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Category Archives: Spirituality

Family First and Family Last

We just concluded the Sandy Arts Guild’s production of “The Addams Family,” a musical comedy based on the characters from the popular 60s TV show and 90s films. I played Gomez Addams, the eccentric father who loves his family and enjoys collecting “instruments of persuasion.” I feel so fortunate to have met so many awesome people over the last two months. I’m both happy and sad to have the show come to an end. “The Addams Family” is a light-hearted, silly musical with lots of witty dialogue, energetic dance numbers and fun songs. And while it is mostly just for pure entertainment, the central message of the show is about the importance of family. As one of the songs proclaims, “It’s family first and family last and family by and by…”

Let me reaffirm my belief in our wonderful human family. As children of a loving God, I believe we are all brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t get along, we fight, we argue and we hurt one another. And still we’re all part of the human family on life’s journey together, and I’m grateful that there are so many good people who want to serve and lift others. My life has certainly been blessed by many kind acts from loving friends and family.

Theater folks are like family. They all come together over several weeks to create something of value. Most people have no idea the amount of work that goes into a show. There are people who design, build, paint and decorate the sets and gather props. There are people who design and sew costumes and help with make-up and wigs. There are the sound guys, the lighting designers, the stage crew, the choreographers, the music directors, the marketing team, the logistics coordinators and ticketing folks. All of them work together to create something special to share with audiences.

Of course, the actors get the limelight, the applause and the bows, but everyone is needed and necessary. Similarly, in an LDS ward, the bishopric and members of the ward council may have the higher profile callings, but each person is needed and necessary. Each person has much to contribute, and I’m very grateful to those who serve and bless others with no thought of recognition or reward.

Last night, as we concluded our eight-show run, my thoughts turned to a talk I’m giving in sacrament meeting today regarding our quest to become more like Jesus Christ. I thought about how families can help us become our best selves despite (or perhaps even because of) their imperfections. Now I’m fully aware that MANY people do not have ideal family situations, but family is still family, and I believe that God have given us families to help us become more loving, patient, kind and loyal.

I’ve been doing theater for 30+ years now and have been involved in over 30 productions. Each cast I’ve worked with has pulled together to make something special. And yet, despite all our best efforts, I have never done a perfect show. That’s the nature of live theater — sometimes lines are forgotten, dance steps are missed, musical notes are sharp or flat, and lighting or sound cues are off or some set piece, prop or costume malfunctions. Despite our very best efforts, we’ll never have a “perfect” show — but we can still STRIVE for perfection.

An oft quoted scripture in the LDS world states: “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). I’ve heard this scripture many, many times during my life, and most people interpret it to mean that once I’ve done EVERTHING I can possibly do to earn my salvation, Christ’s grace will make up the difference. However, I believe that a more correct interpretation of the word “after” in the phrase “after all we can do” is “apart from” all we can do. In the end, it is the grace of Jesus Christ that saves us. Christ is not a cheerleader sitting on the sidelines encouraging us to become our best selves. No, he is (or should be) an active participant in our progression and relying on his merits, mercy and grace is crucial.

Let me return to the theater analogy. On my own, I am an actor standing by himself on an empty stage with no sets, lighting, music, makeup, costume, props, microphone or dialogue. However, with the support of a wonderful cast, crew and production team, I can really shine. Likewise, our families and friends can lend us the help and support we need become what God wants us to become — and we can offer them our love and support as well. Yet even when we give our best efforts, we WILL fall short without the grace (divine help) of the savior Jesus Christ.

The prophet Moroni summed it up well in the closing chapter of the Book of Mormon when he wrote: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ… then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32-33).

I LOVE this idea of being “perfect in Christ.” It shows our humility as we recognize that, try as we might, we’ll never achieve perfection. As we accept Jesus Christ into our lives and draw upon his atoning power that cleanses, enables and ultimately saves, we can be made whole, complete and perfect.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2017 in Music / Theater, 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