A Few Thoughts on the Sacrament

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/sacrament-meetings-389976?lang=engIn the last few years, the sacrament has become more meaningful to me. I cherish it, long for it. I try to not show up at the weekly meeting and just plop in a pew. I try to prepare for these moments of communion hours, even days in advance.

Last summer, we visited a small branch of the Church on the Oregon Coast. During priesthood meeting, a man talked about struggling with his kids during sacrament meeting. He reminded us of the words of the Savior in the garden of Gethsemane, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).

Yes, I’ve thought since, I can watch with You one hour. It’s the least I can do. I’ll try. I’ll practice. I’ll be with you.

Neil L. Anderson has said, “We must protect the sacred against the invading routine.” How do we do that? We have to be awake in the present, alive to the its meaning, its virtue.  We can choose to see our sacred moments in the full light of our wide-open hearts.

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“I’ve Got the Mommy Power”

A fellow quorum member told this story in a meeting recently.

He was visiting his grandchildren and took them for a long walk. They became a little agitated when they realized that they weren’t in familiar territory. Then his five-year-old granddaughter spoke up.

“You know what my dad told me?” she asked.

“What’s that?” asked the grandfather.

“I’ve got the mommy power.”

The grandfather smiled. “What’s the mommy power?” he asked.

“It’s when things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be, but you still know that everything is going to be all right.”

I’ve witnessed the mommy power, haven’t you? I love it. I am in awe of it. I am grateful for it.

I’ll go so far to say that the mommy power is one thing—if not the very thing—that holds the universe together.

Will You Light the World?

Here’s a video I can’t resist sharing. Every day starting December 1 and leading up to Christmas is an opportunity to remember the things our Savior did and to follow His example. Here you’ll find daily inspiration on 25 ways to follow the example of Jesus Christ in your daily life—and make this season unforgettable.

Because He is the light of the world (John 8:12), we can light the world (Matthew 5:14).

When Doubt Crawls into Your Sleeping Bag

More and more I am finding doubt among friends and family. I believe doubt is a normal thing, like the common cold. Just about everyone comes down with it from time to time. But we all must, at one time or another, face the dark side of our consciousness and decide what we are going to do about it. It’s not easy, but this life was not meant to be easy. It was meant to be educational.

I had to face the dark before I ever joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll call it my pre-faith crisis. As some of you know, my parents were violently opposed to me joining the Church. At 17, the bright light of the gospel showed up in my life. I was so excited about it I could hardly contain myself, but my parents, especially my father, went apoplectic. They piled books and pamphlets in my lap that were, well, less than complimentary of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre . . . you get the idea.

I read that material with an open mind. I wasn’t afraid of it or particularly shocked. Why would I be? I literally knew nothing about Mormonism before that time. As I sorted through the criticism and negativity, the accusations, the logic and the illogic that shouted from those pages, I was also reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, feeling the presence of the Spirit, hearing the voice of the Lord come to my heart, and experiencing miracles daily.

Even at that young age, I could discern the dissonant voices who spoke against the truth and the light that shined from scripture and from the lives and examples of my Latter-Day Saint friends. The contrast was crisp and beautiful. It brought everything into focus for me. I knew I had to choose the path of light or the path of darkness.

I also knew that God was not in the dark and that I wouldn’t find Him there for “that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23). I also came to know that He will reach into the dark to pull you out, if you turn to Him with all your heart.

And what do I mean by dark? I mean criticism, mockery, sarcasm, blame, belittling, bitterness, disrespect, and contention. If any of these attributes are present, darkness is also present.

I made a simple commitment that unforgettable autumn, before I was baptized, to look to God and follow the light, to take my questions and fears to Him and patiently wait for His answers. That was 41 years ago. I have stayed true to that commitment my entire adult life.

That choice was the best choice I’ve ever made. It hasn’t always been easy, to be sure. I’ve certainly had my dark days—even dark weeks and months—but I’ve stuck it out. And I’m so glad I have.

And I have always received clear answers on whatever question I’ve asked. The promise “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7) really works.

I do not rely on the “arm of flesh” for my answers (see 2 Nephi 4:34). We’ve been counseled to “ask of God” who promises to give answers “to all men liberally.” He won’t upbraid us in the process; He won’t rebuke us or treat us condescendingly. He will simply give answers to us, if we ask sincerely and patiently (see James 1:5).

I’ve had a 100 percent success rate using that formula. I’ll probably keep using it for the next 40 years, though I don’t think I’ll last that long—not as a mortal, anyway.

I want to share a verse that is very powerful to me. It’s short and I memorized it during the first few months I was a member of the Church. It’s one of my favorites:

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.)

Let’s talk about these ten words for a moment. This is the voice of Jesus Christ, pleading with you and me to look to Him in every thought; He is also commanding us—yes, commanding, in an imperative voice—to not doubt or fear.

Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart. . . . (Mormon 9:27.)

Yes, we will all struggle with doubt at one time or another, but it doesn’t have to be our constant companion. We can do something about it.

Look at it this way. If a rattlesnake crawls into your sleeping bag, are you going to let it stay there? Are you going to stay in there? I hope not. I would put as much energy into getting away from doubt that you would put into getting away from a rattlesnake.

I’m not talking about getting away from the truth. I am talking about getting away from darkness and poison.

You are not obligated to doubt. You are not forced to doubt either. It is ultimately your choice. It, like an addiction, might be a hard habit to break. If you trust the wisdom of men and your own wisdom above God’s, your doubts will proliferate. Unchecked, they’ll eventually infest every thought. You might wake up one morning doubting everything. Your heart will be troubled, if not embittered, and your outlook will be dark and contentious. These are signs that the rattlesnake is near or has already bitten you. But you don’t have to stay loyal to your doubts. You can turn from them at any time.

I remember years ago hearing a friend quote the wise advice of his grandmother. “Don’t let the devil get into the car with you because pretty soon, he’s going to want to drive.” You don’t have to let doubt take the wheel; you don’t even have to let it get into your car.

Turn your back on doubt and turn your whole heart to God. Turn your whole heart to His light. Trust that light and follow it. Don’t wait for complete and perfect answers before you choose to follow the light. Those answers will come after you choose the light. As you walk toward the light, the shadows always fall behind you.

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–13.)

You’re here to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you turn toward the light, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21). You’ll know what to do. You’ll have peace in your heart. You’ll get your answers. You don’t have to cling to your misunderstanding. Light won’t treat you with disrespect.

Have not I [the Lord] commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9.)

You have not been asked to cross the plains of the American West. You’ve been asked to cross the plains of doubt. You can do it. Of course you can. I know you can. Make doubt your servant; don’t let doubt be your master. Let doubt be your acquaintance, but don’t invite it over for Christmas dinner.

Let me close with these words about the fruits of the Spirit and righteous living. I love the way Galatians 5:22–23 reads in The Message:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Who has the light? You’ll know them by their fruits (see Matthew 7:15–20)—that is, in the long run, they’ll produce joy instead of bitterness, unity, not separation, love, not hatred. Let His light lead you to the good fruit. He will not fail you if you put your trust in Him (see Mosiah 7:33).

And you’ll get that rattlesnake out of your sleeping bag.

My Best Teacher

Courtesy LDS Media Libary

I overheard a proverb in testimony meeting today that really sank in. The last person to bear testimony said this: “My best teacher is my last mistake.”

Those words settled on me like warm rain, and I’ve been soaking wet all afternoon.

I don’t like my mistakes. So why do I invent new ones every day, against my will?

Every single day.

I’m embarrassed by my mistakes, and bone weary of them. I wish I wasn’t such an expert at making them. When I suddenly remember mistakes from childhood, from my teenage years, or from last week, I turn a bright, hot red.

As I get older, though, I realize that each mistake I’ve made, each error in judgment, is a gift.  Regret, properly applied, can be a healing balm.

The great plan of happiness allows for us to make mistakes (Alma 42:8.)  Without sin, pain, sorrow, and opposition, there would be no purity, health, happiness, or strength. Without contrast, there is no perception. If we were faultless, coddled, and comfortable at every turn, we would be blobs of humanity, unable to comfort or strengthen others, unfit for celestial company.

So I welcome my mistakes. I still don’t like them or plan them out or wish for them, but I accept calmly that I will make them, no matter how hard I try not to. Personal mistakes are a path to pain, but that pain can teach us how to avoid the same trauma again, how to not repeat them. I am grateful for those lessons. Isn’t that the point?

Thank you, whoever you are, for your seven enlightening words. It would be a mistake for me to forget them.

Grace and the Motor Home

Courtesy Wikicommons

A few weeks back, we were discussing grace in priesthood meeting in the homeless branch where we serve. The discussions in those meetings are some of the most energetic doctrinal conversations I have ever heard. Opinions are rarely defended and the atonement and power of grace are held up. It’s a blessing.

Anyway, one of our number raised his hand and told a story. He told of buying an old motor home and spending several days getting it in running order. When he finally got it running, and he took it for a drive, it broke down. He was stuck, by himself, on the side of the road. He didn’t know what to do. The hulking mass of steel and wood was too heavy for him to push off the road alone.

Finally, it struck him. He said to himself, “If I want help, I’d better go out there and push this motor home with all I’ve got. Then help will come my way.”

So that’s what he did. He got out and and pushed, alone. But he was only alone for five minutes. Soon two others showed up and together they were able to in the motor home off the road where it could safely repose until more help arrived.

He likened his experience to the grace of God. Yes, often, God helps us when we don’t deserve it, but more often than not, grace arrives when we are doing our best, reaching out, reaching up, giving our best.

Our plea for grace is not a Lazy-Boy-and-remote experience. We have to get up out of our chairs, if we are able. We have to put the remote down, as we must. We have to do something, as any good father would require, before we are empowered to solve a problem or receive help from others.

Grace is the power to do things, without which we could not do them. It is the power of God in our lives to take positive action. I am not saying that we can earn grace, but we certainly can hasten its arrival by getting up and doing something, in faith. Grace is a call to action.

Often but not always, sincere, devoted, prayer-guided action is the photosynthesis of grace. Grace is costly, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. The cost is discipleship and the price is action.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8.)

Dear Drugs and Alcohol

I attended an addiction recovery meeting tonight. We hold them every Wednesday evening at a homeless branch in downtown Salt Lake City. Four people showed up with tales of woe and personal victory. It was a powerful meeting.

At the end of the session, one of the missionaries read this letter from a former addict. It moved me.

I don’t know who wrote it. I wish I could give her credit. Whoever you are, thank you. I believe that there’s someone out there who needs to read what you wrote tonight.

August 13, 2014

Dear Drugs and Alcohol,

   I am writing this letter to say goodbye. We have been together for 27 years. I must move on. This is why:

   At the beginning of our relationship you made me feel like I was a part of something special. I felt like I had found my place in life. I thought that, with you, I would have fun doing anything. Nothing felt complete unless you were there.

   As time went on, I allowed you to consume my every thought and action. Instead of feeling free and belonging, I felt alone, trapped, and ashamed. You took all of my attention and time. Together we hurt everyone I love and care about. Any of the dreams I had felt out of reach. You took everything away from me, and I still only wanted more of you. I lost myself and almost lost my life.

   I have experienced and seen you run families, friendships, and love. You have taken so many good people’s lives. My own life became a daily struggle to survive with you in it.

   Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I choose my life and my family’s future. I know you will always be close by, so I want you to know I will always be on high alert for your destructive and manipulative ways. I have found myself by letting you go and I have joined the fight against you.

Forever mine,

Unknown

A Different Kind of Thankful

Mike Fitzgerald, Thankful 13 5K, Nov. 26, 215

Of all my blessings, I am the most grateful for my trials. I just heard you ask, “Are you crazy?” Yes, crazy enough to see my trials in a redeeming light.

It seems like I have about a dozen trials going at any given time (don’t you, too), but I’ll only mention one here in particular. I have an illness—actually, a spectrum of impolite symptoms, all related to a single illness—that I have been working with since 2001. Never mind what it is. It’s my “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). You probably have one, too: that daily, gnawing reminder that you are temporarily mortal.

I have plead with it, wrestled with it, fled from it, begged it to leave, pounded it with mortar fire, all for nearly 15 years, and yet I often wake in the morning, and there he is again, “the messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7), back for round 5,343. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not leaving me anytime soon. Yes, he’s very devoted, whether I like it or not. That said, while I won’t call him a friend, I will venture to call him a partner.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving morning, against all reasonable odds, I ran a 5K, in spite of my partner coming along. We just had to work together this week to make this happen. We each have to make compromises and yield ground to each other. It’s a marriage of sorts.

Over the years, I’ve discovered—by prayer, the guidance of the Spirit, and good health care—ways to manage this partnership: careful diet, regular exercise including running, of course, supplementation, various medications, and timing. This disease almost always has my attention, but that attention keeps me pondering, searching, wondering, praying, and planning. A good place to be.

What if you and I didn’t have any afflictions of any kind to keep us humble? What sort of people would we be if we spent our time moving between satin and velvet pillows? I think we’d all atrophy, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We’d all be spoiled, spineless wimps. I don’t think God wants any of us to be wussies. We’re His children, for heaven’s sake. He wants us to grow up to be like Him.

Yesterday’s race was my seventh official race since I began running again last year. Four 5Ks, one 6K, a 10K, and a half marathon. What seemed impossible at one time is now possible again. It’s a miracle.

It seems like I’ve always needed a challenge, an adventure, to look forward to and to work towards. I have an illness that gets in my way (plus a very busy schedule) so it’s a bit of a steeplechase. But I beat 15 runners yesterday for the third spot in my age group, and I finished in about the top 20 percent overall in a field of 1,200 runners. Such achievements, as modest as they seem, were unthinkable a few years ago. My time wasn’t my best, but I feel good about it. I am already plotting ways to crush my next race.

Christ said that His “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). One thing I have a testimony of is that I’m a perfect candidate for that promise. I can’t make myself perfect, not alone. No one can. I need help. Tons of it.

My trials have taught me Who to turn to for help. With His blessings, you and I can make wonderful things happen. Sometimes incredible things. That’s why, above all, I’m grateful for my trials. There’s just no other way to grow in a lasting way. It’s the “bomb” of blessings.

The War of Words Continues

There was a war in heaven. I don’t remember it well, but by accounts it was a war of words, a war of ideas. It didn’t end there; the war continues on earth. Like many of you, I’ve been fighting that war for a long time and have picked up a few lessons along the way.

The apostle John tells us that we overcame Lucifer, “the accuser of our brethren,” in that war through the blood of the Lamb—the atonement of Christ—and by the “word of our testimony” (Revelation 12:11). That’s also how we can overcome modern accusers.

I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ when I was 17 years old. It has never left me. Perhaps I should say I’ve tried hard to never leave it. I have treated it kindly and have been as loyal to it as I would be to a dear, trusted friend. It has never let me down, in spite of my being frustratingly mortal.

The path of discipleship is not an easy path, but it is simple. I love the path. If I could give you a visual idea of a testimony, I’d say it’s like a kayak. It’ll keep you afloat in the roughest of waters, as long as you keep paddling. Even when you’ve been upside down and under water, if you just keep paddling, you’ll stay alive and safe and find your way back to the surface. Drenched, but safe. Paddling is like discipleship.

When Lucifer was cast down, the Book of Moses tells us that “he became . . . the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4; emphasis added).

How does Satan lead us captive? He is more able to deceive us when we don’t hearken to—listen and obey—the Lord’s voice.

How do we hear the Lord’s voice? Through the voice of the scriptures, the voice of His prophets, and by the still, small voice of the Spirit to our hearts.

Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D&C 1:38.)

1 Corinthians 13 teaches about the character of love and, quite honestly, I don’t feel obligated in the least to listen to any voice that doesn’t match that character. There is no need to heed a proud, defiant, mocking, flippant, contentious voice, for the spirit of contention is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29). If it’s contentious, it’s driven by pride (Proverbs 13:10). And if it isn’t love, it’s probably coming from “the great and spacious building [which is] the pride of the world (1 Nephi 11:36). So, no. No, thank you.

Where there is darkness, there are torrents of contention and doubt; where there is light, we find “living waters” (1 Nephi 11:25)—and love and patience and unselfishness and humility and a willingness to listen and be wrong—for “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (NIV 1 Corinthians 13:4). Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (NIV 1 Corinthians 13:7).

Love is our true home. It’s where we find true peace. Everything else is a two-star motel.

Who Can You Believe?

Courtesy LDS Media Library
Jesus teaching in the temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41–52)

With “so many kinds of voices in the world,” it’s really no small task to figure out who’s telling the truth, who’s not, and who thinks they’re telling the truth, but aren’t.

This Interwebical world of ours offers up more opinions, anywhere, anytime, than ever before in history. We’re drowning in a hard swill of opinions and the world is drunk on them. Even my own opinions make me a little tipsy sometimes.

But I take comfort in this great truth: God doesn’t have any opinions. He knows infinitely more than me—more than all of us put together. And I trust Him completely. He speaks to my spirit in a way that I can actually understand, if I am really listening, turning distraction aside by keeping my “things to repent of” list as short as I possibly can (it’s still kind of long). None of this is easy.

What about all the folks in the world and the billions—yes, billions—of opinions that they collectively hold? Who can you believe? The scriptures offer the best guidance I can find on who and what to believe. I’ll share a few verses with you that answer four specific questions.

First of all, who can you trust? The Book of Mormon teaches: “Trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14). Trust those who strive, in word and action, to walk in the light and keep the commandments, but beware of the critic whose standards have slipped to those of the world. (See also 2 Peter 2:18–19.)

Second, why do they speak out against what you know is good? “Those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves” (D&C 121:17). The apostle Paul also wisely wrote: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1). It is good and right to seek justice, but we must be wary of strident voices that only tear down and do not build up. (See also D&C 50:23 and Ephesians 4:29–32).

Third, why do some seem impervious to light and see things so differently than you do? Of such the Lord has said: “Satan has great hold upon their hearts; he stirreth them up to iniquity against that which is good; and their hearts are corrupt, and full of wickedness and abominations; and they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil; therefore they will not ask of me” (D&C 10:20–21). Satan stirs up some against the truth because they prefer darkness over light and don’t inquire directly of the Lord, but prefer appeals to reason and intellect alone.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1
Fourth, why do they claim that good is evil? Isaiah wrote: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20–21). Those who “set themselves for a light unto the world” (see 2 Nephi 26:29) have a difficult time discerning between good and evil, “for every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:20). (See also Alma 47:36.) The natural man defends his sins when he could be repenting of them.

~~~

Recently, I looked up the Mormon Tabernacle on Wikipedia. The article reported that the celebrated playwright, Oscar Wilde, after visiting Salt Lake City in 1882, said that “the tabernacle was the most purely dreadful building he ever saw.” On the other hand, Frank Lloyd Wright, among the most notable architects of the 20th century, said that the tabernacle was “one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world.” So which one do you believe? Which one of them can you believe? Elder Vern Stanfill’s October 2015 general conference address, “Choose the Light,” provides some insight. He spoke of the cynical voices that are so often “heard” on the Internet:

When we consider thoughtfully, why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices of those in the great and spacious buildings of our time and ignore the pleas of those who genuinely love us? These ever-present naysayers prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their mocking words can burrow into our lives, often through split-second bursts of electronic distortions carefully and deliberately composed to destroy our faith. Is it wise to place our eternal well-being in the hands of strangers? Is it wise to claim enlightenment from those who have no light to give or who may have private agendas hidden from us? These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media, hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.

Our quest for truth should include following men and women who look to God for answers more eagerly than they look to the world for validation, who look up more often than they look down, who honestly strive to keep the laws of God instead of trying to change and distort them, whose hearts are truly broken and whose spirits are contrite.

Their voices are not shrill and they don’t bludgeon others with them. Their voices are meek and confident, forthright yet respectful. They don’t talk over you or behind your back. However, they courageously follow this advice from Ezra Taft Benson: “It is good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular.” They speak from a pure heart and not purely from intellect alone. They spend more time quietly repenting than openly rebuking. Their words and character endure the test of time, the test of ages. They follow this counsel from the Lord:
Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. . . . I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; and then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. (D&C 11:12–14.)