A testimony is born

It started when my six-year-old’s friend got up and bore his testimony.

In the Mormon faith, the first Sunday of each month is “Fast Sunday.” Those who are able to fast on that day (skipping breakfast and lunch). During our church services, there is a time when anyone can go up to the pulpit to “bear their testimony.” We call a testimony to be that knowledge about Jesus Christ and His Gospel and Church that has been gained through the witness of the Holy Spirit. Bearing a testimony during church services is generally a short statement of belief and/or understanding on one or more aspects of the Gospel.

After my son’s friend got down (followed by his sister and father), my son Sam turned to me,

“Dad, some day I want to get up and bear my testimony.”

Yes!! “Why not today?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

I hear ya there, kid… “A testimony is what you know. What the Spirit has told you in your heart is true about Jesus.”

Sam decided to do it. He and I went up to the stand to wait our turn. He asked me again what he should say, and I repeated what I said earlier. When it was his turn, he asked me to go up with him, but he bore a simple testimony on his own without prompting. He said that he knew the church was true, and that church can be fun and exciting. He also stated that he knew miracles do happen and can happen to anyone.

I also bore my testimony (interrupted by my youngest toddling up to me and then trying to get to the microphone), and we went back down to our seats.

This is one of those moments that a Mormon parent dreams of. The moment when we see our children begin to take those steps of faith that we ourselves have taken. Today, I saw the seed of testimony being planted.

 

Sabbath Observance and Family Councils

The LDS Church has put a big emphasis recently on keeping the Sabbath holy. Last week in our combined third-hour class, our bishopric shared many thoughts and counsel on the importance of the Sabbath, attending church, and in particular partaking of the sacrament. They finished the lesson by asking us to each choose one thing that we could do to make the Sabbath holy in our lives.

That evening my wife and I discussed it, and decided that we wanted to do something to help encourage reverence during Sacrament meeting (the first hour in LDS worship services). We decided to have our kids help us decide specifically what we could do, so that it would be a family decision (and would hopefully help our young kids be more inclined to follow along). so the next day we gathered the kids together and talked to them about what we could do to be more reverent at church.

while I had a number of ideas, it was actually our 8 year-old daughter who came up with the idea that we settled on. She suggested that we all take our journals and take notes during the sacrament meeting. And that seemed to me to be the right solution. So today I took the girls (Mom stayed home with the baby and a sick boy), and after the ordinance was over, I handed out their journals and got my own out.

For myself, I got a lot more out of sacrament than I usually do. Not just from what was said, but from thoughts and impressions that came to me during the talks. But what was really powerful to me was seeing my 8 year-old paying close attention to the speakers and writing out a couple pages of notes. Here is a sampling:

– God knows and cares
– God will help us
– God gave us apostles
– And the apostles are like spies

(That last one was referencing a comment about how the apostles can act similarly to an army’s spies, who watch the movements of the enemy and are able to advise the army on how to counter the enemy’s actions).

Now, I don’t know how well this is going to go once we have the baby back in the mix–we may have to make adjustments and/or try something else. However, I have been learning about the need to counsel together as a family, and I felt that here was one instance where we had done just that, and God blessed our efforts.

What Child Is This?

Listening to one of my favorite renditions of “What Child Is This?” got me thinking a little bit. I really like it because it is not a big grand massive thing. It’s small, quiet, peaceful, and personal; and the haunting melody gives it a wondrous quality. I realized that it shared those qualities with my favorite painting of the Nativity–the one done by Walter Rane. In it Mary and Jesus are lying in the hay, in shadow (very different from the traditional Nativity image). Mary looks exhausted but peaceful. To me it looks like we are intruding on a very private, very personal moment.

I realized that Walter Rane was actually depicting a very common scene–the birth of a child. He’s seen that look, as have many others, including myself. I have stared in wonder at the face of a child just born… my child. And then at my wife, who has suffered so much that this helpless, defenseless soul could live, breathe, experience joy and sorrow, learn and grow and walk, and laugh, and stub his toe, and taste pancakes, and push toys around, and then… to have his own family. To stare in wonder at his own wife and child.

I think this experience helps me to understand the incredible joy of that great day when the Messiah was born.

Our Savior was born to save us all, and he knows us and loves us just as much (more!) than that special love that we have for our own children. He suffered more than we can comprehend so that we could repent and return to our heavenly home. So we can live, and die, and then live again. So that though we may be separated for a season, joy cometh in the morning; for families can be sealed together for eternity.

I thank my father in Heaven for His miraculous plan. For giving us His child so that I can repent and learn to live gospel so that I can find peace in this life. And for giving me my own family, so that I can have joy and happiness in this life and the next.

Shoulder Your Pack, and Pick Up the Pace

There is a lot of hatred and evil in this world. I’ve been feeling weighed down lately with some of the news, and I do very poorly when I try to express it. How to best express thoughts, feelings, and emotions into words? What words describe the shock and horror of seeing a picture of the drowned Syrian Toddler, Aylan Kurdi? How can I frame a paragraph to convey what I feel about our own Holocaust-like abortions? What words will repel those seeking to limit and diminish our rights to live and express our religion, a right that the nation was founded on? What can I say that adequately expresses the dangers of pornography, and shows the link between it and sex-trafficking?

So. much. evil.

Just plain evil.

And on top of that, there is confusion, mis-direction, false accusation, exaggeration, useless rhetoric, and lots and lots and lots and lots of people shouting at and demonizing others. It really doesn’t help, particularly in a time where so many people need help. They need real help.

I want to help. I want to do something. To make a difference, even if it’s only a small one. I was touched by one mother’s small action to help against abortion. Something like that. And I want to encourage others to do the same.

The trouble is that it is something on top of all the regular stuff that I (and everyone else) absolutely have to get done: job, family, scripture study, family home evening, church duties, scout duties, family history, diapers, bottles, homework, reading, disciplining, cleaning, teaching, and so many other things that I’m forgetting. By the time I have a spare minute to think of what to do, I am worn out, and ready to just watch some mindless show with my wife and go to bed.

But there are those who don’t have a bed. Those who will never even feel a bed. They still need our help.

“Could ye not watch with me one hour?”

I am resolving to do a little more. To be a little more active. To think of things I can do besides “liking” and “sharing”.

There are so many good causes out there. There are people who are actively fighting these evils. We can and should help them and work together. Find some cause that speaks to you and lend them some of your effort, as small as it may be. Lift where you stand.

Our burdens may already be heavy, but I think the time has come to shoulder our packs and to pick up the pace. Certainly it is not expedient to run faster than you have strength, but we do still need to be diligent. Pray and see what your Father in Heaven would have you do. Understand that serving others will put into perspective and diminish your own burdens.

God is hastening His work, what am I going to do to keep up? Will I be able to forget myself and go to work?

There are chances for work all around just  now
Opportunities right in our way
Do not let them pass by
Saying sometime I’ll try
But go and do something today

Then wake up and do something more
than dream of your mansion above

There Is No End

The hymn “If You Could Hie To Kolob” is famous for having a great tune, lyrics that can confuse those visiting us on Sundays, and lots and lots and lots of lines that begin with “There is no end to …” (fill in the blank).

I’ve always really enjoyed this hymn a lot, but as a youth I thought those “no end to” lines were kind of… un-inspired, like the author just got bored of writing the poem, but still had to come up with two and a half more verses. I mean seriously, the fifth verse not only consists of “no end to” lines, but it repeats the same four lines twice!

Then a friend of mine died, and we sang this hymn at his funeral. As we sang those two and a half verses, I received a powerful witness of the reality of those lines. While we live in mortality right now, our spirits are eternal and continue past the grave. And because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are all partakers in the resurrection–we will all live again. We will see each other and be with them again. Families can be reunited. Covenants can bind us together for eternity.

There is no end.

Our love and friendships will continue. Our faith will continue. Our covenants with God will continue. Our families will continue. As important as it is, this mortal life that we now live is a tiny step in our eternal progression.

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

What is your focus?

We recently went to the Payson Temple open house. It was stunningly beautiful. In the last 20 years or so, the Church has had a lot of experience building these, and they are getting really good. There was a special spirit present, and for the most part the whole family had a wonderful experience…

The other part consisted of my son, who had a difficult time dealing with the plastic footsies that they slip on over your shoes. They are awkward, they make a funny sound, and they cover up your cool star wars shoes. Eventually he got over it and enjoyed the rest of the open house (mostly).

I feel like there’s some gospel application in there somewhere…

 

The Gospel is like…

A Symphony.

We attended a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. We had the “cheap” seats, which meant we were in the front-right corner, smack behind the bases. As the symphony began, I wondered if we would hear any of the other instruments.

As it turned out, yes we did. The bases were a little louder than normal, sure, but it ended up being a small enough difference that it didn’t matter all that much. In addition, there were a number of places where the bases had a fairly interesting line that I hadn’t ever noticed. Also, at some points (especially the fourth movement), where they were playing a lot harder and faster than I would have thought they could play. I wondered how those performers managed it–it was really striking to see them working so furiously. It was an awesome performance, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

And of course there are some obvious parallels to the gospel and/or the church and a symphony orchestra. Similar parallels are much more commonly applied to sports teams. Here are some thoughts I had. Nothing really deep…

  • Follow the conductor. If the conductor thinks a certain part should be soft and you think it should be loud, you should still play it soft. “Going your own way” really doesn’t work in this setting. Neither does refusing to play (in protest).
  • Play your part. Not someone else’s. Don’t get worked up about whether your part is currently working furiously while someone else is resting (or visa verse). Everyone’s part is different, and important.
  • Your part is not the only part. You are not necessarily the only one playing your part. Be part of the orchestra. Like it or not, you are in this together, so you’ll have to figure out how to work with each other. The ability to blend is very important.
  • The best soloists know how to not drown out everyone else. Instead their voice enhances everyone else’s. In this particular performance, the soloists were in the back of the orchestra, and just in front of the choir, rather than all the way up front. I thought that worked out quite well.
  • A solo part is not as glamorous as it may seem. Earlier we heard Mahler’s 1st symphony, and a base player had a very important and difficult solo part. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone as nervous as he was! I certainly didn’t envy him.
  • Don’t get hung up on mistakes.

Watching the Priesthood Work

Last weekend we were working with the Deacons Quorum presidency to plan the upcoming year. We sat them down and helped them brainstorm some ideas for goals. After a while the boys seemed settled on three goals for the upcoming year.

I noticed the quorum president had been rather quiet. I asked him what he thought about the proposed goals. He thought for a second, agreed with two of them, but then suggested something else for the third goal–one of the ideas that had fallen away earlier.

While he was speaking I felt a witness that this 13 year old boy was called by God to lead this quorum, and that what he was saying was the direction the Lord wanted this quorum of deacons to take.

We asked the boys if they were willing to sustain the direction that had been set by their president. They all did so.

It was a really neat experience to see the priesthood in action.

Meet the Mormons Review

I saw Meet the Mormons over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. The idea of the movie is to showcase a few individuals who are faithful members, depicting what their daily life is like and how their choices are affected by living the gospel. So in that sense it is rather like an extended set of “I’m a Mormon” vignettes. Having said that, there are some pretty remarkable stories told here.

For myself, the introduction felt a little awkward to me–it wasn’t a really smooth transition into the vignettes. But that is alleviated by showing a number of humorous clips and comments about Mormons from various shows, including a brief clip of the famous South Park episode (“The correct answer was the Mormons”).

From the reviews I have read, many are critical because the movie doesn’t dig into the tenets of the faith–particularly the tenets that are controversial (such as the Church’s defense of traditional marriage). But the thing is, the supposedly deep, dark, controversial subjects that are such a big deal to critics and media (because those things make for a good story) simply are not what drives a faithful Mormon in their day-to-day life. But what I believe the show is really trying to put across is that the basic tenets of faith, love, service, fellowship, and family are the driving day-to-day forces in a Mormon who is honestly living their religion as best they can. And the vignettes show that in spades.

That is certainly been my own experience. From what the critics seem to imply, my daily life (as a faithful Mormon) must consist primarily of one of two things: either I spend my waking hours fretting about whatever the current controversy is, or those waking hours are spent vehemently arguing against said controversy. So of course the critics are mad that this is not portrayed in the film. And while the LDS faith certainly contains some who could be the embodiment of such caricatures, for the most part both of those ideas are simply false.

The reality is that, most of my life is spent working and familying, much like pretty much every other person. I go to church, I go to work. I come home and spend time with my family. However, because of the gospel, that working and familying is deeply affected each day by a commitment to family and gospel values that I would not otherwise have. This is what the movie portrays. And it does that quite well.

Don’t get me wrong–I do try to defend the Church that I believe strongly in. I am happy to spread gospel messages and promote and/or defend the Church through what small influence I have online. But that’s not the sole existence of my life. In fact, even in a recent talk from an apostle that was focused on increasing our use of social media and online tools to promote the gospel we were cautioned to “Not allow even good applications of social media to overrule the better and best uses of our time, energy, and resources.” The best way that I defend and promote the gospel is by living it day to day. So now we’re back to those basic ideas of love, service, family, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Especially for a first theater release from the Church, I am very impressed and would recommend this film to others. I hope they make and release more feature films.

Touch These Stones

I’ve taken a facebook “challenge” to state my favorite scripture verse as an excuse to write up a post I’ve been toying with for a while. Lately I have been rather fascinated by the story of the Brother of Jared building the barges.

In Ether 2 the Jaredites are commanded to build barges “after the manner which they had built.” So this is not so much like Nephi’s experience–apparently this group was familiar with barges, at least for short trips. But for crossing the ocean, the barges that were built had a couple major faults:

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

No light, and no air.

Imagine being a Jaredite helping to build these barges to cross the ocean. You know that there are some big problems with the solution that is being presented. But you are asked to pitch in anyway.

Imagine being the Brother of Jared, asking the people that have followed you all this way, and being commanded to build these barges, but there are some obvious problems. You have to ask your brethren to help you build these barges, and at some point the major design flaws come to light. And you have no idea what to do.

Are we ever asked to pitch in towards something that seems absolutely useless, pointless, or futile?

So The Brother of Jared prays and asks for guidance. God gives him the solution to the air problem. He then tells His prophet to come up with a solution for the light problem.

“Here comes the Brother of Jared! Hey, what did the Lord say?”

“He told me how to get air in the barges.”

“Wonderful! What about the light?”

“He asked me to come up with a solution”

“…Oh. OK, what are you going to do?”

“…”

Now it could perhaps be that the Brother of Jared had formulated an idea fairly quickly, but I rather doubt it. I would guess that he wrestled with it for a while. I think it was a hard time for him, and he spent a lot of time thinking and working. I think God wanted him to have that time to think and to struggle, and to come up with a solution.

I also think he worked hard on the solution. The scriptures state that he did “molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Perhaps not; but to me, that sounds like a lot of work.

I think he realized that he could not do it without help from the Lord. That in the end, his efforts alone simply would not be enough. But he needed to do the best he could.

In my own (much smaller) experiences, I’ve found that there is very often a difference between what I think is my best effort and what my best effort really can be (I’ve also learned that I can’t give everything my best effort all the time). Miracles come by the grace of God, but they are more likely to come after we have given much more than we thought we could initially.

So I think it quite likely that the Brother of Jared understood that it may be that God would not provide the miracle, but would give him further instruction and guidance (and that was OK).

But the miracle does come. And I love the implication behind this. God takes that effort, and makes it shine, providing light (and a constant reminder of God’s power and mercy) for everyone.

I love the lessons here, and there are a lot of them. God expects us to work and struggle to solve our problems. He will definitely help us, but the point is that we need to learn and grow. But most of all, that when we have worked and prayed and done everything we can do, and prayed some more, and worked some more, and it seems like all we have to show for our work is a lump of rock.

God touches it.