…on family, man, and God

 I’ve been silent for months.  There’s a litany of reasons why, but in the end, they are all simply excuses.  Today, I feel a need to share my voice again with my children.  Perhaps they’ll find value in what I have to say, perhaps they won’t.  Either way, I will share what needs to be said.

Of all the things in this world, my family is the most important to me.  They mean everything to me.  All that I do, I do for them.  I go to work so they can enjoy the good things of life.  I do projects around the house so they have a pleasant home in which to live.  I go to church because it strengthens the bonds we share. It is this that I wish to write about today because the relationship between Christ and my family is undeniably intermixed.

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Salt Lake Temple, 9 Jun 1995

My family began with Christ as a key partner. It has continued throughout the last 20+ years with Christ as a key partner.  Are there relationships that last without having Christ included? Sure. But that’s not for me.

 

Part of the relationship with Christ that my wife and I share is our desire to attend church.  There we are able to receive the Ordinances of Salvation and be taught the Principles of the Gospel such as: faith, love, repentance, forgiveness, work, and hope. In turn, we’ve tried to teach these same principles to our children.  To do so on our own, however, would be a much more challenging act than if we associate ourselves with the Body of Christ.

This hasn’t always been a simple thing to do though. There was a time early in my married life when my wife and I were offended by someone at church. Someone who should have been a trusted confidant…a friend to help in time of need.  Instead, they did something that I found reprehensible and nearly unforgivable.  They caused my family significant emotional distress.  The actual act doesn’t matter anymore. Suffice it to say, we were deeply offended.  When it came time to go to church, we still went. We didn’t socialize with that person, but we also didn’t try to “make a scene.”  Over time, we moved and I’ve not spoken to them since.  I still remember their name, so perhaps someday when we meet again, I’ll remember who they are (then I’ll have another mental debate…).

It was not easy for me to heed the counsel the Savior gave on the Sermon on the Mount:

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; …For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-44, 46-48

Here’s what’s on my mind…nothing can keep me from going to church.  No one can make me stop going to church.  Why? Because I want my children to be taught the ways of truth. Because I value my eternal salvation over my worldly feelings.  Because I treasure the relationship with my Heavenly Father more than I desire a relationship with man. Because I need the power of the Atonement more than I yearn for the power of the world.

I know I’m not alone in how important attending church and partaking the sacrament is.  I’d like to share an entry from my personal journal from the time I was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan and was serving in the leadership of our congregation.  We observed the Sabbath on Sunday, as usual, but we also offered a Sacrament meeting Wednesday evenings for those who worked shift or otherwise couldn’t attend church on Sunday.

I was rather tired today and I wasn’t feeling very well, so I left work at 1700 hrs to go take a nap. I got to work at 0545 hrs, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving early. I set the alarm for 1840 hrs so I could go to sacrament meeting. I had told Br Britton and President Allen that I wouldn’t be there tonight (because of a meeting at 1900), but my meeting at 1900 hrs was moved to tomorrow and I was free. I slept very well and woke up at 1840 hrs. I laid there a minute not wanting to get up or go to church, but I did.

I sat outside and waited for a few minutes before the other congregational leaders, President Cox and President Allen, showed up. Later there were five members that showed up. One of them was at Kandahar Air Field for only today. He is at Forward Operating Base Gecko and hasn’t had the sacrament in six months. He was touched by the service. We ended up singing a hymn, praying, and partaking the sacrament. Then I shared my thoughts on faith and President Allen shared his thoughts on hope. We closed with a hymn and prayer. It was a very nice sacrament meeting. I’m glad that I went even though I didn’t want to go. I later received an e-mail from this one brother. I wanted to include it here because he says things very clearly:

“I too feel that it was a blessing to be able to be there on a Wednesday. Sacrament meeting tonight was one of the most touching I have ever experienced. I was struck by the bonds of fellowship that extend between members of Christ’s church, especially when meeting together to worship. Thank you, and all the others there, for doing their part as members of the church. It was a memorable experience for me, and I felt the peace of the spirit like I have not felt while I have been here. The Lord has blessed us all to create such a fellowship for his saints, that we can be a part of it anywhere in the world.”

Personal Journal, 14 June 2009

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Kandahar Afghanistan

There is something special about attending church.  There is a strength that comes from worshiping Heavenly Father together.  Sure, there are people in the world who do bad things.  There are people in the world who are very offensive. Sometimes these same people walk the very halls we walk on the Sabbath day.  That doesn’t change the role of the Plan of Salvation in my life.  It certainly doesn’t change who God is or what He represents. I still need to take the Sacrament each week.  I still need to commune with the Divine each and every day.

I find myself thinking of the words of James “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).  Then I tell myself to breathe deep, think about what I’ve heard and what I want to say…then I try to speak well.

What I’m trying to say is I won’t allow someone to offend me to the point where I turn my back on God. Now, I don’t intend to insult anyone who has been offended, I simply extend to my children the idea that the most important thing in my life is my relationship with my family and with my God.  I refuse to let man influence my worship of Jesus Christ. I refuse to let man influence the relationship I have with my family.

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Moroni 7:13

That which inviteth and enticeth to do good is of God. 

Don’t worry about whether it’s the spirit telling you to do something good or your own mind – – if it good that it’s inspired of God.

Can’t we all just be friends?

I’ve spent the past month thinking.  Thinking about my life, my family, and the world around us.  I’ve watched the news as they “report” on the presidential candidates. I’ve listened to the accounts surrounding protests in the name of oppression. I’ve read the stories of people who demand change because of an offense.  As this has happened, I’ve grown increasingly unsettled.  I’ve sought (and found) comfort in the words of the prophets found in the scriptures.

As I’ve spent time pondering the Word of God, it became increasingly clear to me that, every day, we are moving further from God and closer to secularism. We are losing (or have already lost) Reverence for the Sacred.

Why are we turning our back on the Sacred? It is because the “love of many [has waxed] cold” (Matthew 24:12).  We, as a society, have forgotten what our society is founded upon. Since the beginning of civilized history, man has been organized into communities.  These  communities have included everything from hunter-gatherers to Empire-builders. The one common theme is a basis of law. Man has for millennia used some sort of religious beliefs as the basis of their foundational laws.


One of the earliest examples of a written law is Hammurabi’s Code written between 1792-1752 BC. In the prologue to the Code, Hammurabi describes himself as an “exalted prince, who feared God” and wrote that he wanted to “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak” (US History). He may not have understood the concept of God the same way I do, but he clearly understood the concept of a Power Higher than himself.

He even included a carving of himself receiving the Code from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice, another indication of his belief in a Power Higher than himself.  These laws didn’t spring forth from the breast of man, they were inspired by a Holy Being.

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Shamesh is seated while Hammurabi stands with his arm raised in reverence.  Photo from www.historians.org

Let’s jump forward to the founding of the United States.  I now quote from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Our Founding Fathers believed the the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them to break away from the rule of Great Britain and to establish a new nation. They even outlined three of the inalienable Rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I like that the Founding Fathers didn’t specify a particular religious faith as they declared their Independence–there was no need, it was enough to acknowledge the Hand of God in the establishment of a free society.

Here then is the Foundation upon a Free Society must be built:

We must have an understanding and acceptance that there is a Power Greater than man.

We must understand that:

  • There is a time in the future when all men will answer for their actions, not to man upon the Earth, but to God in the Heavens.
  • We will have no peace in the land until we bring back the Love of God to the hearts of men.
  • We will have no justice in the land until we return to our laws a foundation of something Greater than ourselves.
  • We will have no mercy in the land until we “ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country” (John F. Kennedy).
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Standing on the Wall

Let us have the courage of Samuel the Lamanite who stood on the walls of Zarahemla and preached repentance and a return to God (Helaman 16). As we do this, we do not have to stoop to the level of our foes and resort to violence, suppression, lies, and hate. Rather, we must proclaim our beliefs through love, respect, and service. I want to share an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address.  In this passage, he was referring to the struggle between Democracy and Communism, but if we look, there is a parallel we can draw to the struggles we see today in our own communities.

So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.  Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah — to “undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free” (Isaiah 58:6).

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor — not a new balance of power, but a new world of law — where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,” a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself (Romans 12:12).

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.  I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the wold, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.  With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.


What can we do…where is my wall on which to stand?

First, we need to obey the 10 Commandments. Regardless of your religious persuasion, these 10 laws are (or should be) universal in the structure of an ordered society.

Second, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We must not forget it’s corollary: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. We no longer live under the Mosaic Law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24).  Rather, we live in a world where we need to turn the other cheek. Like the song says, “kindness begins with me” (Children’s Songbook).  Someone has to take the first step.  Yes, I realize that means we are going to be taking a lot of steps that are answered with harsh words, violent actions, and vindictive men…but if we don’t start now, then who will?

Third, we need to listen to understand. Those around us who are complaining need to be heard.  Listening to the grievances of others doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us. Remember that a man’s perception is his reality.  When someone believes they have been wronged, that wrong must be addressed. This is compassion and love.

Fourth, we need a day where we stop and Just Breathe. The Sabbath Day is a day given to man to rest from our labors.  It is a day when we go to church and ask for forgiveness, renew sacred covenants, and commune with the holy.  It is a day to visit the fatherless, the widow, the downtrodden–which is difficult to do from a football stadium or the shopping mall.  This process of resting one day out of seven will help us stay attuned to the Spirit and will help us stay close by God.

Fifth, we must “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Everyone has a voice.  Clearly there are those in our communities who have found their voices.  They are spewing forth their twisted, wicked, and vile words.  They are making it increasingly uncomfortable and difficult for the peaceable followers of Christ to share the Word.  But that cannot stop us.  In fact, the louder they get, the more dedicated we must be to witness of truth through our words and our deeds.

My point is that we must do something.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”

Edmund Burke

Here for a Season…now Gone

While all of my posts pertain to things that I want my kids to know, this post is going to be more personal than many of my previous posts. This week, I need my children to know my thoughts and feelings regarding babies, eternal families, and miscarriages.

For several years, we’ve known as a family that there were children missing from our family.  As we gathered the kids to go somewhere, we’d look at each other and ask who was missing and then count heads.  Eventually we accepted that these feelings were promptings that children were missing, so we started the adoption process.

After nearly two frustrating years of little to no progress toward adoption, we decided to see if God wanted us to add to our family by pregnancy.  About six months later, we were so very excited when we found out that we were pregnant. Now Momma’s not old, but let’s just say that she’s not exactly in the average child-bearing age range.

Within a week of hearing the heartbeat of the new baby, we got a text out of the blue from someone in Salt Lake City.  It seems they had found our profile on Adoption.com (which had seen virtually no activity in over a year) and felt prompted that we were the right family for a child they knew needed a home.

I won’t go through that whole process now (mainly because it’s still not finished).  It felt like we finally found our answer…we were going to adopt a child and have a child, then our family would finally be complete.

Mom discovered at her regular 16-week checkup this week, that our baby stopped growing at 9 weeks.  One week after we heard the heartbeat, that little heart stopped beating.

I had so many questions swirling around in my head, the biggest of which was why God would bless us with a baby, only to have that baby die before it was ever born?

Like so many people today, I turned to the Internet to try to make sense of what was happening to my family.  Here’s what I learned during those searches:

  • The Prophets have spoken regarding still born children.  They are to be recorded on Family Group Records.  If the parents have been sealed in the Temple, then these children are considered as “Born in the Covenant” and require no further ordinances in order to go to the Celestial Kingdom.
  • The question of when life begins is not understood: some believe life begins at conception, some when the heart beats, some during the “quickening” and others believe it begins at birth. There are a whole host of other possibilities that I won’t dive into.
  • Miscarriages happen all the time…a lot more frequently than we even realize.  Most of them occur before the mother even realizes she’s pregnant and are thought of a late, heavy period.
  • It is difficult to communicate the emotions felt due to a miscarriage

Now for my opinion on the matter.  Let me start with the principle of eternal families.  Heavenly Father placed men and women on this Earth so they could become a couple which would “multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This is the first commandment given to Adam and Eve and it has never been revoked. We are also told that we are to have joy (2 Nephi 2:25). As I’ve said in another post, families are meant to be eternal.  It would be a cruel and unjust God who let us fall in love and and create a family, only to be told it couldn’t be forever.

“For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.” (D&C 29:24-25). Surely a baby in the womb is counted in the phrase “all things.”

“For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:14-16).

Not much has been said on the topic of miscarriages.  Perhaps this is part of the discussion of when life begins.  Suffice it to say, that I believe the doctrine taught regarding stillborn children can also apply to miscarriages. (Tears in Heaven)

I likewise find it difficult to believe that God would bless my wife with a baby…allowing us to get our hopes up of building our family, only to be told that it was a false alarm…a practice run…a mistake.  That doesn’t make sense with the God I understand my Heavenly Father to be.

I don’t have the answers, but I have hope and faith.  I have faith in a loving Father in Heaven who hears and answers my prayers.  I have hope in a future that includes this child so recently departed from this earthly sphere.

A good friend shared this thought with me:

I know He has provided a plan for us, a plan of eternal salvation that gives assurance of happy reunions and endless relationships.  I also share your hope that you will not only see your baby again, but you…will be able to hold him tenderly in your arms.

We do have a Father in Heaven who loves us very much. Through the Plan of Salvation, He has provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, to atone for all our sins, our pains, our sadness, and our grief. This doesn’t remove these feelings from us–we still have to travel this mortal life on our own–but it does allow us to lean on someone when we feel overwhelmed.  We can always know that Jesus Christ is there, ready to support us.  “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art though greater than he?” (D&C 121:8).  When we feel that no one understands what we are feeling, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ knows exactly how we are feeling.

I’m grateful for a Father in Heaven who loves me and my little family.  I don’t understand why this challenge is ours to face, but I know that “all these things shall give [me] experience and shall be for [my] good” (D&C 121:7).

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The Cunningham Family

To Be a Man

I recently read a talk by President Russell M. Nelson that has caused me to think a lot about the kind of man I am and the kind of man I want to become.  You can read a million different articles about the qualities of “real men.”  Here are some thoughts I’ve had on the subject based on what I read by President Nelson (along with thoughts of my own).

Real man:

Developing Priesthood Power requires a man to pay the requisite price by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself. A man who has paid the price will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity. In fact, President Nelson uses an interesting phrase…”In the coming day…” Here is the entire passage:

“In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and help others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.”

Of all the things I heard and read in General Conference, April 2016, this is the most prophetic sounding…there’s something about these words that stir a feeling of action within me.  

So what is the price to be paid? It is to live these qualities: faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, holiness, brotherly kindness, charity, diligence, humility.  It is also to pray from our hearts–even if that means having the courage to pray to know how to pray.  It is to earnestly study the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ.  It is to worship in the Temple regularly and ask Him to teach us about priesthood keys, authority, and power.

In the end, there is very little that’s new in this talk–we’ve heard all these things before.  But for me, today, there is something powerful about hearing an Apostle give me direction on how I can protect my family…on how I can be a better man.

The question is this:

have I spent my days working on my birthright…

or eating a mess of pottage?

True Conversion

As a disciple of Christ, one of my goals in life is to become converted to the Gospel. I don’t mean that I’ve joined a particular church and pay tithes and offerings.  I mean I desire to become truly converted.  But what does this entail?  A quick Internet search yields many pages that list qualities and characteristics of true conversion.  I have read through many of these lists and have compiled my own characteristics of true conversion.

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www.azquotes.com/quote/479831

I believe that True Conversion manifests itself by:

 

  • Striving to be different from the world
  • Showing great love and compassion toward others
  • Standing as a witness of Christ at all times, and in all things and in all places
  • Desiring to be an instrument in the hands of God
  • Having no desire to sin
  • Seeking after righteousness
  • Praying always
  • Pondering the Word of the Lord frequently
  • Demonstrating gratitude, even in the face of adversity
  • Enduring all things to receive Exaltation

There are many other things a true convert will show, but these items sum it up for me (at least at this point in my life). Now for some details regarding each of these items.

Striving to be different from the world

“…ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darknessinto his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis added).

“…Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people” (Exodus 19:4, emphasis added).

As we obey the commandments of God, we become different from the world…we set ourselves apart from our neighbors as something unique, something special. This then opens many doors for us.  Sometimes it opens the door to missionary work–as people notice our differences, we have opportunities to testify of Christ.  Other times it opens the door to ridicule–then we have the opportunity to learn patience and long suffering.

Showing great love and compassion toward others

We are commanded to show love and compassion toward others.  When Christ walked upon the Earth, he went about showing love to everyone–those who were easy to love like his disciples…and those who were shunned by society like the lepers. One time, he was asked what the greatest commandment was.  His answer? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Having this great love is so important that Paul later teaches this lesson: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). Without Charity, we are nothing.  Without a love for our fellow man, we are nothing.

Standing as a witness of Christ at all times, and in all things, and in all places

The Book of Mormon Prophet Alma taught his people repentance, redemption, and faith. Then he presented this proposition to them: “Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:7-10).

When we are truly converted, there will be no time or circumstance we find ourselves in which we are not willing to testify of Christ.

Desiring to be an instrument in the hands of God

For this quality, I want to share a parable.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:20-22).

As we purge from ourselves unrighteous thoughts and behaviors, we become an instrument ready for the Lord to use to further his work.  We become, in the words of Alma, “instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work” (Alma 26:3).

see also “Become an Instrument in the Hands of God

Having no desire to sin

The people of King Benjamin, once they were taught the gospel, all declared to King Benjamin that they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). When we are truly converted, we lose our desire to sin.  This doesn’t mean the temptations will all go away, simply that the temptations are no longer desirable to us.

Seeking after righteousness

The 13th Article of Faith declares: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I also like the description given in Psalm 42:1-2. “As the [deer] panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”

Perhaps most beautifully are the words of the Savior himself. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). I do not think it is an accident that Christ uses the words “hunger” and “thirst”.  We are told elsewhere to “feast on the words of Christ.”  We also literally “eat” and “drink” in commemoration of his Atoning Sacrifice.  Righteousness is found in the Savior and we are to seek it out.

Praying always

This is one of my favorites because it gives me a communication path to my Father in Heaven.  It lets me know that not only can I pray, but that I am commanded to pray. In Ephesians 6, Paul teaches us about the Armor of God.  After we put on the whole armor of God, we are then told to “[Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and [watch] thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi taught:

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.” (2 Nephi 32:8-9).

Pondering the Word of the Lord frequently

I hope that when I one day stand face-to-face with the Lord, I will recognize his voice.  In order to be ready to recognize his voice, I have to know what it sounds like.  I can learn this by studying his words in the Holy Scriptures.  There’s something very special about the words of Christ that are recorded in the Holy Bible and in the Book of Mormon.  They teach us directly from the Savior–no intermediary.  As we come to know these words, we’ll be ready to listen to the Savior when we meet him.

Demonstrating gratitude, even in the face of adversity

This characteristic isn’t an easy one.  Perhaps the best known Bible story on adversity and gratitude is Job.  Here is a man who lost everything…and yet still showed gratitude. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith these words: “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (D&C 78:19).

see also “Grateful in Any Circumstance

Enduring all things to receive Exaltation

Finally, we must remember that this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.  This life is part of the journey to eternity…it is not the destination.  When we die, we will be Resurrected…either to eternal glory or eternal damnation.  The choices we make now, the actions we take each day, will determine our eternal reward.

As I said in a previous post, families are eternal. But in order to be with our family throughout all eternity, we must strive toward that eternity together.  We have to be ready and willing to endure all things here and now so that we can receive all things later. When things get tough and we think we’re at the end of our patience and hope, we can find solace in the words of Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8).

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Families are Forever

Reunion 2016.jpgThis weekend, I was able to attend the 2nd Annual Family Reunion for my side of the family.  I was reminded of the principle of Eternal Families by a phrase stenciled on my cousins living room:

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It is the last line that I wish to discuss in this post. “Families are Forever.”  I once went to a friends wedding–it was a wonderful day with a beautiful bride.  When it came time for the couple to make their vows, I was struck when the preacher said “You are now husband and wife. Married forever till death do you part.”  How can a couple be married forever while at the same time be married till death do you part?  That contradiction didn’t make sense in my mind.  In addition, why would God put us in family units only to let them go away when we die?  As I’ve learned more, I’ve come to realize that God’s plan isn’t that the family relationship (husband-wife, parent-child, etc) end at death! God’s plan is that the family can be eternal!

Jesus Christ gave power to His disciples to seal families together forever when He said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This sealing power is found in the Holy Temple.

I enjoyed reading this talk on Eternal Marriage by Elder Howard.  I can’t help but wonder how many of the social problems we see manifest around us today could be avoided if society returned to a time when the family was important.   In fact, I can’t help but believe that many of the social ills we face today aren’t the result of a single thing…lack of respect for authority.

I believe that the prevalence of drugs, abuse of others, and the lack of civility is the direct result of children not being taught to respect authority…and that teaching is best done in the home.  “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). In Mormon’s last epistle to his son, Moroni, he describes the wicked nature of the people.  Then he asks this poignant question:

“O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization–(and only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people) but O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination–How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?” (Moroni 9:11-13).

This passages teaches two principles: 1) it doesn’t take long for a society to go from righteous and pleasant to wicked and awful 2) society can’t expect blessings from God if we sin against His laws. Even though we live in a society that is forgetting all that is sacred, we can (and must) do our part in living the commandments of Jesus Christ.  As we do so, we will be blessed. If we want to make a change in the world…if we want to change the course that this Nation is currently…then we must start with ourselves.  And that start is to realize that the importance of the family. This message comes through in this video called “Families can be Together Forever.”

The bottom line is this…God’s Plan of Salvation not only includes the principle of family…it is centered around the principle of family. Next to the Holy Temple, the home should be the most sacred place for your family.  It is where we go to learn.  It is where we go to get away from the influences of the world.  It is where we go to feel the Spirit and feel love.

I know that Families can be together forever. If you doubt my words, watch this video to see another witness of this principle.

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www.smallandsimpletruths.com

Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor

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240 years ago, 56 men gathered in a room to put the finishing touches on a document they had spent the previous 19 days working on.  These men were’t a rag-tag group of disgruntled whiners who were upset because someone offended them.  They were well-to-do professionals who saw consistent abuses by their government and determined to make it right. And so they penned these words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The Declaration of Independence

Paul Harvey once spoke on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  It is well worth the 10 minutes of your life to hear their resolve.

Life is all about making and following through with commitments. Sometimes these are rather straightforward (I daresay, simple) commitments while other times, these commitments, like those made by the Founding Fathers, are extremely difficult.  Nevertheless, it is through our resolve that we make a difference in life.

What frustrates me is that I continually fall short on keeping my resolve with regards to things I know I need to do: read my scriptures, pray as a family, exercise, write in my journal, etc. I think this is where the concept of “enduring to the end” comes into play.  Heavenly Father knew from the beginning that man would find it difficult to follow through on commitments.  He even came up with a method to help us get back on the wagon when we fell off…repentance! Now, I’m not saying that every time we fail to hold strong to our resolve we commit sin, but I am saying that there are times when failing to stay strong to our commitments is a sin.


Now for the big question…now for the reason for this post…

What is your resolve?  For what are you willing to sign your name and pledge your life, fortune, and sacred honor?

If you do not know, then you need to find out. To go through this life without something to commit to, is to sail the seas with only a mast–no cloth.  Furthermore, our resolve extends to everything we do in this life.  Our commitment defines our character…who we are.  It used to be that when a man shook hands, he gave his word.  Is that true for you?  Is your word something people can believe?

Greater Love Hath No Man Than This…

Memorial Day is our opportunity to honor those individuals who gave their life in the service of our country.  It is a day to celebrate the freedom which has been paid for with blood.  It is the day to remember that God alone leads this Nation and will continue to lead this Nation as we remember Him…or in the words of George Washington, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Today is my tribute to those who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and are now “dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings” (High Flight).

As we celebrate this weekend, it is worth remembering the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Another speech worthy of our study is Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech given 23 March 1775.  Somedays I worry that the passion, dedication, and patriotism demonstrated by Patrick Henry has gone from our country…then I visit one of our Military cemeteries and I see Patrick Henry’s commitment etched in stone on marker after marker.


At my 20th class reunion, they shared a video tribute to the thirteen classmates I went to school with. Today, I want to share my thoughts regarding these men who sacrificed all so I could raise my children in a free country.

One of these men I knew very well…David Weber.  I’ll never forget the day he died…28 January 1994.  Dave loved to fly and was sitting back seat of a tow plane when the pilot suffered a massive heart attack and sent the plane into a nose dive.  Dave tried to recover the aircraft, but was not successful.  I went to his funeral in Star Valley, Wyoming–met his brother who was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Eric Das.  He was shot down over Iraq on 3 August 2003 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his Weapons Officer, William Watkins (they were the 27th and 28th casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried in Arlington).

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General Jumper, Chief of Staff, USAF, salutes at the funeral of Eric Das

Ed Wooten.  He never knew the impact he had on my life. Our interaction was but a few short weeks, but those few weeks changed the course of my life and solidified my commitment to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Scheer and I spent 6 weeks together in Basic Training and then a year together in our first Squadron, the Phantoms of 24.  He died on 25 Feb 2004 when his A-10 crashed while on a training mission in Alaska.

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Jon Scheer is in the back row, second from the left

I didn’t know Frank Bryant while we were at school, but his death was particularly poignant for me.  He died 27 April 2011 at the hands of an Afghan in the middle of staff meeting at Kabul International Airport.  Like Frank, I sat in many staff meetings in Afghanistan in that same area during my deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.  I walked an through several Afghan National Army bases and was concerned at times for my safety.  Perhaps I should have been even more concerned than I was.


Let us never forget the men who died to keep us free.

Furthermore, let us ever live with honor, courage, and love in their memory.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Leaves of Three…

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Image from www.kidshealth.org

Many people recognize poison ivy by the phrase “leaves of three, leave it be.” On the campout yesterday, one of the young men was looking at a plant and said “I see a poison ivy plant, it has three leaves…wait a minute, I think this might be a 3-leaf clover.”  I asked him if he knew how to tell the difference and he started to describe the physical characteristics of poison ivy.  When he was finished, I told him an easier way was to pick the plant, rub it on his skin and wait a day.  If he was itchy, it was poison ivy.

 

So how can we recognize danger when it comes into our life?  How we can know when something or someone is trying to lead us down the wrong path?  There are four things we must do:

  1. Know where we want to go
  2. Recognize the signs of evil and danger
  3. Demonstrate courage to chose the right
  4. Have the tenacity to endure to the end

First, we have to know where we want to go. The purpose of this life is to gain experience, receive a mortal body, and demonstrate our willingness to follow the commandments of God.  Along the way, most of us will have the opportunity receive an education, have a career, marry, and raise a family.  All of these things can help us on the path back to our Father in Heaven.  If you don’t know what you want out of life, it is impossible to make choices to get there.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.'”In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road. She asks the cat “Which road do I take?” To which the cat replied “Where do you want to go?”  – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Second, we have to recognize the signs of evil and danger.  Satan desires one thing–to frustrate the work of the Lord.  He does everything he can to destroy the creations of God.  However, he doesn’t typically work in bold, in-your-face manifestations.  Instead, he is very subtle and sly.  He is a patient being…able to bide his time to strike his fatal blow.  Nephi describes Satan’s efforts like this: “[Satan] will pacify, and lull [man] away into carnal security…and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 32:21 emphasis added).

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Nephi describes these efforts of Satan as a flaxen cord.  A flaxen cord is a cord made of many small threads.  Think about how easy it is to break a single piece of thread.  Now consider the difficulty in breaking a rope consisting of 20, 40, or even 100 threads.  This is how Satan leads us to hell…one sin at a time.  If we do not recognize the danger signs of sin quickly and break those things which would tie us down, we can soon become overwhelmed and feel helpless.  You have to recognize the signs of evil and danger.

Marijuana is sometimes called a gateway drug.  It doesn’t have the same effects as crack, meth, or heroine…but it can lead to abuse of these drugs as addicts become used to the effects of one, lesser drug, and give it up for progressively stronger drugs.

Likewise, happily married men don’t typically decide one day to have an affair.  Instead, they are lead gradually to that fatal act by first viewing “harmless” pornography or casually observing other women (remember David and Bathsheba). There is danger in “just looking”!

Third, we have to demonstrate the courage to choose the right.  Joshua famously declared “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).  It is easy to make this declaration from the safety of the pulpit or our home.  Do we have the courage to make this declaration reality in our lives? When we leave our home each morning, are we ready to “serve the Lord” all day and in all things?

It gets even more difficult to choose the right when others around us…particularly those we respect…are making poor choices.

Fourth, we have to have the tenacity to endure to the end. Paul records in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” True success in life isn’t about winning individual battles, true success in life is about finishing the course…it’s about winning the war.  Satan would see us destroyed by sin; led to that action by subtle temptations and poor choices.  We have to share the same passion to defeat Satan that the people of Limhi showed in their fight agains the Lamanites.  “…They fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight” (Mosiah 20:11).

This life isn’t going to be easy, but we conquer evil by:

  1. knowing where we want to go
  2. recognizing the signs of evil and danger
  3. showing courage to chose the right
  4. having the tenacity to endure to the end

 

How do we do this?  How can we follow this prescribed course?  It goes back to the Sunday School answers…

  • go to church
  • read the scriptures
  • pray
  • listen to your parents
  • follow the teachings of Jesus Christ

I don’t want to over simplify, but it really is this easy.  If you want to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, then you have to study the voice of the Good Shepherd.  If you want to return to live with your Heavenly Father, then you have to practice living a celestial life now.  If you want to be happy tomorrow, then you need to try to be happy today.  Our actions are all interconnected.  We determine our future by every action we take in the present.