Saturday, January 31, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Babes

1 comment:
A few weeks ago, a mother in our ward mentioned her concern about how children bear testimony, that they sometimes say that they know things that they might not yet know. Since that time, I have felt like I should share something with you. Back in 1997, I was a bishop's counselor in a ward in Oregon. This same question came up, and I was asked by our bishop to address our ward. I studied and prayed about it—and came away with a very different conclusion than the one I started with. Here is a key scripture:

Shortly after Jesus cast the moneychangers out of the temple, on the day of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, some complained when they heard the children's testimonies.

And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David [they were bearing their testimonies]; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? —Matthew 21:15-16


Originally, we had been concerned about the children saying trite things or getting giggly when they bore their testimonies. But after I read these verses from Matthew, the Spirit changed my focus.

I realized that we need to listen carefully when children speak at the pulpit. I know it may sometimes sound like they say the same things over and over—but I realized that they are "playing testimony," just like playing house, or dolls, or trucks, which is an important way to learn.

While our children's words may be painfully familiar at times, they also manage to say and do remarkable things. For example, one little girl got up last year and said, "I'm thankful that Jesus gave me a family." Those words just pierced me, and I wrote them down in my little brown notebook.

Another young girl who is normally quiet in a crowd strode up to the pulpit all by herself, with no prompting, to the astonishment of her parents. What she did took great courage, and that courage no doubt came by the power of the Spirit to her heart. So we should "suffer the little children and forbid them not" because we never want to get in the way of how the Spirit may be touching them.

We should help our children understand when and where it's appropriate to bear testimony, too. For example, it's not always appropriate for one person to bear testimony every fast Sunday. That goes for adults, youth, or children. In addition to fast and testimony meeting, we can use other occasions, such as family home evening, Primary, or a family member's baptism as a place to gain confidence in expressing feelings. These are all things that we can and should make a part of our family discussions, and it would be a great topic for family home evening.

It is also important that parents teach children to speak from their hearts and to not just say things that are merely rehearsed. I also think we need to teach them to pray as they go up to bear their testimonies, that the Spirit will guide their words. One last thing: It's best if the child can bear testimony by themselves, without the prompting of parents or siblings.

I look forward to hearing their testimonies tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Forgiving Yourself

2 comments:
I think one of the hardest things to do is to forgive yourself. What can I hold out as evidence of that?

First, off, I will confess that it has been a difficult thing for me. For a long time I held onto this little subordinate clause: "But you are not good enough." Secondly, it is one thing I have heard about a lot in the bishop's office, perhaps more than anything else. How could I help others forgive themselves when I didn't do it myself? Well, I have forgiven myself. And if there is any question, I reforgive myself. Out loud. All the time. And I feel much better, much closer to my Heavenly Father.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why can't we accept the forgiveness that Christ offers us without second guessing it or making up special exemptions for ourselves?

I am comforted by the words of John: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17.) The mission of our Savior is to save, not condemn. It seems like mankind got that backwards—we collectively are so much more inclined to condemn than save. Truth is, if we weren't so angry at ourselves, we would likely be much less angry at the world. It is something we all need to work on.

Here is a perfect example of how God does not condemn us, also taken from John (chapter 8, the first 11 verses).

Jesus was sitting in the temple in Jerusalem teaching one morning when some Pharisees and scribes—the religious establishment of the day—brought to him a woman taken in the act of adultery. You can just feel their wrath and condemnation coming off the page. But weren't they justified in their zeal? I mean, adultery is a very serious sin.

They said, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?"

Jesus knew what they were up to. They were just trying to get Him to say something that they could twist, so they could accuse and condemn Him, too. I love how Jesus handled it. The passage just says that He stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. A translation of the New Testament from the 10th century indicates that Jesus wrote the sins of the men who accused the woman on the ground.

They continued asking him what should be done. Eventually, He stood up and said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Ouch. Then He stooped down again and continued to write on the ground.

Well, when they heard that they were "convicted by their own conscience," and one by one they all left the scene, until Jesus was alone with the woman. Standing there, she must have had her eyes on the ground. Can you imagine how embarrassing a moment like this might be in front of anyone, let alone the Son of God?

It was time for a short interview. Jesus stood up again and saw no one around except the woman. Then He says, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?" On two occasions, Jesus addressed his own mother as Woman in the Gospel of John (John 2:4; 19:26). In this context, the title certainly was intended to show the woman respect.

The woman answered, "No man, Lord." She likewise addresses Jesus with respect, in spite of the tough situation she was in. To her credit, a proud or defensive person would not likely show this kind of deference.

Here is a key. Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

There is mercy. Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in the very act of sin. Why should we condemn ourselves then, especially for sins long past?

I see it mainly as a matter of faith. Does Jesus have power to cleanse from sin? Yes, of course. Then when we have done what we can and should do about our sins, why don't we trust that by His grace He has forgiven us? And if He has forgiven us, then why don't we in turn forgive ourselves and others? (It is often awkward to forgive others when we won't forgive ourselves because we tend to take out our self-loathing on them.)

It's the natural man in us that resists the mercy of God. The natural man wants to be in charge of everything, and boss you and everyone else around. The natural man is all about the immediate, not the Infinite. The natural man takes pleasure in a victim role, in being stuck, in taking on and holding onto sorrow and pain and misery and blame, instead of giving it to the One who can cast it all behind His back (Isaiah 38:7).

So let go and trust. God is worthy of our trust. It's His plan, not ours. Leave your sins at the doorstep of heaven and walk in. Put the natural man in time out, where he belongs—and take yourself out of time out. You've been in long enough.

I love this passage from Ezekiel. "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live" (Ezekiel 18:21,22).

It's not necessary for us to mention them either, once we have repented. God bless us all to find peace in forgiveness, not only of others but of ourselves.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Life after Birth?

1 comment:
This was on my niece's blog recently. I thought you might enjoy it.

A womb had twins growing in it. Their joy grew in proportion with their consciousness: "Isn't it wonderful to be alive?" said one to the other one day. "Oh yes," said the one spoken to. Over time the twins began to discover their world. In the process they found the cord that connected them to their mother and fed them.

Delightedly they said: "How great must be the love of our mother that she shares her own life with us!" Weeks passed that way and they noticed themselves changing. "What does it mean that we are changing over time?" one of them asked the other.

He answered: "It means that our time in this world will be over soon."

"But I don't want to go," replied the other and added: "Do you actually believe in life after birth?"

"Yes, it exists. Our life here is only meant for us to grow and to prepare us for life after birth, so that we will be strong enough for what awaits us."

"Nonsense, that is not possible. What is that supposed to look like anyway, life after birth?"

"I don't know exactly either. But it will certainly be brighter than here. And maybe we will walk around and eat with our mouths?"

"What nonsense! Walking around, that's impossible. And eating with the mouth, what a strange idea! We have the umbilical cord that feeds us, and it's too short for walking around even now."

"No, it's definitely possible. Everything is just going to be a little different!"

"We are going to lose our life cord. But how are we going to live without it? Others before us may have left this mother's womb, but none of them came back and told us that there is life after birth. No, birth is the end, I am absolutely sure! Nobody has ever come back from 'after birth.' Life ends at birth, afterwards everything is dark and torture." The one then fell into a deep grief and said, "If conception ends with birth, what purpose does life in the mother's womb have? It's senseless. Maybe there is no mother?"

"But she has to exist," the other argued, "how else would we have gotten here? And how would we have stayed alive? Even if I don't know exactly what life after birth is going to look like, we will at least see our mother then and she will take care of us."

"Mother? You believe in a mother? Tell me, have you ever seen our mother?" asked the first one. "Maybe she only lives in our imagination, and we just made her up in order to better understand our life. Where is she supposed to be?"

"Well, here, all around us. We are and live inside her and through her. Without her we cannot be."

"Nonsense! I have never experienced a mother, so she doesn't exist."

"But sometimes, when we are really quiet, you can hear her sing. Or feel her touch our world..."

The last days in the mother's womb were filled with many questions and big fears. Finally the moment of birth arrived. When the twins left their world, they opened their eyes and what they saw exceeded their boldest dreams and imagination.

—Author Unknown

Thursday, January 1, 2009

How Do I Know I Have Been Forgiven?

1 comment:
One common question that comes up as I interview ward members is, "How do I know if I have been really forgiven?" I find myself fielding this question a lot. Why? I think we are pretty hard on ourselves. We are, it seems, less willing to forgive ourselves than the Lord is. Self-recrimination or self-condemnation are a natural part of life, even when a sin is not serious. And we often mistake the presence of self-recrimination as evidence that God has not forgiven us yet.

It seems that most of us are forgiven long before we think we have been forgiven, or before we have forgiven ourselves. To help us all understand when we have been forgiven, I'd like to offer four things that you will notice in your life when the Lord has forgiven you, and what you might notice if you have not been forgiven.

1. When you are forgiven, you will feel gratitude and reverence whenever you think of the Savior. However, if you have not been forgiven, you will likely avoid discussing Jesus Christ or thinking about Him at all. The Savior is a painful topic to those who are out of touch with His purposes and power.

2. When you are forgiven, you will have a willing heart and feel inclined to accept callings in the Church, to serve others, and to do good each day. However, if you have not been forgiven, you will be inclined to think the bishop is deluded when he issues you a calling, shrink from your duty and assignments, and will prefer to spend time away from other people, indulging yourself in distractions and pleasures.

3. When you are forgiven, you will be honest with yourself and with others, and as a result you will enjoy being with your faithful friends, being among the saints, and having contact with Church leaders. On the other hand, if you are not forgiven, you will avoid your friends who are active in the Church, find somewhere else to be on Sunday other than attending meetings, and you will feel like hiding or, worse, punching a hole in the drywall with your fist every time you see the bishop.

4. When you are forgiven, you will feel the Holy Spirit constantly encircling and guiding your life. Otherwise, you will feel upset, angry, depressed, fearful, full of blame and fury at your spouse, children, parents, friends, and Church leaders.

This is the first of a series of blogs I plan to write during 2009 on understanding forgiveness. Feel free to pose questions about forgiveness, anonymously if you'd like, in the comments on these blog posts. Next time I write on forgiveness, I'll talk about forgiving oneself—one of the toughest things we can do.