Sunday, July 20, 2014

In the Power of the Spirit

I'd like to share one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, found in Luke 4:14–32. It's one of those passages that I feel deeply. I see the story with my heart.

After His temptation in the wilderness (v. 1–13), Jesus returned to his native Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (v. 14). On the sabbath, He went to His synagogue in Nazareth and stood up to read. He chose a Messianic passage from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (V. 18–19; see also Isaiah 61:1–3.)
After He was done reading, He sat down. The eyes of everyone in the congregation were fixed on Him, apparently waiting for an interpretation. He answered their gazes with a bold witness: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (v. 21).

Jesus told them several stories about the faith of the Gentiles from the days of Elijah and Elisha, anticipating, it seems, their lack of acceptance. They were "filled with wrath" and tried to throw him off "the brow of the hill whereon their city was built" (v. 29), but He escaped their hands.

What is bold is sometimes dangerous. What Jesus said in the Nazarene synagogue was outrageous to those who were familiar with Him. Nevertheless, He told the truth.

We are not always ready to hear the truth, and when we aren't, we are left with two options, basically: have patience or get miffed.

It's okay to not be ready to hear the truth, but if that's the case, it's best to be patient. Think about it. "Alright, Seth, I understand you tried to throw the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind, off a hill in your town. Can you explain yourself?" I mean, how would you like to try to explain yourself out of that one?

His words came with power. I can feel them.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance . . . (1 Thessalonians 1:5.)
I love this story. I love my Savior. I love His strength, His confidence, His scripture smarts, His boldness. I want to be like Him. I know I have a long way to go, but I won't stop trying. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Is Freedom?

I am deeply grateful to be a citizen of a free country. Freedom comes at a dear price and I can't express enough gratitude to the thousands who have given their lives in defense of it. The fight for freedom started long ago. A very long time ago.

The fight began in the premortal life when one we know as Lucifer, a son of the morning, first sought to "destroy the agency of man" (Moses 4:3). A civil war broke out—a war of words. It didn't end when Michael and his angels cast out Satan "into the earth." The war continues here today.

Not everyone remembers the war but John the Beloved saw it in vision:
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:7–10, bold mine.)
Michael is Adam (see D&C 107:54), the first man, the head of the human family, whom God "set at the head" (see D&C 107:55). Who are Michael's angels, the ones who fought against the devil and his followers? I believe it was us. We were there among them. We are the refugees.

How did we overcome Satan, the accuser, the traitor? By (1) our faith in the redeeming blood of the Lamb of God, (2) by the word of our testimonies, and (3) our willingness to give our lives in the cause. It was a desperate fight for freedom.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11, bold mine.)
We are still engaged in the conflict, with our words, our testimonies, and our faith in Christ.

Agency is the foundation of freedom. God gave man agency in the garden of Eden (see Moses 3:16–17; 7:32). We also had agency in the premortal life (Alma 13:3–4). Without agency, we cannot be free. Without it, we have nothing.

Some see freedom as the absence of restraint but true freedom embraces restraint. Freedom has boundaries. When we honor the boundaries that protect human life and dignity, we honor God and our fellow beings. The more we honor and obey Him and respect others, the more free we become.

God honors boundaries. Satan does not. God himself, it appears, is obedient to principle and limits. He knows true freedom. Satan casts aside all principle and limits in pursuit of his evil aims and therefore he is the father of misery and bondage.

We are free to choose liberty or captivity.
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2:27, bold mine)
If we are free to choose, that we are also responsible for the outcome of our choices. A great delusion in this world is that freedom of choice includes freedom from consequences.

If we twist and mangle the truth, and attempt to recreate it in our own image, we only create an idol in the image of self and of the world. If we attempt to create a world around those choices, we will depart from the truth and from true freedom.

We cannot defeat the truth. If we try, we will only defeat ourselves.

I am grateful for our Savior Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6). We can't find true, lasting freedom in any other way or in any other name (see Acts 4:12).

I "stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made [me] free, and [hope never to be] entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Also Heard in Testimony Meeting

I want to share another story I heard in testimony meeting last Sunday [July 6, 2014]. A visitor from Los Angeles, a convert of 16 years, stood up and introduced himself. He gave his first name as Deleon. He told the story of his conversion.

He was a gang member in LA. One day, he was on lookout for the gang. He saw "two white guys in white shirts" walking towards him on the street. He said the white guys crossed the street to avoid the gang. Deleon said it bothered him that they crossed the street. He wasn't going to hurt them.

Then these words came to Deleon's mind, "They've got the Book of Mormon." He said the only Church he hadn't checked out in his area was the Mormon Church.

He said he was frustrated that the ministers he talked to couldn't answer his questions about the Bible, such as Ephesians 4:7–9 which tells of Jesus descending into the lower parts of the earth (we know He went there to teach the spirits in prison [see D&C 138:18–19]). One minister said, "There are just some things we can't know in this life." But Deleon wasn't satisfied.

He motioned to the missionaries, "Hey, come over here. We won't hurt you." The missionaries walked over to Deleon pretty cautiously. Then he asked, "Do you have a Book of Mormon?" What missionary wouldn't welcome that question?

Of course they had one and they gave it to him. Then Deleon asked them to come in and teach the gang members who where in the house. Um. Yeah. The missionaries had a little conference in the middle of the street and decided it would be okay. Then they went into the house and taught.

Less than four weeks later, Deleon was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Deleon's was one of the most powerful testimonies I've heard in a long time. Thank you, Deleon. You lifted my spirit high. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Heard Today in Testimony Meeting

The last person to share her testimony today works in behavioral health, with addicts, including prison inmates and parolees. One day she felt inspired to try something to help inmates remember what it was like to be a little boy again. She checked it out with the prison guards and they okayed her plan.

So she asked some inmates to round up the toughest dudes they could find in their block. They assembled some of the roughest, meanest looking inmates you can imagine (she described them) in a room. I think she said there was 16 of them, plus two prison guards.

She had them form a circle, then sit cross-legged on the floor. Then she said, "We're going to play Duck, Duck, Goose. Who wants to be the goose?"

Groans and protests. Finally, at the encouragement of the guards, someone volunteered. And the fun began.

In a short time, the room was roaring with laughter. Even the guards had a tough time keeping it together. Everyone laughed and had a great time and remembered what it was like to feel like a little kid again.

I think the world is full of good people. Even people who get themselves into a bunch of trouble have a lot of good (and fun) in them. Every once in a while, you find someone who seems unredeemable. But even they have little glow plugs inside.

It's because we all come from the same Father. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I'm Not Proud of My Doubts

I have doubts. I am not proud of them. But I don't despise them. In a way, they are schoolmasters that bring me to Christ (see Galatians 3:25). They've sent me to my knees, a place where I need to spend more time.

I don't have the answers to all my questions. This leaves a gap. The awesome thing is that I decide what goes in that gap. I didn't always know that or believe that. I just thought that gap got filled with whatever rubble rolled into it. But that's not true. I know that now.

Here is one of my favorite verses. I memorized it years ago. (You should it too. It's short.)
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (D&C 6:36.)
So there it is. A commandment from Jesus Christ to not doubt. It's one I haven't been able to keep but I don't feel cast down. I am hopeful. I'll tell you why.

Doubt is the servant of sin, and the less I serve sin, the less I doubt. Now hold on there. I am not saying that because you have doubts you are sinner. No. What I am saying is that if you are sinning gleefully, doubt can rearrange your thinking and give you permission to sin more.

Every time I've had a serious doubt, I've gotten a clear answer for that doubt. That's because I prayed and prayed. And studied. Sought counsel. And was patient. When doubt sends you off into Deception Ditch, often that's because you stopped watching the road and you took your hands off the wheel. Hold on. Keep steering. Look down the road. Think about the curves that are coming up. Think and be patient.

But I do have some lingering doubts. Not about the existence of God or the divinity of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith's call as a prophet or tithing or the priesthood. My doubts are very personal and they have to do with my disappointments in myself. Enough said.

But I know I will overcome those doubts too, just as I have overcome other doubts. I'm patient and calm. I'm hanging on. I'm watching the road. I'm going to make it.

Honestly, I am grateful for my doubts. They've taught me to look up. And when I look up, my doubts run away. Then, when I look back down, they've gone. Yes, I'm grateful for my doubts but happy to say goodbye when it's time to say goodbye.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why Doubt Is Your Friend

Doubt has a job. Doubt is here to wake you up, sort of like an alarm clock. I think Doubt can be your friend, but not your best friend. Faith should be your best friend. Always. There is a big difference between those two.

There is so much to know in this universe and so little we do know. Doubt reminds you of what you don't know and, in his way, of what you can know. Doubt can be helpful. He should be a welcome guest when he comes around, but only a guest.

Sometimes Doubt lingers beyond his welcome. He hopes you will adopt him into your family and make your home his permanent home. Don't do that. Have him come over for an evening discussion now and then, but send him home when it gets dark.

I struggled with Doubt in the past. We used to hang out together. But then I discovered that, as smart as he was, he could be pretty stubborn and lazy. He also complained a lot. He wasn't always the best influence on me so I have broken off our friendship for the most part. We still talk on the phone every once in a while. I consider him a friend but we don't do much together. I appreciate him, nonetheless, because he has challenged me and pointed me in the right direction even though he didn't realize he was doing that.

One of Doubt's biggest issues is his vision. He has a huge myopia problem. In fact, he has to get new eyeglasses every couple of weeks. It's expensive and time consuming. Must be tough. He also has sloppy eating habits, a weight problem, and a personal hygiene issue. I've had to tell him in public that he stinks! I really feel sorry for him, but I am careful to not be an enabler. I've had to use tough love with Doubt. Maybe that's why he doesn't answer my texts. Hmmm.

The main reason why Doubt and I aren't close anymore is because of my friend Faith. Faith filled the vacuum Doubt left behind. She is always is positive and hopeful. She is never lazy or unkind and she is always a good influence on me. She is energetic, fun, and she just motivates me! She always tells the truth and she reaches out to me when I am down. Let me just get this out: I love her. She is my BFF!

I've never doubted my friendship with Doubt. We've been friends since childhood. We're just not close anymore, but that's okay with me. (I'm codependent no more.)

On the other hand, I found out recently that Faith is my sister! We are blood relatives! I did some family history work and found out that we come from the same Parents. Woo hoo! She is coming over for Sunday dinner tonight. I also plan to see her at church today. I am so excited!

You are always welcome to join us.

P.S. Yep, this is a variation of post on doubt I wrote last year.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Running toward the Sun

I am running toward the sun,
the bright, hidden star
at the far end of the universe,

collecting improbable stories
on my way (tales of fitful wonder)
though I cannot know

if I am the observer or the observed.
Each footstrike lifts me higher
until the earth becomes

a seed, secret and recluse,
a forgotten child far on the
horizon of a misplaced eternity.

—Michael James Fitzgerald