and follow THEIR passions!

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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Spirituality

 

A Stone Cut Without Hands

“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

-Daniel 2:44-45

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The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great statue representing all the kingdoms of the world and then saw a “stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold” and then filled the whole earth. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see this as a prophecy of the growth and progress of the Church in the last days. It is one of the commonly referenced scriptures that adds zeal to our missionary efforts.

In 1984, non-LDS sociologist Rodney Stark predicted that by 2080 the Mormon faith would have no fewer than 64,000,000 adherents and possibly as many as 260,000,000. He predicted that Mormonism could be the next great world religion. This idea intrigued me throughout my boyhood, and I equated success (and in some ways validation of my beliefs) to the growth and progress of the Church. We’re kind of a “numbers” church. We often quote membership statistics; numbers of temples, missionaries, etc.

So it was with great interest that I recently read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that assessed the conversion results of the recent surge of LDS missionaries that happened soon after the Church lowered the missionary age to 18 for young men and 19 for young women in October 2012. The number of full-time missionaries was about 58,500 and has since jumped to about 83,000 as of March 2014 — a 42% leap. I find this extremely interesting because of my life-long affiliation with the Church and as a 19-year-old young man, I dedicated two years of my life to missionary service in Sao Paulo, Brazil, working 80+ hours each week striving to win converts and bring inactive church members back into the fold. I taught Portuguese at the Missionary Training Center for a couple of years and worked closely with more than 80 Elders and Sisters. I am personally vested in seeing the Church grow throughout the world, so I have been thrilled with the missionary “surge” and have wondered whether the number of convert baptisms would spike as well.

So far, the number of convert baptisms hasn’t had a similar increase. Official church statistics show less than a 4% increase — from 272,330 convert baptisms in 2012 to 282,945 in 2013. Why is this? The article suggested it had a lot to do with where those new missionaries are being assigned — most have been assigned to areas better equipped to handle the extra missionaries where the church is well established — mostly in the United States. The researchers in the article suggested that these areas are already fairly saturated by Church preaching efforts.

I believe it’s too early to analyze the numbers. The number of missionaries serving today has been ramping up for the last 18 months. The average number of missionaries was lower than 83,000 throughout 2013 since the missionary force was ramping up all year. It also takes time to train missionaries to speak languages and to get them proficient at finding/teaching techniques that make them more effective in their work.

My assumption is that there will be a greater increase in the number of converts in 2014 since the surge will be in full force for most of this year — perhaps a 8% increase over the 2013 numbers. The missionary surge will then subside as those who entered missionary service earlier than they would have otherwise, complete their missions in 2015 and beyond. I’m guessing we’ll end up with a more normalized number of missionaries of about 70,000, mostly due to a greater percentage of women serving due to the lowering of the age from 21 to 19. Whereas before “sister” missionaries accounted for about 15% of the total, I suspect that that number will settle in at about 30% women and 70% men. We shall see.

However, I doubt there will be a huge uptick in the number of converts in the foreseeable future. Here’s why:

Shifted Focus
Missionaries are now encouraged to have a balanced effort of conversion, retention and reactivation. The Church is putting a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the conversion (spiritual and social) that will lead people to remain active members throughout their lives. This is a very difficult, total life-altering transition for anyone to make, and so it’s little wonder that so many aren’t retained.

In many missions, 50% of the missionaries’ time is devoted to proselytizing and 50% is devoted to reactivation and retention efforts. While convert baptisms may be stagnant, perhaps the activity rate of the current membership is improving? Some researchers estimate that the average activity rate worldwide is about 33%. (The church doesn’t release figures on activity rates, but some extrapolation can be made by the growth of new wards and stakes — which is a much truer indication of church growth vs. convert baptisms.) Of the 15 million people on church membership rolls (those baptized into the church and children of record), perhaps about 5 million attend church regularly. The other 10 million include those who still believe but no longer attend church and those who have left the church completely but haven’t yet requested their names be removed from the church records.

If we had to decide between baptizing 300,000 and retaining 100,000 (33% retention rate) vs. baptizing 200,000 and retaining 100,000 (50% retention rate), which would be better? It’s hard to say since many of those who are not retained eventually return. However, I am certain from all the church leadership trainings that I have attended that the Church is putting a significant emphasis on retention and reactivation. Hopefully, these rates will improve as it is the activity rate that is the true measure of the Church’s strength.

Growth of the Irreligious
I’ve recently read up on the growing number of irreligious people in the United States. According to several demographic studies, surveys and census records, approximately 34% of the U.S. population says that religion is not an important part of their life; 20% claims no religious affiliation and 6% consider themselves atheists. Vermont is the state with the highest percentage of “irreligious” people at 34%, while Mississippi has the fewest at 5%. (My home state of Utah, with its large Mormon population, is #34 with 14% of people not claiming any religious affiliation.) 23% of men and 17% of women are irreligious.

Perhaps the most disturbing trend (for those of us in the “religious camp”) is the fact that those who claim no religious affiliation increases among the younger generations. Consider the following percentages of “irreligious” among the generations (defined by their birth years).

34%  Younger Millennials (1990 to 2000)
30% Older Millennials (1983 to 1990)
21% GenXers (1963 to 1982)
15% Boomers (1943 to 1962)
9% Silent (1925 to 1942)
5% Greatest (1901 to 1924)

Since children generally follow the example of their parents, I expect this trend to continue. At the current pace, we may be at 50% irreligious in about 25 years. Irreligious doesn’t mean atheist — about two thirds of irreligious people believe in a supreme being — they are just not affiliated with any church organization per se. This very strong worldwide trend of secularism makes the missionary efforts more difficult as fewer people are seeking out religion.

Effects of Internet
Another obstacle to missionary work is the proliferation of information on the Internet that causes people to doubt the message. When I was a missionary in the pre-internet age in 1994 and 1995, very little anti-Mormon material was available to members or investigators in Brazil. Sure, we’d come across some negative literature put out by some other churches, but by in large, people didn’t have access to much of the information that is easily accessible today. Much of the information available is biased, twisted and outright falsehoods based on truths. Some of the information is verifiable facts that are difficult to reconcile to one’s belief system. Conflicting information that’s coming from so many different sources is confusing and throws water on the fire of faith for many people. The internet is certainly a blessing in so many ways – social connection, information, endless gospel resources and family history research. It also is a tool that the adversary uses relentlessly — pornography, social acrimony and anti-religious information that seeks to destroy faith.

Younger Missionaries
Another reason for the lag may be partly due to a younger, less experienced missionary force. A year or two in age often makes a big difference in maturity level and the depth of life experiences missionaries have that helps them in the work. Missionaries have struggled for years with homesickness, along with mental and physical health problems — and many come home early. I’m guessing that since most missionaries (now) will have not lived away from home prior to serving their missions, homesickness will be even more intense and potentially slow down the work. Additionally, compared to earlier generations, many believe current generation doesn’t have as strong work ethic or as refined communication skills as previous generations. Some argue that the ubiquity of computers, video games, texting devices, etc. has stunted their ability to as effectively communicate with others and most young people just aren’t used to working at physically and emotionally demanding jobs. All of these factors will make it even more difficult for youth to adjust the rigors of missionary life. Hopefully this will improve with time as the new crop of missionaries matures in their roles.

Ineffective Member Missionary Program
Perhaps the greatest contributor to the Church’s flat growth trend is the lack of involvement of members in missionary work. I reluctantly indict myself in this regard. While I have been a stake missionary and in several leadership positions over the past 19 years since returning from my full-time mission, I don’t believe I can think of a single non-member who I have introduced to the gospel who has been baptized. I’ve helped in the reactivation and retention efforts of members, and have seen a few young people from part-member families get baptized, but I haven’t seen anyone convert to the gospel that I personally invited. I have made a few invitations over the years, but not many.

So if this is true of my experience being a fairly stalwart member, I’m guessing it’s true for many others in the Church. This is most often due to fear of rejection or fear of offending someone by “pushing our beliefs” on them. In Utah, we experience a strange phenomenon that many or most of the people we interact with on a daily basis are already members or already know a great deal about the church. I suspect that member missionary work is better outside of Utah due to the greater potential number of interactions with non-LDS people that are curious and not already surrounded by Mormons who sometimes don’t exemplify the best the faith has to offer.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have much more effective member missionary programs than us. Their members are actively spreading the word and studying the scriptures in the homes of their “investigators.” LDS culture creates a mindset that a mission is something you go and do for 18 to 24 months; that spreading the word is primarily the responsibility of full-time missionaries. Despite repeated attempts by church leadership to change this cultural trend, very few members are actively evangelizing (heck, we have a hard enough time just doing our home and visiting teaching for each other).

I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just analyzing the trends and facts available. I admit, it’s kind of discouraging. And yet, I believe this is God’s work. I believe he has the power to work miracles. He has done it in the past and continues to do so today. The Church continues to roll on. We have over 140 operating temples, nearly 5,000 family history centers and just under 30,000 congregations worldwide. And while 15 million members sounds a lot more impressive than 5 million (which is probably the true number of active members), it shouldn’t be all about the numbers. It should be about helping people come to Christ; and helping them live better lives. That’s why the Church exists. That we are few in number (at least everywhere outside of Utah), shouldn’t be surprising. As Nephi described his vision of the last days:

“And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.”  — 1 Nephi 14:12-13

The “whore” of whom Nephi wrote is the influence of the world. It is pervasive. It is enticing. It is destructive. And yet the Church is a force for good in the world and will continue to be a beacon for light and truth despite the powerful influence of Satan and the frailties of people in the Church.

So what can I do? I can share the word of God by example and also by “opening my mouth” and inviting those around me to learn more. I can be a member missionary. I can testify to others of my convictions and find areas of common beliefs. I can find ways to serve others. I can be a better husband, father, brother, son and friend. I can teach my children the importance of member missionary work before and after their full-time missions. Most importantly, I can strive to be a true disciple of Christ.

The real miracle of the gospel is the deep and abiding conviction that I have that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice has the power to save me. That’s a very personal understanding that I’ve gained through many experiences throughout my life, but most frequently and intensely during my two years walking the cobblestone streets in Brazil.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Spirituality

 

Eleventh Hour Laborers

A few months ago, I participated in a choir that sang in an LDS Stake Conference. I had attended several rehearsals during the weeks before the conference and then at the final rehearsal, a few people came who hadn’t been before, even though the performance was just a few days away.

I tapped into my phone the following Facebook status update: It kind of bugs me when people skip all choir practices and then attend the last rehearsal or two before the performance. Doesn’t seem fair to the rest of us.

My sister-in-law responded with this post that made me laugh out loud: That’s probably how you’ll feel about me, when after death bed repentance, I come waltzing in to join you in the Celestial Kingdom.

I love the way she phrased this comment, especially the use of the verb “waltzing” — it made me laugh hard, but it also really made me think.

Once I was complaining about something not being “fair” and my father shared with me one of the parables of Jesus in Matthew 20. It describes a man who really needs help bringing in the harvest from his vineyard, so he hires several workers early in the morning. During the course of the day, he returns to the marketplace to get more workers. Recognizing that the work won’t be completed in time without more help, the master returns to city to hire workers for the very last hour of the day. These workers are paid the same wage as those who had labored all day. Of course, the early morning workers now think that their payment amount wasn’t fair. When I first heard the parable, I agreed. How could it be fair that the guys who started work at the crack of dawn and worked all day long should get the same payment as those who only worked the final hour? My dad was trying to teach me some important lessons.

First, the parable suggests that those who were hired in the last hour of the day had desired to work but didn’t have the opportunity (i.e. “no man hath hired us.”) They were not willfully lazy and unproductive. They simply didn’t have the chance to work. Similarly, many people simply haven’t had the chance to hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why should they be penalized for not receiving the gospel if they weren’t given the opportunity? If they accept the gospel when given the chance, shouldn’t they be entitled to all the blessings that life-long active members receive? Okay, that makes sense, right?

However, what of those who DO have the opportunity to learn the gospel, but choose to reject it and live a life of sin, only to repent later? Can they receive the same blessings as those who lived it all along? The parable of the prodigal son helps answer that question. In the story, the elder brother who remained loyal to his father is angry when the wayward son is accepted back into the family after he wasted his inheritance with “riotous living.” The older brother asserts that this arrangement isn’t fair. The father gently rebukes his eldest son reminding him that he has been blessed to enjoy the association with the family all these years, while the younger son’s actions deprived him of those blessings. Those who go astray for a time lose out on the spiritual progression they could have had if they had remained true.

If my attitude that “it’s not fair” that some people “get to sin” and still receive the same reward, then my heart isn’t in the right place. If I truly have a heart that is broken (in total harmony with Christ), I wouldn’t view keeping the commandments as something I “have to” do. Good works and keeping covenants would become a pleasure, while sinful behavior would become wholly unattractive. I never want to view living the principles of the gospel as a burdensome means to an end — that I’m sacrificing and serving so I can “earn a great reward.” Do I pay tithes and offerings, go to the temple, keep the Sabbath day holy, keep the Word of Wisdom so that I can “earn enough points” to get into the Celestial Kingdom? If my sole motivation for keeping covenants is only so that I can get into heaven, I think I’ve missed the point. Living gospel principles blesses my life HERE and NOW. I’m not just paying my dues now for some future reward. Living the gospel is its own reward. When viewed in this light, it makes questions of what’s fair seem irrelevant.

We all need the grace of Christ equally. A dear friend of mine recently shared a scripture in James 2:10. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” At first this scripture startled me and I felt discouraged. But my friend reminded me that the standard of justice is perfect compliance to God’s laws and even one sin disqualifies us from our eternal reward. That’s why Christ’s grace is so essential for all of us. It’s a very humbling thought, one that engenders love and compassion and eschews judgment and pride.

I am striving to sincerely rejoice when anyone partakes of the atonement, regardless of when or how. I learned this lesson in a powerful way in the fall of 1996 when I was a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center. I had the chance to visit many historically significant sites, including the Garden of Gethsemane. This place is a pivotal location in my religious worldview as I believe it was in this place where Jesus Christ wrought the eternal atonement. I had been there a few times during the semester, but never felt anything particularly different or inspiring. The spiritual experience I had hoped to receive by visiting that significant place wasn’t there.

On my last visit, our student group found a quiet corner of the garden where we could bear testimonies. One of my fellow students told our group about how her brother had been struggling with some serious sins and was now repenting. I am ashamed to admit that in that moment, I thought: “That guy needs the atonement a lot more that I do.” In that very moment, I felt a very real spiritual rebuke from the Holy Ghost. It was one of the most powerful and painful moments I had ever experienced with the Spirit. I immediately felt in my soul a very strong message from heaven: Andrew, you need the atonement just as desperately as everyone else.

Tears filled my eyes as I realized how prideful I had been. How could I have been so self righteous to think those thoughts? As soon as I surrendered to my desperate situation, the power of the atonement filled my soul and I finally had the experience I had been seeking. The power of the atonement was manifest in my life in a powerful way that I will never forget.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Spirituality

 

Beware of Pride

For the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the sin of pride and how it has manifested itself in my life. I’ve been pondering the damaging effects of pride in various areas of my life. And while it’s difficult to be honest in confessing some of my weaknesses in a blog like this, I suppose I just need to “swallow my pride” 🙂 and share some ways pride has hurt me:

  • Minimizing others’ contributions to make my contributions seem more important. I sometimes find myself doing this with those that I love most, like my wife Robin. I think so much about my own activites at work and church that I tend to minimize her important contribution in managing our household and raising our children. Pride makes me think my contribution is better than hers, which it isn’t. It’s just different.
  • Mentally tearing down others to build myself up, especially those whose successes make me envious. I have a couple of friends that have been very successful, and my pride has allowed me to compare my success to theirs. When I come up short, pride has led me to envy, which is certainly an un-Christlike feeling.
  • Feeling that my viewpoint and way of doing things is best, therefore if others see things or do things differently, it is inferior. This manifestation of pride causes me to lose out on new ideas and new perspectives that have significant value. It also results in a lack of tolerance which can damage relationships. 
  • Desiring the praise of the world and the glory of men; craving the approbation of others and a feeling of importance for my own sake.

President Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the LDS Church recently gave a very powerful talk on this subject. I’d like to quote him (in italics) and then make a few comments. He said:

“Pride is sinful because it breeds hatred or hostility and places us in opposition to God and our fellowmen. At its core, pride is a sin of comparison, for though it usually begins with ‘Look how wonderful I am and what great things I have done,’ it always seems to end with ‘Therefore, I am better than you.’ When our hearts are filled with pride, we commit a grave sin, for we violate the two great commandments. Instead of worshipping God and loving our neighbor, we reveal the real object of our worship and love—the image we see in the mirror. Pride is the great sin of self-elevation.”

So what’s so bad about elevating ourselves? Doesn’t our culture prize those who excel and those who work hard to be successful? The problem is that when I seek to elevate myself, I inherently diminish others and that creates enmity. More damaging is the fact that when I give in to pride, I become the object of my love and worship; I care more about myself and my own interests than I care about loving God and serving my fellowman. It’s a natural human tendency to seek after our own happiness; however, I believe the great irony is that only when I seek for others’ happiness have I truly found my own.

President Uchtdorf goes on: “For others, pride turns to envy: they look bitterly at those who have better positions, more talents, or greater possessions than they do. They seek to hurt, diminish, and tear down others in a misguided and unworthy attempt at self-elevation. When those they envy stumble or suffer, they secretly cheer.”

I don’t like feeling envious, do you? It’s a nasty feeling. It creates in me a sense of injustice and sometimes even bitterness. And when I feel envious, I seek to diminish the accomplishments of others. I sometimes secretly feel that they don’t deserve what they have or that their success is because of luck (while always crediting my own success to my own hard work and drive).

What’s the antidote to envy brought on by pride? For me, it’s gratitude. I believe that recognizing God’s hand in my life and in the lives of others is crucial. I recently started counting my blessings and trying hard to be more genuinely happy for those whose successes I envied. And my heart changed for the better.

President Uchtdorf says: “We can be grateful for our health, wealth, possessions, or positions, but when we begin to inhale it—when we become obsessed with our status; when we focus on our own importance, power, or reputation; when we dwell upon our public image and believe our own press clippings—that’s when the trouble begins; that’s when pride begins to corrupt.”

Isn’t this true? The minute I start feeling like my own genius and efforts have made me  better than others, I begin to “inhale” and to “believe my own press clippings.” Pride really can corrupt people if they are not careful and self-aware.  What’s the best way to overcome pride and envy in addition to developing gratitude? Again, to President Uchtdorf:

“It is almost impossible to be lifted up in pride when our hearts are filled with charity. ‘No one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love (D&C 12:8).’ When we see the world around us through the lens of the pure love of Christ, we begin to understand humility.”

I love that. Filling my heart with charity will cast out of prideful feelings. Cultivating the pure love of Christ is so fundamental to overcoming sinful pride. Pure love and enmity cannot co-exist.

Finally, President Uchtdorf sums up what humility really is by saying: “Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us. We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.”

Isn’t that great? I don’t have to think poorly of myself to be humble. Indeed, I am a child of God with divine potential, and I can and should feel great about that. God loves me. He loves you. So we should love ourselves. We just need to remember the source of our strength is Him, and not us. And as we think less ABOUT ourselves and more about serving others, we’ll find true humility and pure love.

To read President Uchtdorf’s full text, go to http://new.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/pride-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng#22

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2010 in Spirituality

 

The Influence of the Holy Ghost

Following is a talk I gave in sacrament meeting in my Sandy ward last week on the help that we can receive from the Holy Ghost.

The Influence of the Holy Ghost
Today I want to focus my thoughts on four roles the Holy Ghost fulfills in our lives and give some examples from the scriptures and from my own life. These four roles include #1 Testifier; #2 Guide; #3 Protector and #4 Comforter. 

Testifier
Let’s start with testifier. The church’s gospel principles manual teaches that “the mission of the Holy Ghost is to bear witness of the Father and the Son and of the truth of all things. The Holy Ghost will witness to us that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer. He will reveal to us that our Heavenly Father is the Father of our spirits. He will help us understand that we can become exalted like our Heavenly Father.”

Without the Holy Ghost, we could not know that Jesus is the Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

When Jesus asked his apostles “Whom do men say that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God,” a response that was likely shocking to some of the other disciples as they had been saying that Jesus was a prophet and a teacher. But after Peter bore his testimony of the divinity of his Master, Jesus replied, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). This precious truth was revealed to Simon Peter by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Moroni’s promise at the end of the Book of Mormon says that “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even of the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase. Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fiber and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.”

I recall seeing the most frequent power of the Holy Ghost as testifier while I served my mission to Brazil in the early 1990s. People were changed by its powerful impressions, especially as we told them about the prophet Joseph’s experience in the sacred grove where he saw the Father and the Son in 1820. A few months ago, I had the chance to go back to tour my mission 15 years after returning home. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. The Brazilian saints were so happy to see me and it was a powerful witness to see the flame of testimony still burning bright in their hearts because the Holy Ghost confirmed the words they had been taught.

I will always remember discussion on the restoration of the gospel with Adriana, a woman with three small children who had recently been divorced. She was confused and was looking for the true church. As we taught her the discussion, the spirit was present and then we asked her to pray to know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, if these things were true. She did. And the spirit filled our hearts and minds. It was so powerful, I remember almost fainting during the prayer she offered. It had an indelible impact on all of us. I’ll never forget that experience with the Holy Ghost.

Guide
In Psalms 32:8, the Lord says: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” The Lord uses the power of the Holy Ghost to give us guidance and direction. 

We know the spirit can guide our footsteps. I recall the faith of a young Nephi who twice had tried and failed to obtain the brass plates from Laban. His brothers were ready to turn back, but Nephi knew the Lord’s will was for him to obtain the plates for the profit and learning of his descendants in the New World. So he crept back into Jerusalem. First Nephi 4:6 reads: “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” What faith and trust Nephi must have had! Have you ever been in a situation like that? One where you trust completely in the spirit to guide you. Most of the time the Lord requires us to “study it out in our minds” and then he’ll confirm the decision with a good feeling like a burning in the bosom, or answer no with a stupor of thought. But sometimes, he wants us to show our faith and trust in him and follow his promptings without hesitation.

The Holy Ghost has been a great influence in my life. He’s guided my paths in important decisions such missionary service, marriage, higher education and career decisions. He’s also guided me as I’ve served him in my various callings through the years.

For the past four years, I served as a counselor in our ward’s bishopric in Riverton. A while back, I was out on visits with Bishop Martinsen, who told me that he had the impression that we needed to visit a certain home. He didn’t know why. He didn’t even know what family lived there. When we arrived we were invited into the house and quickly discovered that due to unemployment and sickness, the family had been unable to pay their electric bill and the power company had shut off their power. (It’s amazing how dependent we are on electricity and how difficult life is without it.) The bishop counseled with them and provided some much-needed assistance. With tears of gratitude, the mother in the family asked, “How did you know to come over here when we needed help so much?” The bishop answered that we were led there by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Protector
Many have heard the story of President Willford Woodruff who was told by the Spirit to move his wagon and his team. He obeyed this prompting from the Holy Ghost his family was spared from certain death that would have resulted for a tornado that struck the area shortly after he obeyed.

We’ve all heard dramatic stories like this. And while I believe the Spirit can communicate to us in this way, generally, his influence comes as a still small voice. It comes to us as impressions, feelings and inspired thoughts.

I recall feeling a warning prompting as a young boy who had been newly baptized. I had been invited to attend the circus at the old Salt Palace with a friend’s family. I was really excited to go, but then I got this feeling of foreboding, a spiritual impression that I should not go. I fought it for a long time, but finally decided to follow it and I told my friend that I couldn’t go. He didn’t understand, nor did I. Part of me wishes I could say that I found out later that an elephant got loose and caused serious damage and that had I gone, I would have been hurt or killed. But my friend later reported to me that the circus was great and that I had really missed out. Who knows what would have happened? Perhaps I was spared a kidnapping, an accident or harm of some kind. Or perhaps, and more likely, the Lord was simply testing my willingness to follow.

I know from experience that when promptings come, we need to follow. And if we’re unsure if it’s a prompting from the Holy Ghost or our imagination, I recommend following the impression. The Lord won’t fault us for demonstrating our faith and willingness to follow in every circumstance.

Comforter
One of the most common references to the Holy Ghost in the Doctrine and Covenants is made using the title of Comforter. It shows up more than 70 times in this book of sacred revelations. His role as comforter may be the one with which most of us have had the most first-hand experience. 

Several years ago, I dealt with a situation in which I greatly needed the comfort of the spirit. I had lost my job due to budget cuts and the right job seemed elusive. Unemployment is extremely difficult not only due to the loss of income, but also because of the loss of one’s sense of identity and purpose, especially as a man who in this culture is expected to be the breadwinner and provider.

During this difficult time, the Comforter helped me keep a positive attitude. I was led to a scripture in Alma 58:11, which described an experience that the worn-torn Nephites had. It reads: “Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.” The assurances of deliverance and the peace, hope and faith spoken to their souls came from the Comforter. And the Holy Ghost will do the same for all who diligently seek him.

D&C 42:17 teaches us that “the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son.” Since he knows all things as a member of the Godhead, he has the ability to help us answer those questions of what we need to learn from our trials. He can provide us with strength and hope in dark times.

My father Kent Lambert was, in my estimation, a great man with a righteous heart. His death five years ago was the most difficult trial I’ve ever faced. A few years before he passed away, I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s mother who had suffered and died from pancreatic cancer. I said silent prayers during the funeral, thanking Heavenly Father that our family had been spared from this deadly disease. I then looked over to see my mother attending the funeral as well, but without my dad. I approached her after the funeral and asked “Where’s dad?” She told me he was having a biopsy. I didn’t even know what a biopsy was. She assured me that it would probably be nothing and not to worry. A few days later, both Mom and Dad called and said they had some news they needed to give us in person, so we drove over, knowing that news that needed to be delivered in person couldn’t be good. And it wasn’t. It was stage-three, very aggressive prostate cancer.

I remember taking my wife Robin over to Flat Iron Mesa park that cold January afternoon and walking around the track, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t bear the thought that my kids wouldn’t know him. It was very painful. At that time, I was hopeful that he’d live long enough to see my son Parley go on his mission at age 19. Later, as the cancer progressed and treatment after treatment failed, I revised that down to seeing Parley receive the priesthood at the age of 12. Then I revised it down to seeing Parley get baptized when he was 8. However, it was not to be. Healing blessings, earnest prayers and faith exercised by many did not save his physical life. I’m sure his life was prolonged, but he was not spared. Why not? Why didn’t the Lord spare him? He was righteous. His family needed him. Plenty of faith and prayers were exercised on his behalf.

I testify that the Holy Ghost has comforted me on many occasions related to his passing. It was taught me to focus less on “why” dad passed away, and more on what the Lord wants our family to learn from it. We’re sealed together and have eternity to be a family. The Holy Ghost has born witness of that truth to me. But we still miss him.

However, because of this experience and the comforting power of the Holy Ghost, I have felt a greater closeness with my siblings and my good mother. We’ve had many tender and sweet experiences that have shaped me into a better person. I’ve been comforted not so much with the answer to the question “Why?” but more of an assurance that God is in control. That his righteous will is being done. 

Constant Companionship
The last phrase of one of the sacrament prayers is a plea “that they may always have His spirit to be with them.” What a blessing this would be! To always have his spirit to be with us. This is a tall order and quite difficult to achieve. Three ways to achieve this: strive to live worthily, pray earnestly and create an environment where the spirit can dwell. 

The scriptures teach us that we must live worthily for this blessing. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It means that we’re striving earnestly to discover the Lord’s will and live it.

Prayer is an essential ingredient in cultivating the Spirit. The Lord has encouraged us to pour out our souls to Him in our closets. He has taught us to cry over the flocks of our fields daily. The more heartfelt, sincere and earnest our prayers are, the more we’ll enjoy the influence of the spirit in our lives.

Finally, we must create an environment where we can feel the spirit of the Lord. The temple is the perfect example of this type of environment. With four young, energetic children at home, recreating a temple-like environment in my home just isn’t practical. But we can make an effort. Music has always been a great way to bring in the spirit of the Lord in my life. From singing in huge choirs in the tabernacle to sharing primary songs at bedtime in a child’s room, I have felt the spirit stronger through music than perhaps any other way.

Each year at Christmas time, we decided as a bishopric in Riverton to go caroling to every household in our ward and give them a Christmas card. It generally took us 5-6 hours over three nights to complete. Yes, there were a few slammed doors, but mostly people were receptive. As we sang these beautiful anthems about the savior’s birth, hearts were softened and tears were shed, not because we were such great singers, but because the spirit testified to the people that we knew the Savior lives. The message of peace on earth and good will toward men permeated many hearts through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Brothers and sisters, the Holy Ghost can have an incredibly powerful influence on us for good. He testifies of our divine heritage and helps us to teach others about the saving truths of the gospel. He guides our footsteps and helps us with the decisions we make. He protects us from physical dangers, evil temptations and unworthy choices if we will only listen to his promptings. He comforts us in our afflictions, eases our burdens and buoys us up when we’re disheartened. He strengthens our resolve to trust in the Lord, come what may. By living worthily, praying earnestly and seeking to create appropriate environments (as the scriptures say, standing in holy place) we can enjoy his influence more abundantly and more consistently, which will lead us back into the Lord’s presence. We will have become what the Lord wants us to become. I pray that we will do so, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Family, Spirituality