Monday, March 30, 2015

Cleansing the Temple

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
From the gospel accounts, it appears that the Savior entered the temple either on Sunday or Monday, to drive out the profiteers who were defiling its precincts with their hypocritical greed.

His boldness in confronting the political-religious machine of His day is stunning.

Divine conviction drove Him to stand up to what He knew was a sickening charade. He threw over tables and "seats" and would not suffer anyone to carry a vessel through the temple, declaring, "My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" (see Matthew 21:12–16; Mark 11:15–19; Luke 19:45–48).

It must have been startling, this open challenge to corrupt authority. It is one of the things that led to his arrest, conviction, and death only days later.

I love studying and discussing Christ's life because I know with all my heart that He is our Savior and Redeemer. You can easily study these events too with the help of the Church's online gospel harmony.

One family home evening activity we have enjoyed over the years during Easter season is to lay pictures of Christ's last week on living room floor while helping the kids arrange them in order. (If you don't have them already, you can find pictures here.) You might also enjoy Whitney Permann's "Mad Monday" activities along with all her other Easter week activities.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna to the Son of David

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
I love Easter. It's my favorite holiday, a quiet, uncluttered season with time to reflect on the life of Christ.

On this day, the Sunday before Easter, we remember the triumphal arrival of the Son of God at Jerusalem when He descended the Mount of Olives, just east of the city, on a yet unridden colt, as prophesied by Zechariah—
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9.)
Amid shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David," Christ entered the city as the multitudes—perhaps thousands—spread garments and tree branches in his path as a token of welcome and reverence for the promised Messiah (see Matthew 21:6–11).

The jealous plutarchy, gravely troubled by this Nazarene upstart, hailed as the Messiah by the common folk, spoke out, "Master, rebuke thy disciples." He replied, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (see Luke 19:39–40).

Thus began the week of weeks, the final days of our Savior's mortal life. A great place to study His life is the online harmony of the gospels (begin with "Ⅳ. The Last Week: Atonement and Resurrection"). I would also like to offer you PDF downloads of two books,  The Final Passover: A Word-Phrase Study of the Last Days of Jesus Christ and Behold the Man: A Biblical Narrative of the Last Days of Jesus Christ as a way to review the events of this sacred week.

Since I was a small boy, I have believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. As I grew older, I came to not only believe in Him but to know Him, and that because He lives, there are no lost causes—not me, not you, not ever—as this video beautifully reminds us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Leaning against the Door of Opinion

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Both science and religion require some degree of belief or faith in what we can't see. We gather information and move forward with what knowledge we can discover. Plainly, we are all missing information, no matter the field.

In any case, we find ourselves leaning against the door of one opinion or another. We have to depend on working models—opinions—to get us through life.

We often seek "proof" of our opinions, but, in most cases, we can prove little to anyone except to ourselves. We may collect enough information to be very confident in a personal theory, but it's often best to leave that door open for more information rather than to lean hard against it. If not, we're likely to wander a broad plateau.

When we lean against the door of opinion, hoping nobody will attempt to open it, we stop learning and growing and we find ourselves becoming defensive and fearful. There is a tendency to mock and belittle others' beliefs, whether science- or faith-based, in defense of our own. But there is a better way.

Remember: God doesn't have any opinions and in a time distant, neither will you.

Don't feel obligated to sit behind that closed door. Keep yours ajar. Better yet, push it open and come out into the light, where there's patience with self and others, where there's more room to consider than to argue, room to appreciate, and to wait.

Our Savior "descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ" (D&C 88:6–7).
And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88:11–13.)
There's a bright light behind that door, and you'll find truth in that light. It comes from God. It shines, brightly. It enlightens our eyes, fills us with understanding. It's everywhere and in all things, though many are blind to it.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5.)
There's more truth on the other side of the door. When we open it, we'll find another door, and another. Which way we lean against our own door—to swing it open or hold it closed—can make all the difference. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Death of Anne Frank

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Photo by Arne Liste (Creative Commons 3.0 License) See http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Anne-frank-grab.jpg
The young diarist Anne Frank, along with her sister Margot, died 70 years ago this month in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Bergen, Germany. She was 15 years old. British soldiers freed the camp only six weeks later.

Anne began keeping a diary two days after her 13th birthday, June 14, 1942. When Margot was ordered to report to a work camp the following month, Anne and her family went into hiding in the "secret annex" at Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam. Her father Otto, the family's sole survivor (their mother Edith died at Auschwitz), published Anne's diary a few years after the war. It has since appeared in over 60 languages.

I attended WWW9 in Amsterdam in May 2000. I went to the see the hiding place—the Anne Frank House—twice while I was there. The experience created an unforgettable wound that has not healed.

Anne and her family lived in an apartment at Merwedeplein 37-2, also in Amsterdam, from December 1933 until July 1942. The Merwedeplein complex was walking distance from my hotel. I discovered there a quiet green next to the apartment building. I sat on a bench. The weather was cool, partly cloudy. There were no tulips as the season had just past. Three children, two boys and a girl, played soccer in the park on that carefree spring day. It was clear from their clothing that they were orthodox Jews. Amsterdam left a little part of itself in me.

Anne's death was one of millions. We know about Anne because she wrote, and her work has been read and cherished for decades because she was innocent and honest and articulate. But what about the silent millions who left little evidence that they even lived?

Since visiting the United States holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., there has been one thing I could never get out of my mind: the smell of the shoes. On display in one part of the museum are thousands of shoes confiscated from concentration-camp prisoners. Those shoes are to me so utterly human and personal.

I hear the silence. I mourn the mindless savagery of a political monster, checked too late to save 60 million lives.  What to do with that silence, I don't know. But I can't ever forget it. I don't try to forget it.

On Anne and Margot's gravestone are a few words from Proverbs 20:27, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord." That candle will never go out.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A No from God

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Courtesy LDS Media LibraryI heard this the other night at our branch home evening.

The question was asked, Does God answer all of our prayers? The answer is yes, though His answer is not always yes.

Sometimes the answer to prayer is no, but a no from God is not a rejection but rather a redirection.

A no from God is actually a yes to something better, something that we have not quite grasped.

no from God is often a doorway to a learning experience from Him, if we are willing to walk through that door. On the other side of that door is growth, revelation, and peace.

On the other hand, sometimes the answers to our prayers are quite unexpected. Do you think Joseph Smith expected to see God the Father and Jesus Christ in the grove when he asked which church to join (see Joseph Smith—History 1:1-20)? Sometimes we get far more of an answer than we hoped for or imagined possible.

Sometimes an answer to our deepest needs come unexpectedly, in response to someone else's prayer. Think of the angel visiting Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah (see Mosiah 27), an answer to the prayer of Alma's father. At times, "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (see Romans 11:29), as we see in the case of Alma or Saul (see Acts 9).

We can help answer our own prayers simply by making better choices, by following a higher path than the one we've been plodding. Blessings from God are contingent on obedience to law (see D&C 130:20–21). It behooves us to learn what those laws are.

Whether yes or no, when the Lord answers our prayers or the prayers of another in our behalf, the answer will be right. You can rely on that.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Something I Heard in Testimony Meeting Today

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
Today in testimony meeting, I heard a man tell a story about his rationalizing and ignoring a prompting from the Spirit. He felt inspired to call a new convert as his counselor in a Sunday School presidency, but set the feeling aside. Shortly after that, that man was released as Sunday School president and the bishop called the new convert to serve in his place.

In his testimony the man humbly acknowledged, "If you don't follow the promptings of the Spirit, the Lord will find someone who will."

Wow. I don't know that I've recognized this truth before, but it totally fits.

I love this quote: "There is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it" (Abraham 3:17). If God decides to call, He calls. If He decides to create, He creates. If He decides to rest, He rests.

I on the other hand can be indecisive about what I want and do. The Lord knows His own work and He will accomplish it, no matter what I do or don't do. The question is, Do I want to be part of it? I hope He doesn't ever have to find someone else to inspire again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Heart's Desire

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We picked up our daughter from her mission in New Jersey in March of 2008. One of the last things the mission president's wife shared with the departing missionaries was a simple way to pursue their heart's desire.

She provided little paper cut-out hearts and suggested that they write their heart's desire inside of one. The idea was to capture and hold the desire, focus on it, and ask for the Lord's help in receiving it.

I took several blank hearts that day but did not act. After thinking about it for several weeks, when we had returned home to Utah, I finally wrote my desire inside a yellow heart and tucked it in my old, black-covered triple combination. It was Saturday, April 5, 2008.

My heart's desire is private, as is yours, but I'll share a little of mine. It has to do with my writing career and providing for my family. I had a good job at that time, one of the best I've had, but I wanted to find something more: the path my intuition and dreams had been urging me to follow since my late teens.

I was talking to my wife about this today and I suddenly grasped something that I had not understood.

That same month, April 2008, the first scene of a novel came to me. It was something like a snapshot. It was a picture of a girl discovering her courage and hidden gifts as she stopped a man named Willy Jack from stealing a prized horse. The scene eventually became chapter 28 of Song of Falling Leaves, a New Young Adult fantasy set in contemporary Elko, Nevada. That book took six and a half years to write. I finally published it last September.

I didn't realize until this afternoon that an important part, perhaps the most important part, of my heart's desire has been fulfilled.

The fulfillment of a desire is often the fruit of undaunted hope, mixed with persistent imagination. Sometimes hope is a dormant seed until the dew of heaven quietly wakens it.