Wednesday, December 06, 2017

December Week 2: The Second Coming / End Days

We Should Avoid 'End of Days' Hysteria
How many times and years has the "End of the World" been predicted?
About 50 times, going back to the year 500 AD
Second Coming Predictions (note the Thomas M√ľntzer item and cite Dan Carlin's jaw-dropping podcast about the Munster Rebellion called "Prophets of Doom" / listen here for free ... you'll need 4 hours to finish it!)

Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of seeing Christ after you die than you do seeing him come to earth again

When people pray for the 2nd Coming, what are they really saying?  Are they not simply saying "we've given up; it's so bad down here and we've screwed up so much, we need Jesus to come again and make things right."

It is a very "helpless" desire to pray for the Second Coming.  Rather, we should pray that we are prepared for our own death.  We should view this life, not in the context of the Second Coming, but rather in the context of meeting Christ (when we die).

Parable of the Ten Virgins
The Parable of the 10 Virgins is about the ability to be constant all the time.

Life is not about living the last 10 seconds or 10 minutes or 10 hours or 10 days in perfection; but rather it is about being ready (virtuous) all the time.

To put this idea in another way: which is better; to not live a virtuous life and then go through death-bed repentance or to strive to be better and live more virtuously all the time?

Is this not analogous to brushing your teeth?  Someone who thinks they can brush their teeth really, really good on Saturday night and think the dentist won't notice versus someone who constantly brushes their teeth well every day, three times a day.

The five foolish would have been ready had the bridegroom come on time.

The five wise were ready had the bridegroom come on time or had come late or had never come!

How did they know to prepare?

This was not their first wedding nor was it lost on them that the bridegroom might be late.

Is not the arrival of the bridegroom synonymous with death and meeting our maker?

And what is it that God wants of us?  Death-bed repentance?  Just-in-time virtue?  Or does he want us to by fundamentally different (better) than we were before we improved?

Is this life really just a onetime event in which case we have to "hold out" just long enough or does God want us to progress steadily and onward to perfection (perfection of virtues)?

Can We Become Perfect in One Lifetime?
We're about to go really deep here, perhaps into uncharted territory.

Thought experiment: you are immortal; you don't need to eat, your wounds heal, you never grow old.  What do you do?

Groundhog Day - a microcosm of what this life is about
Some might "eat, drink and be merry"  But to what end?  It won't make you content
Pursuit of money?
Pursuit of fame?
Pursuit of pleasure?
After all these failed pursuits, would you not try to escape this purgatory?

Phil, after chasing all of this, decides to shift his focus from himself to others; he pursues a life of virtue in making other people happy and he is no longer damned.

Alternatively, the same idea and concept, can be learned from the much more action-packed movie Edge of Tomorrow.

We are already immortal - today is eternity
Draw timeline on board and the dot that represents this life.    We tend to think eternity and immortality is after some designated dot on this timeline.  We might think life kinda sucks and if I can just slog through this, and 'pass the test' then I can be immortal and everything just goes my way; I become a God and get all the powers in the universe.  But on a line that is infinite, what does eternity really mean?  If you are here or here, you are still on the same line, in which case you are already immortal.  We are immortal beings who are going through multiple iterations to be a better person.  Death is just another event; another experience.

Given the above thought experiments, it is evident that no matter how many iterations or days or weeks or months or lives we've lived, the ultimate pursuit is constantcy in virtue.

And since we don't know when we will die, eternity is now.  The only time that really belongs to us is now.  The past and the future do not belong to us; we have no control over them.

And assuming we had an infinite amount of days to "get it right" why not use now to start on it?

Eternity is now.

This is where the thought "carpe diem" (Dead Poets Society) comes into play.  We must live life - live each day - as if it were our last.

"To perform each of life's actions as if it were the last" means to live the present instant with such intensity and such love that, in a sense, an entire lifetime is contained and completed within it.  Most people are not alive, because they do not live in the present, but are always outside themselves, alienated, and dragged backwards and forwards by the past and by the present.  They do not know that the present is the only point at which they are truly themselves and free." (The Inner Citadel Pierre Hadot p. 135)

A Machine for the Making of Gods
To summarize, we are not in this world simply to hold on a bit.  We are here to progress.  The only thing you should focus on is "how do I improve each passing moment?  How do I become better in this moment from the previous moment?" "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)

Interestingly enough, a gentleman by the name of Henri Bergson called the universe and this world a "machine for making Gods."

He says, "Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands.  Theirs is the task of determining, first of all, whether they want to go on living or not.  Theirs is the responsibility then for deciding if they want to merely live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of Gods." (source)

To flip your paradigm from a life in pursuit of pleasure, ease, fame, excitement, adventure and things going your way, to a paradigm that the world and this life you live in it, is a machine that takes raw material and turns it into something more valuable - this paradigm shift will cause you to fundamentally view your life differently.  And to have that realization and to execute that change within you, takes a lifetime and more of present moments.  Decide now; take action now.

Friday, December 01, 2017

December Week 1: Leadership

Read D&C 121:34-46

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Dissect each verse one by one; write on chalk board

These are the principles that govern proper leadership.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November Week 4: Making Your Own Decisions

Maybe bring chess board and challenge someone to play chess, talk about how I used to play chess with my dad and brother and how much I love chess.

Chess game - in November 2016, Magnus Carlsen played Sergey Karjakin for the world championship.  They played 12 games to a tie, then they played blitz games to determine the champion.  Carlsen won two blitz games and retained the crown.  Each game lasted between 3 to 4 hours and there were no take-backs.  Once a bad move has been made, there is no going back.

Chess is a game with an almost infinite amount of variations.  There are more possible chess variations than starts in the galaxy or even atoms in the universe.  See more info at Shannon Number (10 ^ 120 possible games); and that is a low estimate.

Compared to chess, we have far fewer decisions to make in life.  But just as in chess, there is only one direction: forward.  There are no "take-backs" in life.

D&C 58:27-29
As we read a couple of weeks ago, we do not have to be told what to do all the time.  We need to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause".  If we are told what to do and how to do it, all the time, then we could be considered a slothful (lazy) servant.

What decisions do you have to make?
- Daily decisions
- Weekly decisions
- Monthly decisions
- Yearly decisions

Is it a big deal to get a daily decision wrong?  What about a yearly decision?  A life decision?

Talk about an airplane, degrees and course corrections.

Example of Jeffry Holland's story of going on a trip and coming to a fork in the road. They didn't know.  They prayed and felt they should take a right.  They went about 500 yards and found it was a dead end.  The road to the left actually was the correct road.  Later on, his son asked why they felt that the "right" road was the incorrect choice.  Sometimes we have to just make a decision … and maybe in those cases, the risk truly is low or not as high as we think.  In the Holland example, what if, instead of a 500 yard mistake, it lead them out in the middle of nowhere and they ran out of gas?

The students have a blank canvas - they can head into any direction they want now … and really they will only impact their own life.  Compared to my life (~40 years old), I can't simply go change my career or lifestyle without impacting others.

What can you do now to help you make the best decision?

1) Be informed; gather information, understand consequences, determine if that is a path you want to go down.  Prayer is a good way to gather information.

2) Determine the risk.  Sometimes if the risk is low, then not much thought is required.  But if there is a lot of risk, then a lot of prep work needs to be done.

3) Constraints and A/B testing - a variant of Good, Better, Best.  Sometimes you want the best, but other times the best is not needed.  Sometimes there are constraints on our options.  Once you've determined if you need Good, Better or Best, how do you go about finding the best?
○ Buying a car
§ Do you want the best? (if no, then no need for A/B testing)
§ If yes, then how much are you willing to spend?
§ What is your constraint?

4) Sometimes, you truly have to "walk by faith" and "see what happens" regardless the risk.  In those cases, we simply do our best.

Lastly, some food for thought: Goals vs Systems

Personal example: career path.  Picking one certain assignment vs moving in a general direction with keeping options open (CSCoE vs Manager which could lead to interface assignment)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

November Week 1: Spiritual Self-reliance and Finding Answers to Gospel Questions


Read and discuss the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

Read and discuss Moroni 10:3-5
- read, study
- remember the mercy of God
- ask God if something is not true
- ask with a sincere heart and real intent
- have faith in Christ

Read and discuss D&C 58:26-28
- God doesn't have to command you in all things
- If he does, then you're a slothful servant!
- be anxiously engaged in a good cause; do a lot on your own; be good
- we are our own agents; if you do good, you won't lose your reward

What is a testimony to you?  What does it mean to "have a testimony?"

The Planner Assignment

Story of moving into my Planning assignment at work.  In March 2015, I new nothing of financial planning at work.  I didn't know what terms such as first incurred or recovery or affiliate meant.  I sat in a week-long workshop with my new team and it was like I was in a foreign country - I had no clue what they were talking about.  When it came time to provide support for my customers, I simply had to trust my mentors when they told me what to do and what to say.  I was told it would take about six months before I really understood everything.  Up to that point, I just had to give it my best shot, ask lots of questions and learn as best I could.

Eventually, the six months passed and despite some mistakes, both major and minor, I was still in the assignment.  And sure enough, I pretty much understood everything.  It wasn't a perfect understanding, but I no longer needed to rely on my mentors for constant help.

Then all during the year 2017, I have been the mentor to others and have grasped the nuances of the assignment.  I know what things are important and what things aren't.  I know what needs to be changed and what should be kept.  In a sense, I'm a thought leader and considered a basic expert.

How does this story apply to the topic of gaining a testimony and spiritual self-reliance?

Be Sure You're on Solid Footing

Each one of us has to be able to answer for herself or himself, as to what they believe.  And you will need to defend that position or belief.  If you're not willing to defend your beliefs, then they really aren't your beliefs.

Personally speaking, the reason I love Helaman 5:12, is because it talks about a rock and building your foundation on a rock - on something that won't move out from beneath you.  One of the great tragedies of life is seeing someone committed to something, only to discover that what they had committed to really was not what they believed in.

I love the moral courage of Batman in Batman Begins.  Ras al Gul frees Bruce Wayne from prison and Bruce climbs to this sanctuary high in the mountains.  The League of Shadows trains Bruce and Bruce is committed to them.  As a final act of loyalty, they ask Bruce to behead a thief and murderer.  Bruce says he is not an executioner.  And at that moment, he has to decide on whether to keep to his own moral code or go along with the League of Shadows.  Obviously he decides to do what is right in his mind and escapes the League of Shadows.

Finding Answers to Your Gospel Questions

1 Nephi 15:2-11
- Laman & Lemuel had questions but did not put the work in to find answers

JSH 1:10-18
- JS had questions and went to God to ask

What questions did prophets and people in the scriptures have?
- Let them look and find other examples of how people got answers

What questions do people ask today?
- Write them on the board

What sources do we have to help us answer these questions?
- (links to
- parents, leaders
- general conference talks
- church publications

- google … is google a valid source?  What is google other than other people who have gone down the same path of questions and have shared their answers?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October Week 4: Learning Attributes of Christ by Studying the Scriptures

What is an "attribute"?
- a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something.

When someone asks, "what are the attributes of Christ?" how would you respond?  (in the classical, philosophical sense, "attributes" could simply mean "virtues" ... such as wisdom, courage, justice temperance.

- faith
- virtue
- knowledge
- temperence
- patience
- brotherly kindness
- charity
- humility
- diligence

This list above comes from D&C 4:6

What other attributes, or virtues of Christ can you think of?

Where can we find scriptures, that demonstrate these qualities of Christ?

Spend time as a class looking up definitions of each of the above virtues and write them on the board.  Then give the class time to work together to find examples of Christ either teaching about one of these virtues or an example of him living it.  If they can't find one, then they can try to find an example in any part of the scriptures.  They can use any book in the New Testament (leverage search engines, topical guide, guide to scriptures, etc.).  They can also use Missionary Prep student manual (this link).

Demonstrate one or two ways to go about finding an example by using search engines, topical guide, study helps, etc.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

October Week 2: Parables

Describe a family home evening or other lesson, a sacrament meeting talk, or a conference talk you remember and explain why it was memorable.

What stories do you remember from a recent general conference talk?  What did you learn from the story? Why do they think the speaker chose to use a story to teach?

Stories and parables help us understand important concepts and principals.  Since the stories are unique or familiar, we can easily remember them.

I've told you before of the time my seminary teacher brought in a casket and put it in the front of the seminary room.  He asked us to imagine Christ was in the casket and that we were attending his funeral.  He helped us appreciate the sacrament more by making it more visible and in a sense the "shock-value" of seeing a casket in our seminary class helped us all to appreciate the sacrament a bit more.

The savior often taught his disciples with parables.  To understand parables and symbols in the scriptures, the we need to be able to recognize symbols, identify parts of the symbols, and interpret them. One way to recognize a symbol is to look for words such as like, likened, like unto, as, or as it were. Make a list of the parts of the symbol. Then to interpret the symbols, think about it and even refer to others how they have interpreted the parable. Do this whenever you find a parable or symbol in your personal gospel study.

What are the parables the Savior taught?  List them out and choose one or two to dissect.

About 25 Parables of the Savior (from Harmony of the Gospels)
- The Candle
- The Tares
- The Mustard Seed
- The Leaven
- The Treasure in a Field
- The Pearl of Great Price
- The Net
- The Householder
- The Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:23-35)
- The Good Shepard (John 10:1-21)
- The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
- The Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
- The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
- The Wedding Feast (Luke 14:7-11)
- The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7)
- The Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)
- The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)
- The Pounds (Luke 19:11-27)
- The Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32)
- The Wicked Husbandmen
- The Wedding of a King's Son
- The Ten Virgins
- The Talents
- The Sheep and Goats

Saturday, August 12, 2017

August Week 2: Marriage

Pactical advice about marriage

This is one of those lessons to think about, put it in the back of your mind and return to it often.

Talk to your parents and get their opinions about marriage

- You want to get married
- You want to stay married

If you don't agree with those assumptions, then you can tune out / not listen.

Why marriages end in divorce
1. Financial problems
2. Communication issues
3. Family problems (children, in-laws, siblings)
4. Intimacy
5. Friend problems - faithfulness, committed to marriage
6. Addiction
7. Abuse
8. Personality
9. Expectations
10. Time

Hallmarks of a successful marriage
- Remember the central importance of your marriage
- Pray for its success
- Listen, empathy
- Avoid “ceaseless pinpricking.”
- Keep your courtship alive
- Be quick to say, “I’m sorry.”
- Learn to live within your means.
- Be a true partner in home and family responsibilities

Crucial conversations before you get married (while there is still time to back out)
1. Kids
  a. Do you want them?
  b. How they should be raised / disciplined
2. Money & careers
  a. Who will earn the money?
  b. What is your standard of living?
3. Religion
  a. Morals, values
  b. What if one of you changes?
4. How will you handle fights?  You will have fights :-)
5. Deal breakers and bucket lists
  a. Hobbies, habits
  b. Dreams, life goals

Review the the five suggestions from Hanging Out, Hooking Up, and Celestial Marriage

1. for all Cinderellas and Prince Charmings to throw away their glass slippers

2. don’t wait for others to carry your glass slipper about the campus looking for a match

3. to exercise faith and to have courage in dating and marriage

4. to keep physical intimacy at an appropriate level so as to enjoy the presence of the Spirit and to be worthy to seal your commitment to each other in the temple

5. to not only pray for yourself in a dating relationship but also to pray for the young man or woman in whom you are interested

Other links
Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments (also see Personal Purity)
Nurturing Marriage - the Carrs

Saturday, August 05, 2017

August Week 1: Personal Journal

- 1 Nephi 1:1-3 (Nephi starts his own journal)
- Alma 37:8-9 (journals help us remember)
- Moses 6:5, 45-46 (books of remembrances)

Why should you keep a journal?
- source of improvement
- better memory

What kinds of things can you write about in a journal?
- daily experiences
- major events
- feelings
- observations
- memorable stories
- important events
- goals
- specialized journals (scripture journal)
- picture journal
- videos
- letters from family and friends

Personal sharing
- my first journals (snowball fight w/ Christine)
- high school, BYU and mission journals, letters
(trip to San Diego, 1st day in Guatemala)
- Book of Mormon Inspection
- Instagram / Facebook
- FamilySearch (memory of Grandma Holladay)
- my Stoic journal on EverNote

Ask what they will do going forward.
How many keep journals now?
How can they improve journaling?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Week 5: Remember Christ

From last week: when you have a mint or something minty, what are you supposed to remember?

How to Always Remember Christ

Activity on trying to memorize something
- Simon
- Memory matching game

When we are baptized and take the sacrament, we promise to "always remember" Christ.  It's easier said than done.

Read Helaman 12:1-5
- in summary, we get lazy and forget

How do you go about trying to remember something?
- for a test
- a person's name
- what you need to buy at the store
- any list

Why do we forget?

What is it like dealing with a person who forgets things?

What must it be like for God when we forget him and his son?

How can we improve at always remembering Christ?

Here are 8 strategies for improving your ability to remember:
1. Become interested in what you're learning
     i. How can we become more interested in Christ? (write answers)
2. Find a way to leverage your visual memory
i. One trick for quickly memorizing new peoples' names is to associate their name with something visual.  For example, you meet someone at a party named Mike and he has large ears.  Mike -> microphone -> he cleans his ears with the microphone … weird but it works.
ii. Maybe you can find a way to remember Christ in various parts of your day.  Create a visual
3. Chunking; to memorize 467890, it's easier to remember 467 & 890, rather than six numbers.
i. How could this apply to remembering Christ?
4. Associate what you're trying to remember with something you already know
i. You can use mnemonics to remember something about Christ that will help you
5. Write out things, over and over again
i. Journaling, or sharing experiences (i.e. telling stories) will reinforce lessons
6. Summarize as you learn and as you try to remember
i. Leverage writing to simply summarize what you're trying to remember.  Have you had a powerful spiritual experience and you want to remember it to help you remember Christ?  Then summarize it and write it down.
7. Memorize in the afternoon

8. Get enough sleep

If there is enough time, divide the class into three groups and have them scan through one of the talks below for tips on remembering Christ and then have them share.

Always Remember Him by Gerrit Gong
That They do Always Remember Him by Claudio Costa
To Always Remember Him by Todd Christofferson

Friday, July 21, 2017

July Week 4: Making the Sacrament Meaningful

Opening Activity
What were you thinking about 15 minutes ago?

As discussed a couple of weeks ago, the purpose of ordinances is to see God and live - to enter His presence and remain there.  Furthermore, ordinances are symbolic and tied to duties.  When we participate in those symbolic rituals, we ought to think of what they stand for as well as what our duties are in connection to that ordinance.

The Sacrament Ordinance
Read Matthew 26:26-28

- What do you think of this re-enactment of the Last Supper?
- How does it differ from your experience in Sacrament Meeting?

The Last Supper was intimate and personal.  It seems to have been more like a quiet dinner party than a formal, solemn ordinance.

What do you think the disciples were thinking when Jesus began to wash their feet and feed them?

I think it would have been a bit awkward to have Jesus or anyone wash my feet.  But to have him break bread and share his wine with me, not so much.

A Service to Others, Who Desire to Serve Others (or Reciprocity)
Jesus served his disciples, by washing their feet and feeding them.  It was a an intimate act of service.  He would later bleed from every pore of his body, be beaten and whipped by soldiers, be forced to carry this cross he would be crucified on and he would later suffer and die.  He carried out the greatest act of service for his friends and for us.

In return, he asked that we love one another as he has loved us.

Two weeks ago, I was admitted to the hospital for an important heart procedure.  After the procedure was completed, my dear wife was there to greet me and then remained with me in the hospital while I recovered.  She helped me with a lot of things I could not do on my own.  This was just a minor example of how she did something uniquely special to me.  For this act of love, along with many other acts of love and kindness from her, I have this strong urge to return the favors and to serve her.

This desire to serve in return is backed by science.  In the world of persuasion science, this is called reciprocity.

An example (source):
Three groups of waiters were given different instructions.

The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.

The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand, and they mentioned them to the table ("Would anyone like some mints before they leave?"). Tips increased by 14% against the control group.

The last group had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiter came back with another set of mints, and let customers know that they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another.

This last test was where waiters saw a 21% increase in tips versus the control group.

At first glance, the last two groups seem very similar: two mints per-person were brought out, and the waiter mentioned them.

So, what was different?

The difference was personalization - making the service intimate or unique.

How does this apply to the Atonement and the Sacrament?  Since Jesus is not here to actually serve us, we are left to our own devices to make the Sacrament meaningful for us.  Often, to make the Sacrament personal, meditation and contemplation are required.  We cannot thoughtlessly approach the Sacrament and expect to get anything out of it.  Rather, we need to make an effort to be there in the same room as Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper; we need to visit the Garden of Gethsemane; we need to see Christ hang on the cross and bleed for us.

As we make it personal, we begin to have a desire to love Jesus and in turn, have greater love for others.

Ideas to Help Make the Sacrament More Personal
- examine thyself! (1 Corinthians 11:28)
how did you do in serving others in the prior week?
how have you improved at living a more virtuous life?
what will you do differently this next week?
consider keeping a journal to mark your progress each week

- think of Jesus' sacrifice during the Sacrament
listen to the hymn, read the words again
meditate and try to place yourself at the feet of Jesus
recite scripture (i.e. Mosiah 14)

- study the meaning of a broken heart and contrite spirit
read this blog post

Closing Activity
We started off the class with "what were you thinking about 15 minutes ago?" and we see your answers here on the board.  What will you think about next week when you partake of the Sacrament?

Saturday, July 01, 2017

July Week 1: Ordinances

What is the purpose of ordinances?

Quickly review the events in the Garden of Eden.  God created Adam and Eve, who were perfect in body and innocent in mind.  They were place in the garden, commanded to have children and commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Satan came, and tempted them to eat the fruit; they ate and were cast out of the garden and more importantly, they left God's presence.  Ever since then, humans have been trying to get back to God to live with him.

Read Moses 1:1-24
Pay particular attention to verses, 5, 10-11

D&C 84:19-22
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

The whole point of ordinances is to help us prepare to meet God and live in his presence.  Ordinances are symbolic and teach and remind us of our duties to God and others.  Each ordinance is tied to a duty - always a duty to God or a duty to others.  As we fulfill these duties, we prepare ourselves to meet and live with God again.

What are the ordinances?

Saving Ordinances
- Baptism
- Confirmation
- Melchizedek Priesthood ordination
- Temple endowment (washing/anointing, receiving tokens and signs)
- Marriage sealing

Other Ordinances
- Sacrament (memorial ordinance)
- Washing feet (for apostles; see this link)
- Naming and blessing of children
- Oil consecration
- Blessing sick


What is a symbol?

Think of song The Star Spangled Banner and how our flag should remind us of the sacrifices our fore-fathers made and when we see the stars, stripes, red, while and blue, we ought to think about them and be grateful for what we enjoy.

My ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to Jill.

Just this week, an author I enjoy reading, produced a little coin called a memento mori which is supposed to remind the person who carries it around, that they will die soon and they ought to treat each day as a gift.

Symbols represent something or an idea.  And when we see the symbol, we ought to remember whatever it is we are supposed to remember or we ought to do whatever it is we ought to do.

How we learn from ordinances

Divide class in half.  One half will focus on baptism and the other half on sacrament.

They will search and then share:
1. What does the ordinance symbolize
2. What does the ordinance teach
     - what should we remember
     - how should we act and live / fulfill our duties

They should be prepared to share a quote from the scriptures or from a talk.  They can use the chalkboard or anything else to help demonstrate the symbol and what it is we are supposed to remember or do when we see that symbol.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June Week 4: Scripture Study

When I was a kid, around maybe age 10 or 11, on a Christmas Eve, my family watched a movie called Empire of the Sun, which was about a boy (played by Christian Bale - Batman) living in China and how he was separated from his parents in a panic while they were trying to flee the country ahead of the Imperial Japanese army.  This boy grew up in a prisoner camp without parents.  One of his fascinations was airplanes and in particular, the "Cadillac of the Sky" P-51 Mustang.  Toward the end of the movie, he is ecstatic about seeing a group of P-51's bomb the Japanese airfield next to the prisoner camp.  I still keep goosebumps watching that scene.  Ever since then, I've loved WWII airplanes.

Then a few years ago, the church produced a really neat video about a WWII P-51 pilot who was LDS and from Blackfoot, Idaho.  In that video he talked about how pilots will experience vertigo and how they have to rely on either a better pilot or their instrumentation to gauge where the sky and ground are; otherwise they would end up crashing in clouds or fog.  Life and scripture study are similar.  We need to have a proper sense of direction or we will find ourselves being misguided.

Scripture study is like our compass and flying gauges in life.  They tell us what to do and how to steer.  Therefore, it's important to equip yourself with the best process and tools in this important endeavor.

2 Nephi 2:32 - "feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do."

How do you rate your scripture reading / study today?

What can you do to improve your scripture study?

Why do you want to improve your scripture study?

What are you trying to get out of the scriptures?

Ideas and Tips for Improving Scripture Study

Learn to read mindfully - so many times, we treat reading like a check box; read 30 minutes, done.  Try to find a time to be awake when you read.  Approach reading with real intent.

Be diligent - set aside time to regularly study; make a habit out of it.  Turn it into a project.  And when one project is done, start a new one.

Find a quiet place where you won't be distracted.

Rephrase what you read - pretend you had to explain what you are reading, to another person or if you were asked to explain a passage to a class.  Would you be able to?  Could you "explain it to me like I was five?"

Use a dictionary / define words - if you don't know a word, don't assume a definition; look it up.

Use scripture study tools:
- Topical Guide
- Bible Dictionary
- Maps
- Scripture commentary
- For the Bible, use an NIV version

Ask yourself questions before studying - when you have a desire to search, you are more likely to learn

Make it personal - answers to your questions will make scripture study personal.  Also, substituting your name in the place of people in the scriptures helps make it more real.

Reality check - read with critical reasoning.  Lots of stuff from the OT and BoM and D&C should be viewed with a reality check (Nephi and Laban, section 132, etc).  Use the bulletin board or news headline test (if God told me to cut off some dude's head and I did, would that be OK?)  Therefore, use and apply the good, discard the crazy.

Use a journal / take note - very useful, especially when you are preparing a talk or trying to answer a question.  Journals and notes help you remember more easily and if you organize it well, they are very useful when you are in a hurry or need to prepare a talk or lesson.  Journals and notes help you "cover ground once" rather than trying to re-learn and re-hash the same content over and over again.

Look for lists.  Look for patterns.  Look for commands and the blessings from obeying those commands.

Use the audio version of the scriptures.

Read what others have studied; share what you have studied (blogs, social media, books, etc).  Use on-line resources.


Give students time to look at their scripture study habits and form a plan to improve.

Show students ways I've studied.

Walk students through an example of how they could study (pick a topic, or question and go down the rabbit hole)

Friday, May 26, 2017

May Week 4: Memorial Day

What is Memorial Day?

Why do we celebrate it?

Some of my favorite stories to remind us why we should pause and think on Memorial Day.

Apology to the Dead

Memorial Day 1945 was a somber time for most Americans, and 70 years later it still carries with it a special poignancy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been dead just over a month, and while the war in Europe had concluded, it was too early to begin celebrating victory over the Axis powers. The fighting in the Pacific, where the battle for Okinawa had begun in April and would last through most of June, was still taking a heavy toll.

President Harry Truman, who was working on a speech for the final session of the United Nations conference in San Francisco, marked the day by sending a wreath to Hyde Park for the grave of President Roosevelt and another to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

At Normandy, following a brief military ceremony, work continued on the cemetery above the beaches where Allied troops had landed on D-Day. The paths between the blocks of graves were still uncompleted, and much of the labor on the new cemetery was now being done by German prisoners of war.

Lucian Truscott Jr.
At the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, Memorial Day was also an elegiac occasion. Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott Jr., who had led the U. S. Sixth Corps through some of the heaviest fighting in Italy and now commanded the Fifth Army, gave a speech that is particularly relevant for today when the trauma of our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to haunt so many vets.

No recording or transcript of Truscott's Memorial Day speech exists, even among his papers at the George C. Marshall Research Library in Virginia.

In Stars and Stripes, the military's newspaper, we have only excerpts of Truscott's remarks. "All over the world our soldiers sleep beneath the crosses," Stars and Stripes reported Truscott observing. "It is a challenge to us -- all allied nations-- to ensure that they do not and have not died in vain."
Missing from the Stars and Stripes story is what Truscott did in delivering his speech. For that account we are indebted to Bill Mauldin, best known for his World War II cartoons featuring the unshaven infantrymen, Willie and Joe. Mauldin was in the audience when Truscott spoke at Nettuno, and he never forgot the day.

"There were about twenty thousand American graves. Families hadn't started digging up the bodies and bringing them home," Mauldin recalled years later in his 1971 memoir, "The Brass Ring."
"Before the stand were spectator benches, with a number of camp chairs down front for VIPs, including several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"When Truscott spoke he turned away from the visitors and addressed himself to the corpses he had commanded here. It was the most moving gesture I ever saw. It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics," Mauldin wrote.

"The general's remarks were brief and extemporaneous. He apologized to the dead men for their presence here. He said everybody tells leaders it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart this is not altogether true.

"He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances. . . . he would not speak about the glorious dead because he didn't see much glory in getting killed if you were in your late teens or early twenties. He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought that was the least he could do."
Truscott's words echoed the reaction to the bitter fighting in Italy of others who had experienced it close up. "I had been feeling pretty much like a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery," Ernie Pyle, America's most widely read World War II correspondent, wrote after landing with American troops at Anzio.

But making Truscott different from Pyle and Mauldin, as well as everyone in attendance at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, was his belief that as a commander he bore a special responsibility for the dead lying before him in their fresh graves. He was unsure if apologizing to them was enough, but he could, he knew, guarantee that he would not romanticize their passing.

Memorial Day: A Time for Heroes

I leaned against an oak at the side of the road, wishing I were invisible, keeping my distance from my parents on their lawn chairs and my younger siblings scampering about.

I hoped none of my friends saw me there. God forbid they caught me waving one of the small American flags Mom bought at Ben Franklin for a dime. At 16, I was too old and definitely too cool for our small town's Memorial Day parade.

I ought to be at the lake, I brooded. But, no, the all-day festivities were mandatory in my family.
A high school band marched by, the girl in sequins missing her baton as it tumbled from the sky. Firemen blasted sirens in their polished red trucks. The uniforms on the troop of World War II veterans looked too snug on more than one member.

"Here comes Mema," my father shouted.

Five black convertibles lumbered down the boulevard. The mayor was in the first, handing out programs. I didn't need to look at one. I knew my uncle Bud's name was printed on it, as it had been every year since he was killed in Italy. Our family's war hero.

And I knew that perched on the backseat of one of the cars, waving and smiling, was Mema, my grandmother. She had a corsage on her lapel and a sign in gold embossed letters on the car door: "Gold Star Mother."

I hid behind the tree so I wouldn't have to meet her gaze. It wasn't because I didn't love her or appreciate her. She'd taught me how to sew, to call a strike in baseball. She made great cinnamon rolls, which we always ate after the parade.

What embarrassed me was all the attention she got for a son who had died 20 years earlier. With four other children and a dozen grandchildren, why linger over this one long-ago loss?

I peeked out from behind the oak just in time to see Mema wave and blow my family a kiss as the motorcade moved on. The purple ribbon on her hat fluttered in the breeze.

The rest of our Memorial Day ritual was equally scripted. No use trying to get out of it. I followed my family back to Mema's house, where there was the usual baseball game in the backyard and the same old reminiscing about Uncle Bud in the kitchen.

Helping myself to a cinnamon roll, I retreated to the living room and plopped down on an armchair.
There I found myself staring at the Army photo of Bud on the bookcase. The uncle I'd never known. I must have looked at him a thousand times—so proud in his crested cap and knotted tie. His uniform was decorated with military emblems that I could never decode.

Funny, he was starting to look younger to me as I got older. Who were you, Uncle Bud? I nearly asked aloud.

I picked up the photo and turned it over. Yellowing tape held a prayer card that read: "Lloyd 'Bud' Heitzman, 1925-1944. A Great Hero." Nineteen years old when he died, not much older than I was. But a great hero? How could you be a hero at 19?

The floorboards creaked behind me. I turned to see Mema coming in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

I almost hid the photo because I didn't want to listen to the same stories I'd heard year after year: "Your uncle Bud had this little rat-terrier named Jiggs. Good old Jiggs. How he loved that mutt! He wouldn't go anywhere without Jiggs. He used to put him in the rumble seat of his Chevy coupe and drive all over town.

"Remember how hard Bud worked after we lost the farm? At haying season he worked all day, sunrise to sunset, baling for other farmers. Then he brought me all his wages. He'd say, 'Mama, someday I'm going to buy you a brand-new farm. I promise.' There wasn't a better boy in the world!"
Sometimes I wondered about that boy dying alone in a muddy ditch in a foreign country he'd only read about. I thought of the scared kid who jumped out of a foxhole in front of an advancing enemy, only to be downed by a sniper. I couldn't reconcile the image of the boy and his dog with that of the stalwart soldier.

Mema stood beside me for a while, looking at the photo. From outside came the sharp snap of an American flag flapping in the breeze and the voices of my cousins cheering my brother at bat.
"Mema," I asked, "what's a hero?" Without a word she turned and walked down the hall to the back bedroom. I followed.

She opened a bureau drawer and took out a small metal box, then sank down onto the bed.
"These are Bud's things," she said. "They sent them to us after he died." She opened the lid and handed me a telegram dated October 13, 1944. "The Secretary of State regrets to inform you that your son, Lloyd Heitzman, was killed in Italy."

Your son! I imagined Mema reading that sentence for the first time. I didn't know what I would have done if I'd gotten a telegram like that.

"Here's Bud's wallet," she continued. Even after all those years, it was caked with dried mud. Inside was Bud's driver's license with the date of his sixteenth birthday. I compared it with the driver's license I had just received.

A photo of Bud holding a little spotted dog fell out of the wallet. Jiggs. Bud looked so pleased with his mutt.

There were other photos in the wallet: a laughing Bud standing arm in arm with two buddies, photos of my mom and aunt and uncle, another of Mema waving. This was the home Uncle Bud took with him, I thought.

I could see him in a foxhole, taking out these snapshots to remind himself of how much he was loved and missed.

"Who's this?" I asked, pointing to a shot of a pretty dark-haired girl.

"Marie. Bud dated her in high school. He wanted to marry her when he came home." A girlfriend? Marriage? How heartbreaking to have a life, plans and hopes for the future, so brutally snuffed out.
Sitting on the bed, Mema and I sifted through the treasures in the box: a gold watch that had never been wound again. A sympathy letter from President Roosevelt, and one from Bud's commander. A medal shaped like a heart, trimmed with a purple ribbon. And at the very bottom, the deed to Mema's house.

"Why's this here?" I asked.

"Because Bud bought this house for me." She explained how after his death, the U.S. government gave her 10 thousand dollars, and with it she built the house she was still living in.

"He kept his promise all right," Mema said in a quiet voice I'd never heard before.

For a long while the two of us sat there on the bed. Then we put the wallet, the medal, the letters, the watch, the photos and the deed back into the metal box. I finally understood why it was so important for Mema—and me—to remember Uncle Bud on this day.

If he'd lived longer he might have built that house for Mema or married his high-school girlfriend. There might have been children and grandchildren to remember him by.

As it was, there was only that box, the name in the program and the reminiscing around the kitchen table.

"I guess he was a hero because he gave everything for what he believed," I said carefully.

"Yes, child," Mema replied, wiping a tear with the back of her hand. "Don't ever forget that."
I haven't. Even today with Mema gone, my husband and I take our lawn chairs to the tree-shaded boulevard on Memorial Day and give our three daughters small American flags that I buy for a quarter at Ben Franklin.

I want them to remember that life isn't just about getting what you want. Sometimes it involves giving up the things you love for what you love even more. That many men and women did the same for their country—that's what I think when I see the parade pass by now.

And if I close my eyes and imagine, I can still see Mema in her regal purple hat, honoring her son, a true American hero.

The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Lincoln at Gettysburg the day he gave the speech
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 battlefield 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.

Six videos to watch Memorial Day weekend (30 minute run-time)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Gaining a Testimony

When I teach this lesson to my class, I write the world's population number at the top of the board.  I have them find the number of members in each of the major world religions.  Next, we break down the Christian religions and then we break down the Mormon religions by the numbers (list off a few off-shoots both from the 1800's as well as the 1900's).

The moneyball stat is that Mormonism represents about 0.2% of the world's current population and about 0.7% of the world's Christian population.

Next, I write on the board the word TESTIMONY.

I let the numbers sink in a bit to let them see the odds of finding the one true religion on earth as well as what it means in terms of converting the world to Mormonism.

99.98% of the world doesn't not believe in Mormonism!  Truly astronomical odds!

As of today, May 7, 2017, the number are roughly as follows:
2.2B Christianity
1.6B Islam
1.1B Agnostic, Atheist, Secular
1.0B Hindu
1.0B Chinese Folk
0.5B Buddhism

1.2B Catholic
0.8B Protestant
0.3B Eastern Orthodox
0.05B Restorationism (0.016B Mormonism)

Next we read three passages of scripture.

Matthew 4 - Christ fasts in the wilderness for 40 days and nights and is tempted of the devil.

Matthew 14:22-33 - Peter testifies of Jesus, sees Christ walk on water, Peter himself walks on water, doubts and Jesus saves him (O ye of little faith) and Peter reaffirms his testimony of Christ.

Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75 - Peter says he'll never deny Christ, Jesus says Peter will deny him three times before the morning.  Peter denies him three times and weeps bitterly.

Despite seeing and knowing and feeling the savior, Peter struggled mightily to gain a testimony of the Gospel.  And with all that in mind, after the savior was resurrected, Peter went back to fishing.  And along comes Jesus and the well known interchange of Jesus asking Peter if he (Peter) loves fish more than Jesus.  To which Peter responds he loves the Lord, then Christ says 'feed my sheep' ... this repeats three times.  Finally, Peter turns away from fishing and bares his testimony by showing it.

This is a good video that helps drive home the moment Peter finally grasps what Jesus has been trying to teach him all along: Elder Holland: Peter, Do You Love Me? The First and Great Commandment

And one other point - if Peter struggled so much to gain a testimony, how much harder is it for us?  Nevertheless, the challenge is worth it.

In summary, we gain a testimony in serving and loving others.  A testimony is not found at the pulpit on Sunday, rather it is found in serving, lifting the hands that hang low, weeping with those who weep, going the extra mile, and turning the other cheek.  I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but judgement day really is all about the Two Great Commandments and nothing else truly matters.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Counting Costs, Heart-settling and Plowing

The Good Samaritan
Good morning!  Here it is - today is Sunday April 30, 2017.  We are on the cusp of summer; the school year is beginning to wrap up and soon we will all be going different ways - some off to college, some off to missions, others about to get married, some off to visit grandchildren new and old.

During this time of the year when so much changes so quickly, I'm reminded of one of my favorite stories - that of the shared experience between Jean Valjean and Bishop Bienvenu in the masterpiece Les Miserables.  You may already be familiar with this story.  Jean Valjean was a convict of 19 years for stealing bread.  After many years of hard labor, he was released and he could find no place to live, no food to eat - no welcoming arms, except for one.  That one was Bishop Bienvenu.  Bienvenu means "welcome" ... Bishop Welcome, welcomed Jean Valjean to his home!

After giving Jean Valjean food and a place to rest, the bishop was repaid with theft.  The gendarms caught Jean Valjean, returned him to the good bishop.  The bishop turned the other cheek.  Instead of turning on him, the bishop gave him more silver - two silver candle sticks to be exact.  From the book, it reads;

"Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. 

"The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:-- 

'Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.'

"Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:-- 

'Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.'

Bishop Bienvenu was a true, committed disciple of Christ.

Shifting gears now, I want to spend some time in the New Testament; in particular Luke, chapter 14.  It is full of profound lessons.

To start off, Christ admonishes his disciples that when they make a feast, it's best to invite people who cannot possibly repay the kindness.  To which one of his disciples says in verse 15, "blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God" which I interpret that to be a bit of a joke or quip - similar to saying that a person is blessed when they get a free meal and don't have to repay!  Only in this case, the free gift is living in the kingdom God.

This causes Jesus to teach a few more parables.  In the first one, a man made a great supper, symbolizing God's gift of eternal life.  This man had invited many people to eat with him.  When the feast was ready, the man's servant tells the invitees the food is ready, but invariably, they decline the invitation - offering an excuse as to why they cannot join the meal - tending to a piece of recently purchased land, tending to livestock or even caring for a spouse.  All these excuses enraged the master and in his anger, he tells his servant to find those who would accept his meal - the poor, the maimed, the blind and then people on the street.  He vows that none of the original invitees will taste his meal.

Next, Jesus tells two more parables about counting the cost of discipleship.  He makes it absolutely clear the cost of discipleship is EVERYTHING.  He says that even a man will count the cost of building a tower or home and even a king would weigh the cost of going to war.  If a man and a king weigh the costs on such tiny matters, ((when compared to eternal salvation) should not the disciples who claim to follow Jesus also consider the steep cost of following Christ?

We too, need to count the cost of discipleship.  Are we truly willing to commit to Christ?  Are we willing to give our all - similar to Bishop Bienvenu?

And let's suppose someone weighs the cost of discipleship and views the challenge as acceptable - that the price to be paid (which is EVERYTHING) is worth entering the kingdom of God - this person then needs to settle this matter in their heart (see Luke 21:14).  This settling of the heart, is synonymous with commitment to God and his kingdom.

This settling is not easy and sometimes can take years.  I've observed that many people - normal people, Christians, followers, leaders - will settle or focus on the wrong thing.  My Sunday School class will recognize this next quote from Joseph Smith regarding on what we ought to settle our hearts.  He said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."  I then draw a stick figure on the chalkboard - a body, a head, two arms, two hands, two legs and two feet.  I ask them to show me the appendages.  They point to the hands, feet, arms and legs.  I then ask about the head and heart, if these are appendages - the answer is no, those are VITAL to the survival of the person.  And so to apply this concept to settling the gospel in our hearts, we ought to focus on the Gospel of Christ - namely the two great commandments.  And we ought to not focus on appendages such as controversial church history, claims to authority or church programs - all of which are subject to change.  What is vital and never subject to change, is our love of God and neighbor - if we don't fulfill our duties to God and neighbor, nothing else matters.

My favorite scripture from the Book of Mormon is Helaman 5:12.  It says, "it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

To repeat, the foundation and rock upon what we ought to build our testimony and commitment is Jesus Christ and his core doctrine of loving God and loving neighbor.

Once you have settled in your heart; that you will love God and neighbor, you must do as Luke 9:57-62 instructs.  Some of the disciples of Christ say they would follow him wherever he goes.  To which Jesus responds, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head."  Other disciples are willing to follow Jesus, but request of Jesus to let them go and bury their father or to say goodbye to their family.  Jesus laments that "no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looks back, is fit for the kingdom."  These disciples who "look back" are unfit for the kingdom of God - they are not focused on the task at hand - which is to plow the hardened soil of the souls of men, in an effort to prepare them to accept and live the word of God.  Jesus re-affirms his steep price of discipleship that once a man has settled in his heart to follow Jesus, and then put his hand on the plow, that they are not to look back.  Notice in this case, the disciples' hands are probably still on the plow and they are moving along with the oxen, but looking back often.  This indicates a lack of real commitment - their heart has not been fully given over to Jesus, and so he declares they are unfit for the kingdom of God!

Imagine if Bishop Bienvenu waffled or doubted the two great commandments, what state or condition Jean Valjean might have ended up in.

Instead, we are to count the costs of discipleship, settle the matter in our hearts and then put our hand to the plow and till the earth and not look back.  Be decided and committed in your love of God and service to our neighbors.

With our hand firmly on the plow, and only looking forward, how are we to live a committed life, by loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves?

I have found a very useful thought exercise that has helped me to stay focused on loving God and neighbor.  This exercise begins with gratitude.  It is a prayer of thankfulness to God for creating me and allowing me to live in this wonderful world.  This is the first circle of compassion.

Having a heart full of gratitude and feeling assured of God's love of me, I circumscribe a second circle of compassion to those closest to me - my wife Jill and my children Emma, Ben, Erick and Camille.  These are my nearest and dearest and most important neighbors to me.  Much of my effort and time should be devoted to teaching and loving and serving them.

The next circle extends to my parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents and all my relatives.  These have helped form me into who I am today.  I am grateful for them and do what I can to serve and help them.

The next circle extends out to my co-workers and next-door neighbors.  These are people who I see most often besides my immediate family.  These are the neighbors God has put in my path to love and serve.

The next circle extends out to other friends, neighbors and acquaintances who I see less often.  I do my best to think of their needs and how best to serve them.  Often these interactions are brief and usually involve talking, listening and offering words of encouragement or offering some way to serve.

The next circle extends to people who I do not know, but encounter in my daily course of events - the person who scans my groceries, the boy who bags my groceries, the people I see on the greenbelts when I go on walks.  I try to acknowledge them, say 'hello' to them and try to act socially and kindly to them, and if possible, help them if they are in need.

The next circle extends to people I may never see or encounter, but nonetheless, I see them as children of God.  I accept that there is divinity within them and I strive to have compassion and love for them regardless of their ideology, political leanings or life choices.  Each human being deserves respect and love.

There is no better sermon than the primary song, "Jesus said love everyone."  The simple, one-verse song says all that we need to know.

Jesus said love everyone
Treat them kindly too
When your heart is filled with love
Others will love you

Let's revisit the fruits of Bishop Bienvenu's love toward Jean Valjean.  Jean Valjean turns his life around, becomes mayor, cares for Fantine, rescues Cosette, saves the life of an innocent man who is accused of being the escaped convict Jean Valjean, saves the life of a sailor, saves another man's life while he is mayor, and lastly saves the life of Marius, who would become the husband of Cosette.  Jean Valjean, having put his hand to the plow, did not look back.

To conclude, I want to share what I call the perfect trifecta of scriptures.  Brother Rick Carruth shared these three scriptures a few years ago in a talk he gave and I think these scriptures perfectly sum up what commitment to Christ means.

First: Jesus taught, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love they 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 5:43-44)

Second: concerning the two greatest commandments, he taught, "Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself."  (Matthew 22:37-39)

Third and lastly he taught, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13)

To summarize, we are to love our enemies like we love our neighbors.  We are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We are to love ourselves and our neighbors as Jesus loved his disciples and us.

It is my prayer, that we all commit our hearts to God and neighbor.  That we have greater compassion and love towards all of God's children.  That we give each other the benefit of the doubt.  That we try to show mercy and understanding, that we mourn with those that mourn, that we turn the other cheek, that we walk the extra mile.  This is my sincerest prayer and I offer it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March Week 4 - Fasting

Isaiah 58 is one of the best passages on Fasting
Isaiah 58 (NIV Isaiah 58)
my commentary on Isaiah 58

What fasting does for us
Fasting is about breaking bondage.  Bondage from sin, bondage from oppression and injustice, bondage from hunger, bondage from homelessness, bondage from nakedness (see verses 6-7).

How does this apply to you?  Fasting can help with:
- trials
- school
- sports
- addictions
- self-discipline
- health

All of these are examples of a type of bondage we may suffer.

Besides the benefits of breaking bondages, we also receive blessings and benefits from fasting.  Light (knowledge) will enter your life, you will be physically healed, you will have greater righteousness (justice with others and wisdom for yourself), greater power and concern from God (better responses and response times from God) (see verses 8-9).

What blessing will you receive from fasting?
- greater knowledge (smarter)
- health and healing
- greater love for others
- wisdom
- power from God

What others have said of fasting
“When a person starts a fast, biochemical adjustments begin in the bloodstream to compensate for the lack of food. A carbohydrate substance known as glycogen is released from storage areas in the liver and the muscles. The body uses glycogen as food to keep cells supplied with energy. After 24 hours this food source is used up, and another source of energy is needed.

“Dr. Siegfried Heyden of Duke University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine says when this happens, the body starts looking for other energy sources. ‘The first thing happening after a 24-hour fast is the breakdown of fat cells. And these fat cells, when they break down, produce ketone bodies, as they are called. And these ketone bodies seem to have an effect on our psyche in that they make us no longer hungry.’” (source)

The human body spends a lot of energy digesting food.  When it does not have to spend time digesting food, it can dedicate energy to body repairs.  The body will search for dead cells, damaged tissues and other areas including fatty deposits and tumors and basically eat these 'bad' cells.

The mind becomes more self-aware and elevated.  For those who suffer depression or anxiety, fasting may help.  Time that would have been spent on preparing food, can now be spent in meditation or rest.  The Greek philosopher Plato said he fasted for greater physical and mental efficiency.

Mental power and focus increase during fasting.  Think of what happens to you after a large meal or Thanksgiving dinner.  You literally become dumb and sleepy, because your body is using all that energy to digesting all that extra food.  The opposite is true; your mind becomes more focused and sharper because all your energy is available since the body does not have to digest food.

Summary of benefits of fasting (source)

  • improved mental clarity; no more brain fog  
  • rapid, safe weight loss
  • balanced nervous system
  • increased energy
  • need less sleep
  • revitalized organs
  • improved skin
  • improved movement, agility
  • fuller, freer and deeper breathing
  • rejuvenated digestive system
  • restored acute sensitivity (taste) to food
  • increased confidence in our ability to have self-control
  • restored normal metabolic and cell oxygenation
  • detoxification of  things that cause disease (fat cells, plaques, mucus, tumors, stored up worries and emotions)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March Week 3 - Special Witnesses

What is an Apostle?
from the Bible Dictionary - "one sent forth"

D&C 27:12 - "especial witnesses of my name"
D&C 107:23 - "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world"

President Hinckley said, "They must do all that they can to give comfort to those who mourn, to give strength to those who are weak, to give encouragement to those who falter, to befriend the friendless, to nurture the destitute, to bless the sick, to bear witness, not out of belief but out of a certain knowledge of the Son of God, their Friend and Master, whose servants they are" (Special Witnesses for Christ, April 1984)

Examples of Modern Day Apostles' Testimonies of Christ
give students 5-7 minutes to find examples of modern-day apostles' testimony of Christ.

Joseph Smith D&C 76:22-24
Bruce R. McConkie April 1984
David B. Haight October 1989
The Living Christ

Other Information about being Witnesses of Christ
In June 2015, Elder Oaks and church historian Richard Turley held a fireside for members in a Boise, Idaho area stake.  The topic of receiving a personal visit from Jesus Christ came up in the fireside.

"[Turley] Another claim we sometimes hear is that current apostles have no right to run the affairs of the church, since they do not meet the New Testament standard of apostles because they do not testify of having seen Christ."

"[Oaks] The first answer to this claim is that modern apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world (D&C 107:23). This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission, such as the atonement, and the authority or priesthood of the lord Jesus Christ, which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do.

"Of course apostles are also witness of Christ, just like all members of the church, who have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is because the mission of the Holy Ghost is to witness of the Father and the Son.

"In addition, while some early apostles and other members of the church have had the sublime spiritual experience of seeing the Savior, and some have made a public record of this, in the circumstances of today we are counseled not to speak of our most sacred spiritual experiences. Otherwise, with modern technology that can broadcast something all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and private setting can be sent abroad in violation of our Savior's commandment not to cast our pearls before swine."

Saturday, March 04, 2017

March Week 1 - The Atonement of Christ

we are trying to get back ...

3rd AoF: We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel

Why do we need the Atonement?

  • Genesis 3 (God made Adam and Eve - innocent; ate the fruit and separated themselves from God; this created the rupture between humanity and God; the at-one-ment seeks to bring humanity and God together again)
  • Exodus 33:12-23 (We cannot see the face of God and live)
  • D&C 84:20-22 (Ordinances prepare us to see the face of God and live)
  • D&C 19:16-17 (if it weren't for the atonement, we would suffer as Christ did, for our sins)
  • 1 Nephi 10:20-21 (no unclean thing can dwell with God)
  • 3 Nephi 27:19 (no unclean thing can enter his kingdom)

How can sin be overcome?

  • Mosiah 3:7-11 (Christ atones (covers) our sins)
  • Genesis 3:21 ('innocent' animals sacrificed, for coats of skin; covered nakedness)
  • Leviticus 1:4-5 ('innocent' animal sacrifice to atone / cover our sins)
  • Isaiah 53 / Mosiah 14 (Christ is the perfect, innocent human sacrifice; 'with his stripes, we are healed')
  • Alma 34:15 (Mercy overpowers Justice)

What is the Law of Justice? (the Gap; the Divide)

What is the Law of Mercy? (the Bridge; the Connector)

What other scripture references can you find on the Atonement, that are not up here?

Other scriptures that teach of the Atonement
There are other scriptures that are symbolic of the Atonement
Abraham and Isaac - a similitude of God's sacrifice for us
Bible Dictionary
  • Atonement
  • Blood
  • Calvary
  • Crucifixion
  • Gethsemane
  • Golgotha
  • Redemption
  • Scapegoat

Next week we will discuss parables of the Atonement
Share story of the purchase of our first car; had the old Taurus, just started working, needed a reliable car to get to work. Bought the Galant, had a high interest rate (weeping when I got home); after a year of paying car payment, Jeff heard of interest rate, stepped in, paid it off and I paid him, saving lots of money.

After finding, discussing scriptures, read part of President Faust's talk: Focus on the story of the back-woods school / teacher

Assignment for next week "How can I use comparisons to teach others about the Atonement?"

Find 'parables' about the Atonement; from GC talks, from this lesson, books, etc