Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Hymn for Sunday Morning

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For Tony

Where are you, Lord? Where is home?
Do I have to walk this narrow road alone?

Where is peace, then? Where is rest?
I hope you know I've done my very best.

There's a pasture far away.
It's the place I long to stay.

It's as green there as sky is blue.
It's where all my sorrows will be swallowed up in You,

Where my dad and my son will
Shine as bright as the setting of the sun.

Here I am, Lord. Here I be,
Until you've wrenched every broke prayer from me.

And when I'm with you in the sky, there
I'll know all the reasons why.

—Michael Fitzgerald
Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Worth Waiting For

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I had a special opportunity to witness the sealing of a couple in the Manti temple this morning. I have been visiting for about four years with the sister who was sealed. We have talked many times about the possibilities of finding a husband. After many years of searching, she finally found him and after a wonderful courtship,the two of them were sealed today—Sealing Room 6 which was an apartment where President Daniel H. Wells actually lived while he was the first president of the Manti temple (1888–1891).

I am so happy for them I could bust buttons. It seems like relationships that involve patience and self-discipline over a long period of time have more staying power. It is so important to keep our hopes and standards fixed as high as we can.

I loved the counsel of the sealer, Archie Brugger. He had some excellent advice which I could stand to hear. For example, he described marriage as the most trying and rewarding do-it-yourself project imaginable, and said if your marriage fails it often has to do with your own personal issues, not someone elses.

I am grateful to see a long hoped for dream come to life before my very eyes, all a result of keeping covenants through thick and thin, being immovable on standards, and holding onto the anchor chain of faith while neck deep in the water.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Consider Your Ways

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Yesterday morning, while waiting to do some work at the temple, I read a chapter from the Old Testament.

Many years after the children of Israel had been carried away captive to Babylon, a man named Zerubbabel was appointed by the Persian king Darius to be a governor of the Jews in Jerusalem. The prophet Haggai came to him with the word of the Lord—he had been neglecting his duty to rebuild Solomon's temple.
Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled [paneled] houses, and this house [the House of the Lord] lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. —Haggai 1:3–7
The Lord "stirred up the spirit" of the covenant people in Jerusalem to begin or resume their work on the House of the Lord. They started working on the temple within a matter of weeks.
And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God. —Haggai 1:14
Too often, when troubles arise in a home, it almost always coincides with neglect of tithing and temple service. We often wonder why there is not enough—not enough money, not enough time, not enough love—when it seems as though our wages are put in "a bag with holes."

Let me suggest to you once again the benefits of temple worship, and more regular, more meaningful devotion to the ordinances of the House of God. You will feel closer to the Lord. You will feel closer to your spouse and children. You will be more peaceful. Answers to your prayers will come more readily. You will complain less and, therefore, have less to complain about. Your path will become clear to you. You won't feel lost. You will know what to do.  You will have the strength to resist temptation. You will turn away from contention. You will see and feel the Lord's protection.

Consider your ways. I have, and feel to repent. Patch the holes in your bag. Take responsibility for your temple attendance. Let the Lord find you in His house often, waiting on his grace. You will be so happy you did.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What I Wish Every Ward Member Would Do

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This is a talk I gave at the priesthood leadership session of stake conference yesterday afternoon, February 13, 2010.

Brethren, it is an honor to address you this afternoon. The theme of my talk comes from Proverbs 10:17:

“He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.”

President Clark invited me to focus on an aspect of refusing reproof: “What I Wish Every Ward Member Would Do to Repent Now.”

As a bishop, my wish is that we would be more honest with ourselves, take responsibility for our choices, be truly humble, and have a willing heart.

It is clear that the greatest single deterrent to repentance is pride. We all have it to a degree.

Pride is spiritual blindness and self-deception. It is a high wall that blocks our vision, keeping us from seeing the truth about ourselves and others. Some of the hallmarks of pride are anger, blame, resistance, and denial, all of which keep us from changing and growing. Pride is also the fundamental and ever-present reason behind human misery, that which we bring on others and most assuredly on ourselves.

Pride is the steroid to which the natural man is addicted.

This reminds me of another verse found in Proverbs, chapter 30, verse 20:

“Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.”

Just yesterday a ward member told me of her sister who has in recent weeks been arrested four times, twice on second degree felony charges. The member visited her sister, who, in shackles and an orange jump suit, decried the errors of the law and those who enforce it, denying wrongdoing.

Pride is epidemic. Allow me to address several of the most prominent symptoms of this disease and the prescriptions we can take to overcome those symptoms.

Symptom/Prescription: Anger vs. Personal Responsibility

First, pride is the root of contention, as we also read in Proverbs:

“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Pride is founded on the spirit of contention. This spirit is the cause of anger, hatred, conflict and war.  One of the first things the Savior taught when he visited this continent after His resurrection was that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:28).

I believe it is impossible to feel anger without first assigning blame to some person or some thing outside of ourselves. While we at times blame situations and circumstances for our troubles, it is the act of blaming another person that fuels most of our anger. Anger often points a finger from the windows of the great and spacious building (see 1 Nephi 8:27). In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher said, “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).  

If we take personal responsibility for the situations that always arise from our own choices, anger begins to fade and blame starts to disappear. You and I only have one real enemy in this world, and we each get a good look at him every time we stand in front of the bathroom mirror.

Personal responsibility is always preceded by private reflection. Once we begin seeing ourselves as we really are (see Jacob 4:13), we can begin to regain our footing on the strait and narrow path and our grip on the iron rod.

Ready forgiveness of others and of self indicates a strong faith in the atonement of Christ and is an antidote to anger and contention. However, a lack of forgiveness of others and self is an indication of a lack of faith. If we forgive our neighbor, we won’t cling to blame, and if we don’t cling to blame, we cannot hold onto our anger for very long.

Forgiveness it seems is more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. It’s a way of setting ourselves free. It is an act of faith, for when we forgive, we say, in effect, that God is in charge of collecting a debt that we can never collect. He will most certainly collect on that debt in His own way and on His own terms.

Symptom/Prescription: Resistance vs. Humility

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Northing, Benedick quips, “Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.” (Act II, Scene III.) It requires humility to see our detractions or faults.

After we begin to take personal responsibility, and set aside blame as a lifestyle, our true image begins to be reflected back to us. Through our humility and faith, we see more clearly our imperfections, and we have hope that with the Lord’s help we can do something about them, something more satisfying than merely covering them up.

In 2 Nephi chapter 2 verses 6 and 7, Father Lehi reminds us that:

“...Redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:6–7).

Only when we come before Him broken, battered and truly humbled can we hope to have Him answer the ends of the law in our behalf.

When we are sincerely humble, we no longer need to put up resistance or deny the truth, no more must we hide from ourselves and attempt to hide from God. The natural man, among whose quick-draw emotions are shame and embarrassment, is put out the back door. We can see a new, clear path, and a divine Source of strength to tread that path alone no longer.

In Mosiah 3:19 we read:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

When we take on personal responsibility and become more humble, our hearts become more pliable and willing. The willing heart finds peace while the unwilling heart is full of turmoil as it points and blames, always running away from itself as well as from the approaching footsteps of God or His true servants.

This brings to mind a final proverb:

“The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Brethren, let us turn aside from the natural man. Let us cool the fever of pride with our humility, let us sprint away from the great and spacious building before it falls upon us, and let us offer to the Lord our willing, subdued hearts instead of resistance and denial. By this we will most assuredly find repentance and, ultimately, forgiveness and peace.

I testify that these things are true and I leave my witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Another Grandson!

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One week and 11 hours after our grandson Kimball was born, we had another one born in Texas on Wednesday morning. His name is Ian Joseph. He was 9 lbs. 1 oz. and 20½ inches long. And boy, is he a cute guy!

His dad said he looked like he was four weeks old the day he was born! Today we heard a report that he was lifting up his head. I guess this one was pretty well baked before he was born.

I was tempted to pile in the car and drive down there. It would have totally been worth the drive. If I didn't have a speaking assignment today, I just might have done it. My wife gets to go down next week.

Ian, I can't wait to hold you!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day Ideas 2

In my last post, I talked about what a wife would really like for Valentine's Day. What would your husband like more than anything else for Valentine's Day? What would mean the most to him?

It's simple: Your honor, trust, respect, and appreciation.

Now we all know that your man has weaknesses. I have many weaknesses that require constant apologies. I understand. Maybe you struggle with your feelings about him. It might be hard to feel respect when the qualities you married him for have lost a bit of their luster.

But it still counts for a lot when you believe in him, in spite of his foibles. Remember, you married him largely because you could see his potential and boyish idealism. You could see it better than he could. 

Believing in him means you must be willing to set aside your judgment, at least for a day. Look for the good, point that out, and compliment him sincerely. The more you pay attention to the good, the more you'll see it come out. The less you pay attention to the bad, the less you'll see of it.

No one can bring out his best qualities like you. In a way, you hold the most critical key to his self-esteem and success. It might be hard to see and he might not show it, but your belief in him means a great deal to his success. Nothing will motivate him more to do good and to be good than your positive belief in and support of him.

A pattern I see too often in couples is (1) the wife does not feel love from her husband and (2) the husband does not feel respect and honor from his wife. Then they both start doing things or not doing things, often unconsciously, that make things worse. The less she feels loved, the more grumpy and disrespectful she is, and the less he feels respected and honored or appreciated, the less love he shows to her. Very happy is the couple who discovers this cycle and finds the courage and wisdom to break it.

One way to stop the cycle is to stop playing defense and start playing offense. Defense you know is part of a game strategy to keep an opponent from scoring against you. But you can't win any game just by playing defense. It is a reaction. You have to play offense to score points and win a game. It is taking positive action. I see offense as the positive side of play and where our focus should be.

If you want love and respect in your relationship, you've got to put love and respect into it. You will never get good back out of your relationship if your main focus is the negative aspects of your partner.  Highlight his good qualities, show respect for those qualities, and you'll see more smiles, more effort, more try, and he'll find it easier to show you back the love you long for.

Play offense and see what happens. It will work. Maybe not as fast as you'd like, but it will eventually work. In fact, nothing else will work or get you what you really want. It will ultimately bless your life to be a positive force for good, no matter what the reaction of your spouse or anyone else is. As the day follows the night, so will the light follow your choice to be positive, appreciative and respectful. Remember: "Whatsoever good thing any man [or woman] doeth, the same shall he [or she] receive of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:8).

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Valentine's Day Ideas

Valentine's Day is coming up this weekend, yet another opportunity to express your affection for  your wife. Do you know what you are going to do about it?  A card? A meal out? Flowers? Jewelry? A movie? A visit to the temple? New socks?

I want to suggest something that I think your wife will really like. And it won't cost you any money. It will cost you some thought and effort. Yes, she would love a dozen long-stemmed roses in her favorite color. Yes, she would love a new necklace. And who wouldn't want a meal where no one has to fuss with cooking or the dishes? She would like all those things, but this is what I think she would like more than anything else.

Your direct, clear, deep, verbal, eye-to-eye, unmistakable, heartfelt, positive feelings of love for her.

That is the thing that matters the most to her. Period. I am sticking to my guns on this one.

Don't get me wrong. Your wife loves and needs your attention, time, help around the house, paycheck, and a hundred other things from you, on a regular basis. But what will really make her happy is for you to share your real, genuine feelings of esteem and love for her. When you express that from the heart, with focus and intent, that is powerful, if not overwhelming to her. She needs it more than anything right now.

Okay, it is possible that she has done something or said something lately that is under your skin and bothering you. You might still be huffy and silent or slamming an occasional door. It happens. Are you going to let the little things control your life or are you going to take control of it yourself? Set everything aside and tell her that, in spite of the all the petty distractions and irritations, she is the best thing that ever happened to you. And don't just tell her with words, though she will like that a lot. Tell her with your actions, too. Consistent actions.

If she knows that you love her, she can face anything. Nothing will make her happier. If you were the richest man in the county and lavished roses and diamonds and mansions and cars and clothes on her, it would mean nothing to her, really, unless she knows in her heart that you love her—truly, deeply, passionately, undyingly.

Nothing would mean more to her on Valentine's Day. (But I would still take her out to dinner this weekend and get her flowers, too.)

In my next blog post, I talk about what your husband would like most.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Personal Progress Program

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These slides explain some of the changes to the Young Women Personal Progress program that started in January 2010. I gave a presentation on this yesterday and I wish I used these slides to keep me on track! I am very excited about the changes, especially about the different ways in which the girls can be recognized.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A New Addition

We were delighted by the arrival of our newest grandson Kimball on Tuesday afternoon. He weighed 7 lbs. 14 ozs. and was 20½ inches long.

I thought I would never see a baby be born again.

I spent most of the morning and early afternoon keeping a fatherly distance in the waiting room. I was surprised to be invited in to help give my daughter a blessing. Later, I was asked to help move her. At that point, I took a chair in the doorway.

It was not an easy delivery. The room was quiet. A lot of silent prayers were ascending up to heaven. There was a stillness like a presence of angels. If you have ever witnessed a birth, you know what I mean.

I was asked to step in and take a turn holding my daughter's right hand. The baby had just crowned and in minutes he emerged. I was so excited, but not nearly as was his mother and father. 

Yes, he is a cute baby! We are so grateful to have him here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Information, Please

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When I found out about the Payson Temple last week, I also stumbled on this page listing the Church's statistical information.

It is a great place to find answers to questions, such as this one that came when our home teacher visited this past month: When was the gospel first preached in Puerto Rico?

Here are several other questions. How many members of the Church are their in Missouri?  How many Family History Centers are in Germany? Can you show me a world map showing the locations of all the temples?

Have fun with it. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Psalm 48

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Last week, I felt prompted to spend more time in the temple. I was struggling with some personal feelings, as I often do, but I had no idea what would come that week. The temple prepared me for those things. The Lord knew I would need his strength to get through the week and He sent me to a place I could find that strength.

Have you ever struggled with troubling thoughts and feelings only to find, after going to the temple, they sort themselves out, and you walk out of temple doors better able to face the world?

Tuesday morning last week, as I was walking out of the foyer of the Provo Temple, the Spirit prompted me to stop and pick up a Bible. I did so. The book opened to Psalms 48. Verse 9 reads:
We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple.
God's lovingkindness certainly prepared me to face the devastating news I heard later that morning, the news of the shocking death of a close friend's son.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain [temple] of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion...God is known in her palaces for a refuge.... For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.
—Psalms 48:1-3, 14
The temple is a solace to me, a refuge from conflict and storm. There is a peace to be found there that I can find in no other place on earth. If you are able to go, go often; if you are desirous to go, prepare yourself to go. You will surely find His lovingkindness there.

Respect, Love and Trust Part 3

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Years ago, I knew a man who was an FBI agent. He lived in one of our previous wards. One of his duties was transporting prisoners on planes. You've seen it: Plainclothes officers transporting handcuffed men and women on airplanes.

These people he transported really loved him. The reason why is because he would listen to them, show an interest in them and their families. Sometimes they would volunteer confessions, sometimes they would see him later in the courtroom and want to give him a hug.

Why? Because he would show them respect. Even though they had committed serious crimes, he showed them kindness and respect. He honored them, in spite of their actions. He showed them that they had worth, even though they had broken Federal laws and were headed to long prison terms. In this, he followed the example of our Savior.

Several stories in the New Testament show how kind Jesus was to those who, by the world's standards, did not deserve it—for example, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4:4-19) and the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11). He treated these women with the greatest respect, even though in Jewish cultural such would often be ignored or treated as outcasts. He did not respect their sins, but he respected individuals in spite of their sins.

Jesus did not base his respect and kindness on the actions of others. He based his treatment of others on the principle that every child of God is worthy of respect, no matter what they have done.

So, even though your wife has disappointed or annoyed you, you can show her respect. Even though your husband has done something you disagree with, you can show him respect.

Now, to be sure, we should be expressing our feelings every day. Don't stuff those feelings or box them in. Let them out. Don't let pressure build until you explode and then say and do things you regret. Express your feelings openly and honestly, but say those things with respect and deference. Don't complain, whine, accuse, blame, prod and poke. Just express what you feel with respect. Completely acknowledge and honor one another's feelings, even though you don't fully understand those feelings. It takes practice. Years of practice. It takes strength and virtue. But you will feel so much better, and you will live so much more happily in your home.

Respect is the cornerstone of love. The husband and wife who continue to show respect, even in the face of disheartening words and choices, walk in the footsteps of the Master. No other path leads to lasting peace and happiness.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Payson Temple Follow-Up

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When I mentioned the announcement of the Payson Temple last week, I said that it appears that Mapleton would remain a part of the Provo Temple district. I was wrong. I learned yesterday from our high councilor that Mapleton will be part of the new temple district.

The address for the new temple is only 14.3 miles from our house. The Provo temple is 10.1 miles from our house.

Last quarter, the Provo temple saw a 20 percent increase in ordinances performed. That is the largest growth in a quarter ever recorded in this dispensation. Great things are happening in Utah County. We have much to be grateful for. I am very excited.

Emergency Preparedness Presentation

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Below are the slides from Robert J.'s presentation on emergency preparation yesterday. I think these slides do a great job of capturing a clear yet simple path to what we have to do to be prepared, now. Thank you, Robert.

At the end of the meeting, I made several points about how we can approach the task of preparation without becoming overwhelmed.
  1. Start simple and, from there, build momentum.
  2. Have a written goal that you can discuss and work on as a family.
  3. Have a plan that breaks down your goal into steps.
  4. Have faith that you can accomplish anything with the Lord's help.
I reiterate my promise to you that if you give your emergency preparation the proper attention, and have a plan that you follow in faith, you will have nothing to fear.
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.—D&C 123:17

Two Missions

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On Saturday, I stood next to one of my best friends, Tony, as people filed past the casket of his son, Tyler.

I was amazed at how strong he was throughout the viewing. It was hard for me to imagine being in his shoes. I can't really imagine it. You'd have to live it before you could understand it fully. The death of a son just recently home from a mission. His whole life ahead of him, then suddenly gone. No cause of death. Just gone.

While standing there, Tony's bishop came up with a frame. It held two things: Tyler's mission call from President Gordon B. Hinckley on the left and these verses on the right:
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.

These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
—D&C 138:30–33
Then his bishop said, "This was his first mission," pointing to his call from President Hinckley. "And this is the mission he's on now," pointing to the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants.

That's when it started made sense to me. How else could I make any logical sense of it? This comment from Tyler's mission president's wife captured it:

We will miss you, and we know you are continuing your missionary work over on the other side...Those with such perfect...pure love of Christ in their hearts and mind, leave this mortal life young...You were just a precious, perfect, positive...person. It was in your eyes, your heart and your actions. I knew you were special when I first met you. Goodbye, Elder Graham. We will meet again before the Lord.

What a tribute to a guileless young man, too pure it seems to continue on earth.

I pray to have the patience of Tyler's family, to endure what I cannot understand, knowing in the end that I can understand and accept what is, for now, unfathomable.