Thanksgiving

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”  (1 Thess 5:18)

It’s not always easy for me to remember to give thanks in all things.  It is much easier to remember to give thanks when things are going well. There are , however, blessings that come from remembering to give thanks.

Luke shares an account the Savior had with ten lepers.

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Luke 17:10-19).

In this, the important lesson comes at the end. After all 10 lepers were healed, one of them stopped and gave thanks to the Lord. It is after he “fell down on his face…giving him thanks” that the Lord provided the ultimate blessing. You see, 10 were healed of leprosy, but only 1 was made whole. Only one was forgiven of his sins! That is the power of expressing gratitude!

I’m sure all 10 of the lepers were very happy to be healed of this awful disease. I have to wonder though, how long that happiness lasted for the nine who showed no gratitude? I’m not suggesting that happiness is dependent upon gratitude, but I am suggesting that lasting happiness is founded upon an attitude of gratitude.

We find another example of giving thanks to God in the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin, in his final address to his people, provided some great council regarding gratitude.

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you O how ye ought to thank your heavenly King! I say unto you, my brethren, that if ye should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possessI say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:18-21 emphasis added)

This passage is interesting because it ties together the concept of giving thanks to the concept of serving God. This leads me to the understanding then that one way we show thanks and gratitude to our Heavenly Father is by serving Him…and one way we can serve Him is by serving our fellow man.

This Thanksgiving Day I went with my son and a few other young men from church to help serve dinners at Faith Lutheran Church in O’Fallon, Illinois. There were about 230 dinners served to all sorts of people. I have to be honest though, I wasn’t very excited about leaving my family on Thanksgiving Day to go and serve dinner to strangers. In fact, I almost just dropped off my son and went back home, but I decided it would be better to serve with my son than to have him serve alone…so I went. I’m glad I did.

FullSizeRender
Thanksgiving Dinner At Faith Lutheran Church

I appreciated the smiles of those who enjoyed a good meal. I saw the grace of God in another volunteer as she sat with a lone man—his face etched with hidden pain. My heart was filled with gratitude for good people who feel the call of the Savior to feed the hungry (Luke 3:11, Isaiah 58:7, Matthew 25:34-45).

A word of warning regarding expressing thanks: we should ensure that as we express thanks and gratitude that we do not become like the Zoramites in the Book of Mormon. As Alma and his brethren were traveling through on their mission,

“they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld; For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person. Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying: Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever. Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God. And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.” (Alma 31:12-18).

Sure, the Zoramites were praying, but they lacked other qualities of a follower of Christ: namely humility & compassion. We see the correct pattern for prayer as Christ taught his disciples to pray on the Mount of Beatitudes:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

At first glance, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t seem to express thanks or gratitude. What it does show is the importance of our attitude as we pray. The Pharisees prayed to be seen of men. Jesus was teaching that we should pray not to be seen of men, but to heard of God. He was teaching that must pray with an attitude of Thanksgiving.

Elder David A. Bednar shared an experience he had when he was President of BYU-Idaho that really drives home the impact of praying with thanksgiving.

During our service at Brigham Young University–Idaho, Sister Bednar and I frequently hosted General Authorities in our home. Our family learned an important lesson about meaningful prayer as we knelt to pray one evening with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Earlier in the day Sister Bednar and I had been informed about the unexpected death of a dear friend, and our immediate desire was to pray for the surviving spouse and children. As I invited my wife to offer the prayer, the member of the Twelve, unaware of the tragedy, graciously suggested that in the prayer Sister Bednar express only appreciation for blessings received and ask for nothing. His counsel was similar to Alma’s instruction to the members of the ancient Church “to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:39). Given the unexpected tragedy, requesting blessings for our friends initially seemed to us more urgent than expressing thanks.

Sister Bednar responded in faith to the direction she received. She thanked Heavenly Father for meaningful and memorable experiences with this dear friend. She communicated sincere gratitude for the Holy Ghost as the Comforter and for the gifts of the Spirit that enable us to face adversity and to serve others. Most importantly, she expressed appreciation for the plan of salvation, for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for His Resurrection, and for the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel which make it possible for families to be together forever.

Our family learned from that experience a great lesson about the power of thankfulness in meaningful prayer. Because of and through that prayer, our family was blessed with inspiration about a number of issues that were pressing upon our minds and stirring in our hearts. We learned that our gratefulness for the plan of happiness and for the Savior’s mission of salvation provided needed reassurance and strengthened our confidence that all would be well with our dear friends. We also received insights concerning the things about which we should pray and appropriately ask in faith.

How often do our prayers include more “I ask thee” than “I thank thee”?

How often do we pray simply to give thanks to Heavenly Father for the many blessings we have? Sometimes our circumstance makes it difficult to pray with thanksgiving when everything around us seems to be falling apart. The simple act of being grateful in the midst of challenges will help us overcome all things.

So what are some of the things I am thankful for?

  • First and foremost, I am thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ…the Plan of Salvation…the Plan of Happiness…the Plan of Mercy. Call it what you may, it brings peace and happiness to my life. In fact, this single “thing” is the foundation for everything else that I am thankful for.

  • Family – Everything I do in this life is for my family. It may not always seem like it to my family, but there is no other place I’d rather be than with them.

  • Home – Heavenly Father has truly blessed my family with an amazing home that provides shelter from the rain, warmth from the snow, and protection from evil.

  • Health – Watching extended family suffer through illness has made me more appreciative of my own health. We all think that we are invincible—that we will never get sick or die—but we will.

  • Employment – Heavenly Father blessed me with a wonderful military career. Then he allowed me to leave early and provided a contractor position with no period of unemployment. Most recently, he blessed me to obtain a management position with a fantastic company.

  • Service Opportunities – As the leader of the Young Men in our congregation, I have the best calling in the church. I get to work not only with other members of the ward, but I get to work directly with my own son. What better way to serve the Lord than to serve your own family at the same time!

  • Freedom – There are so many people in the world who live without the freedoms we have. Freedom of press, speech, religion. Freedom of travel, freedom of choice. These freedoms come at a very high price though—we owe it to all who serve and who have served to treasure that freedom. We also owe it to those without these freedoms to help them in every way possible.

  • Music – I love feeling the spirit that comes from listening to the sacred hymns of the gospel. I love the calmness that music brings to my soul.

There are many other things for which I am grateful. I’ll end this with the Lord’s council to Joseph Smith: “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things…And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:7, 21).

See also:

Grateful in Any Circumstances

Give Thanks in All Things

Lord’s Prayer – Thanksgiving

Who Is My Neighbor?

I didn’t intend to travel this road. I read the many articles about Syrian refugees and thought to myself “what a mess” and “send them back.” I didn’t have much of an attitude toward helping them. Then I read a Facebook post by Keli Wright:

Remember all those history lessons about the holocaust, the relocation of Japanese during WWII and the American Indians long before that, retributions against Germans, etc., during the WWs, the long and deadly emigrations in Africa with innocents driven back and forth between rival armies, African Americans right here at home during slavery and Jim Crow (just to name a few)? Remember how you said that YOU would have helped the Jews, the Japanese, the Germans, the Amerindians, the Africans, the African Americans? Do you remember thinking YOU would have stood up for them and not passed judgement or withheld help because of their race or religion? Now’s your chance. We’re living history right now. (posted 17 Nov 15)

This started me thinking about the situation. Here is what I’ve come to. I’ll begin by sharing some history of my own.

In 2000, my family moved to Germany. We lived right near the tri-borders of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. This meant that we attended Church in Heerlan, The Netherlands. It was an international congregation consisting of primarily Americans, Dutch, and British, although there were multiple other nationalities represented.

While serving in that Ward, I had the opportunity to walk the halls of a refugee camp. I saw first-hand the poverty, filth, and desperation of those refugees. I heard the cries of the children and watched them play in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to their situation. I saw the look in the eyes of parents desperate to help themselves, yet (literally) locked in a place with no option to do so. It was much like visiting a prison.

I knew people who one week came to church, then the next week didn’t come because they had lost their refugee status and were returned to their home country…and killed.

I worshipped the Lord sitting beside people who were members of US State Department defined terrorist organizations…and took the sacrament with them. These people wanted freedom. These people wanted safety. They just had no place to go to find it.

I counseled people who were forced to leave their wife and children behind and flee their country for their lives. And these weren’t all war-torn countries, some of these people fled from “free, democratic” countries that I had previously visited myself.

I was personally approached by the Russian Mafia seeking information about Ukrainian refugees so they could extort the refugees and send funds to the Chechen Rebels allowing them to continue their heinous terrorist campaign in Georgia.

I have driven the roads of Afghanistan and looked into the faces of people who certainly had reason to leave their country. I’ve seen children and mothers trying to survive when everything around them tried to squash that survival. I’ve listened to the story of an LDS Afghan who wanted nothing more than to leave his country…and he couldn’t. He even worked for the US Government as a translator and was unable to navigate the legal system. His story is known by General Authorities in the Church, and he is unable to get to America. He finally had approval to travel to a European country, but, during the medical exam, discovered he had throat cancer…so he was forced to remain in Afghanistan.

I’ve also seen the dead bodies of both good people and bad. I’ve lived through rockets launched by men who wanted to not only see that I die, but wanted to desecrate my dead body.

I’ve walked along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and looked at the face of the enemy. I’ve sat in classified briefings in South Korea only to discover that the briefing I just listened to was now broadcast throughout the North meaning that someone in the room with me was a traitor.

I have some experience with refugees. It doesn’t make me an expert. I don’t claim to understand everything about their situation. But I have worshipped with them, visited their camps, listened to their stories, and, at times, tried to forget that I ever heard their story.

With that setting as a background, let me share some scriptures that have helped shape my response to the current Syrian refugee crisis.

In the New Testament, Christ is teaching the people on the Mount of Beatitudes and tells them this: “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:40-44) In these simple 5 sentences, Christ changed essentially everything the world knew about interpersonal relationships. Allow me to interpret these verses.

If any man will sue thee…and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” This is fairly straightforward. We are to give more than we are asked to give—even when that person takes legal recourse to take from us. Even if we don’t want to give it away. Even if we are forced to give it away.

Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” This was a tough pill for the Jewish people to swallow. At the time, Roman soldiers could, at any time, grab a civilian and make him carry his gear for 1 mile. People hated that law. Christ taught that if you were compelled to march a mile with the Army, go two miles instead of just one.

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.” Again, I think this is fairly clear—if someone asks for something from us, we are to give it to them. This is both things that they intend to return (that’s the borrow of thee part) and things they don’t necessarily intend to return (that’s the first part). Notice this sentence doesn’t say “but only if you want to” or “only if you don’t need whatever they ask for.”

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” And here is the kicker. No longer are we supposed to hate our enemies, but rather, we are to love them! Even more so, we are to do good things to those people who hate us. We are to pray for those people who use us. We are to pray for those people who persecute us!

How often have I prayed for the Muslim world? Or more specifically, how often have I prayed for the Radical Islamists hell-bent on killing me, my family, and my country? As of this morning—never.

Maybe that is the problem. Maybe that is why the Radical Islamists continue to spread like a cancerous sore—because not enough people are doing the right thing to stop them.

Now I turn to the Book of Mormon. The Nephites “did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty. But as many as there were who did not enter into a covenant, and who did still continue to have those secret murders in their hearts, yea, as many as were found breathing out threatenings against their brethren were condemned and punished according to the law.” (3 Nephi 5:4-5). The Nephites wanted to end their wars, so they caused the Gospel to be preached to their enemy. I wonder what would happen if we stood up and proclaimed ourselves as Christians? What would happen if we, like Captain Moroni, would boldly announce to the world our values? Would the whole world suddenly realized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to Eternal Life? Probably not. Would violence and hostility end? Probably not. But it is the right thing to do. I’m not suggesting that we imprison all Muslims in order to convert them. I am, however, suggesting that the power of example may have more influence than we realize.

Jesus once taught that we should love our neighbor as ourself, to which a heckler asked “and who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29). The reply came in the form of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:30-34).

What is amazing about this parable is that the first two men to pass by the nearly dead man was a priest and a Levite. They both had a sacred, religious charge to help the wounded, sick, and afflicted. The man who choose to help though, was a Samaritan. Samaritans were the lowest of people—the Jews would walk for days just avoid stepping on Syrian territory. No one respected the Samaritans and no one thought they had any good in them. Jesus taught that it wasn’t the priests and Levites, who showed the world by their position that they were men of God, that were doing right; it was the Samaritan, who showed the world by his actions, that he was choosing the right. Therefore, if we are to be called neighbor by our Savior, we must show the world by our actions that we are doing right.

Now, with all this said, the words and actions of Captain Moroni come to my mind. Captain Moroni “was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood. Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives” (Alma 48:13-14, emphasis added). So what does this teach me? It teaches me that while on the one hand I am to pray for my enemy, on the other hand, I am to defend my family against my enemy…even to the loss of blood. Theirs or mine. I think that is important. I must be willing to not only kill my enemy, but to be killed by my enemy in defending Truth.

And let’s not forget the example of the Savior himself. So many people talk about the love and compassion the Savior showed…and that is all true. Many of those same people don’t remember the Savior in the Temple. “And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” (John 2:13-16)

When Christ found the moneychangers in the Temple, he left the Temple and he made a scourge. In other words, he braided a small whip. Then he went back to the Temple and drove the money changers out. He flipped the tables they were working at. He was angry. He was not out of control—he was completely in control as he demonstrated righteous anger.

So where does that leave me now?

The Syrian refugees are my neighbor. I have an obligation to help them—to share of my abundance with them. The Prophet has asked me to help these refugees.

I do not know for sure what the next step is for me, but I do believe I have an obligation and duty to assist. Today I took the first step and contacted Catholic Charities in St Louis to see if they were working with the Syrian refugees and offer my assistance.

To those who say I am blind, I refer you back to my experiences I outlined in the beginning of this writing. I’m not ignorant of what I’ve seen or experienced. I’m also not ignorant of the love the Savior showed for the people of the earth. There is a balance that must be found. My journey now is to find that balance and show charity and compassion as often as possible while protecting and defending my family, my community, my country, and my religion at all times. If I am to be “called His people,” then I must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…and…mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:8-9 emphasis added). It is only after I internalize these principles that I “may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9).

See also:

LDS Church Response to Syrian Refugee Crisis

Samaritan’s Purse

International Institute, St Louis

For Syrian Refugee Building a Life in St. Louis, Backlash is Crushing

6 ways to fight ISIS and Build Stronger Families