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, 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.