General Conference and Choosing the Bigger Life

Late last year, I was preparing for 2017’s New Year’s resolutions. As I surveyed where I was and where I wanted to be, I knew that I wanted to simply get more out of life. I was already happy and satisfied, but I just wanted even more: more happiness, more goals reached, more great experiences, more memories, more health, more spiritual feeling, more deep and rich living with all the wonderful people around me. I decided to approach the new year with a private new motto: “Choose the bigger life.”

This means that whenever I had any choice or opportunity–even in mundane daily activities–I would do whatever would lead to those things, no matter if it took time or energy I didn’t have or want to give. That would lead to the bigger life. And I’ve tried to center my life in the Church more than ever because, more than anything else, that vehicle leads to all of the things I want–it’s our Heavenly Father’s gift to us for realizing the abundant life.

This isn’t the kind of resolution that one keeps “starting right NOW.” It’s a process, and like all such processes, your vision of it grows as you practice. I’ve done a lot more with life this year, but I also realize just how much farther I can and will go.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in the celestial room of the temple. I didn’t have any particular question or issue on my mind; I was just thinking about my life. In one of the clearest spiritual manifestations I’ve ever had, a concrete idea came into my mind, in a character different from my usual internal monologue. It wasn’t a voice, distinctly, just an outside feeling coming in, and it used a phrase that was pretty common at the time. “It’s time to kick it up a notch,” the thought said. I knew what it meant and have tried to live up to it.

As with this year’s new motto, it’s been a gradual process of fits and starts. Still, it’s made a difference. I really have had a bigger life this year.

What does any of this have to do with General Conference? After all of these talks, I really want to recommit and do even better and even more. I’ve been feeling very tired, stressed, and run down lately. But not now. Now I’m excited, and I want to crystalize that motivation and direct it to the most important things. I want to choose the even bigger life.

Going forward into the final third of 2017, I still have the motto from that resolution in mind. The teachings and stories of General Conference have added fuel to that fire. Looking back on the finished life of Elder Hales, the winding down life of President Monson, and the examples from the life of President Nelson shared by himself and by Elder Andersen have all shown me anew the way to live exactly the kind of passionate, productive life that leads to the biggest life of all, eternal life.

Let’s do this thing.

 

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October 2017 General Conference Notes

This post will be updated throughout the weekend.

 

SATURDAY MORNING

President Uchtdorf: The Light is Calling to You

  • We have an innate feeling pulling us towards God, like animals’ instincts to get home
  • God calls out to us, no matter what
  • Our life will be better if we answer the call
  • God will use us to make others’ lives better
  • A good description of the disciple’s life as the good life!
  • “Begin your own wonderful journey home.”
  • “Blessings don’t come from abilities as much as from choices.”
  • Even pioneer heroes were just human
  • The light of Christ…the talk comes full circle!
  • “No one else is responsible for your journey.”
  • “Reach out, encourage, heal…”
  • Life as a pilgrimage

Bonnie L. Oscarson (YW Pres): Service

  • Lose ourselves in service to find ourselves
  • Service is better in person than online
  • Some of our most significant service will be close to home: family and ward family
  • “What makes you think you go to mutual because of what YOU get out of it?”
  • “We are not just receivers and takers of what is offered at church…we are givers.”
  • [When we pull our heads into our shells, our world gets smaller]
  • “Who needs me today?”

Elder Oaks: Avoiding Worldliness on the Family

  • TSM: reject anything that does not conform to our standards
  • Family proc. is essential guidance for exaltation
  • “marriage standards of a declining world”(!)
  • TOO MUCH truth in this talk–amazing job laying down the law on the family!

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We Need To De-Stigmatize Repentance

Scenario: you know you need to see your bishop and confess a problem because the loss of the Spirit is making you miserable, but you can’t, because you know that if you do, you’ll have to stop taking the sacrament, and people will see that, and you’ll be embarrassed.

And what if you’re called on to pray in a class, but you may not be able to–the shame!

And of course people will wonder what awful dirty evil thing you did. They’ll talk about it. They’ll treat you differently. Worse.

In short, your life could be ruined.

What a heartbreaking tragedy that anybody may ever feel this way. But those fears are justified–they didn’t just grow out of nothing in the minds of a paranoid few.

Too many times, we Latter-day Saints do in fact treat people badly because they have clearly Broken A Rule.

And that makes people less likely to go down the path to self improvement. Nobody wants to be a social pariah, or be judged, or looked down on at all.

The biggest tragedy here is that this behavior of ours towards those who are repenting should be the exact opposite of this.

A wise bishop once told a priesthood meeting that if anyone felt hesitant to come to him because of a major sin they’d committed because they worried he might lose respect for them, to not worry–he would have more respect for them because of their courage in confessing and starting up the path to forgiveness.

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Our Way of Life

When I write about my church, it’s usually to analyze some aspect of belief or to defend it from critics. But today I just want to celebrate the beauty and joy of the kind of life practiced in the Mormon church.

For months now I’ve often looked back from the end of a day and thought of just how amazing it was. It’s crazy how many days make me laugh and smile and think, how many days have a little bit of me helping someone else and someone else helping me, how many days see me witnessing and participating in the best and hardest moments in an ever growing number of lives. This isn’t meant to say that any other way of life is worse than this or bad at all; this post is for me to simply say that the practice of Mormon discipleship is a truly wonderful way to live.

*****

For numerous specific anecdotes of exactly what I’m talking about in the daily lives of ordinary Latter-day Saints, please check out the series of posts tagged “on the sweetness of Mormon life” over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. Dip into any of those slices of homemade gourmet living and you’ll find your heart filled with a rich light.

The most recent entry:

An old cowboy bears his testimony. he is being released from the bishopric. It is his 3rd bishopric. He cries when he speaks. He say’s he’ll miss the friendship. His successor is a dirt contractor who “grew up rough.”

The first speaker says he’d been working at the temple a few days back. The Temple President came and pulled him from his duties. Unusual. “We need help in the baptistry.” There was only a father and son. Also unusual. They ran a session of baptisms for the dead and then confirmations for the dead, with just the Temple President and the speaker and the father and the son. Very unusual. The father was fighting back tears.

After, the Temple President explained. The son had turned 12 that weekend. A day or two later, the man received his 7-day notice that he was ordered to Afghanistan for one year. The temple had made special arrangements so he could do his son’s 1st baptisms for the dead.

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Or you could refer to this summary from the end of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for a remarkable parallel to the kind of life I have in mind:

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The Prophet Option: A Mormon Review of The Benedict Option

41QY+zZAzfL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re an active Latter-day Saint with any interest in The Benedict Option, I have good news for you: you’re pretty much already living it.

Rod Dreher’s bestseller isn’t actually a tirade against American society–that’s too far gone to even really bother with at this point–it’s a call to arms to rescue what’s left of Christianity in the West. We do this, Dreher says, by ignoring the mainstream and living our religion fully.

Dreher is an excellent writer; his observations, anecdotes, and advice are all solid. Still, the formula he gives is surprisingly basic. The fact that this pattern is supposed to be a rebellious throwback to the seriousness of medieval monks is an even better illustration of how far we’ve gone astray than any gloom and doom statistic.

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How Keeping the Sabbath Holy Is Like Being a Jedi

YodalukedagobahOne of Luke Skywalker’s frustrations in The Empire Strikes Back is that he is stuck on Dagobah while a war rages around the galaxy. His friends are racing away from the Empire while he’s standing on his head and lifting rocks in a lonely swamp. Giant ships play hide and seek among asteroids and face off against weird monsters, and he has to listen to proverbs from a little green preacher.

This is the life of a Christian on Sunday.

While the rest of the world continues to run around having adventures, those who would be spiritual warriors are quietly pondering ancient scriptures at home, listening to sermons in meetings, singing resolute and reverent hymns with a small community, and otherwise holding back from the normal fray in order to develop inner spiritual strength.

It’s often boring. It seems like a waste of time, just as Luke thought he was wasting his time. But such periodic training is necessary to really be ready for that fight of life during the rest of the week.

Standing on his head and lifting rocks was the best thing Luke could have been doing at that time–he needed it so he’d be able to resist the dark side and help his friends.

Ditto for us. We need the Sabbath and its observance. It may seem odd, but such time apart from the public battles is part of our life as disciples.

Two Months in the Life of President Russell M. Nelson

elder-russell-m-nelson-mormonWhat major tasks have you completed so far in 2017? How much of your total strength has that taken? How much good has it produced? Consider just some of what Russell M. Nelson has done in the first two months of this year.

Nelson is the leader of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He works full time as a minister, only getting a stipend for living expenses. And he’s 92 years old.

He’s been doing this for over 30 years, since 1984. Before that, he was an accomplished heart surgeon. He has over 50 grandchildren and over 100 great grandchildren.

On January 8, he gave a 40 minute speech to an auditorium of thousands of young adults about leadership and faith. The speech was broadcast online. How much time and effort went into preparing it, do you think? Watch it to see how much passion went into sharing the message. Note that his demeanor is always funny, witty, and pleasant–there is no scolding or negativity coming from him. He loves what he does and whom he serves.

One week later, on January 15, he visited my congregation in North Las Vegas. He spoke for about 45 minutes here, about a variety of spiritual topics. His remarks were prepared, but he worked without notes. Afterwards, he slowly exited the chapel, shaking hands with anyone he could reach on the way out, and even picking up small children to embrace, including my four-year-old daughter.

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Three Thoughts

  1. On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
  3. Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!

Checklist for President Nelson’s January 2017 Devotional

On January 8, President Russell M. Nelson gave a devotional for young adults at BYU. In that talk, he suggested studying 76 specific items. Here is a checklist for them. Below this is video of the talk (which starts at around 1:11:40), a PDF of the checklist, and then a copy of the list with links to the church web site.

 

president-nelson-devotional-checklist

 

“I urge you to study the lives and teachings of these 16 prophets of God.” (“See LDS.org.”)
1. Joseph Smith

2. Brigham Young

3. John Taylor

4. Wilford Woodruff

5. Lorenzo Snow

6. Joseph F. Smith

7. Heber J. Grant

8. George Albert Smith

9. David O. McKay

10. Joseph Fielding Smith

11. Harold B. Lee

12. Spencer W. Kimball

13. Ezra Taft Benson

14. Howard W. Hunter

15. Gordon B. Hinckley

16. Thomas S. Monson

“Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation….To assist you, refer to the Topical Guide for references under the topic ‘Jesus Christ.’” (“See the Topical Guide, ‘Jesus Christ.’ In addition to the text under that major heading, there are 57 subtitles about Him. Let this resource become your personal core curriculum.”)

1. Jesus Christ
2. Jesus Christ, Advocate
3. Jesus Christ, Anointed, the
4. Jesus Christ, Antemortal Existence of
5. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Antemortal
6. Jesus Christ, Appearances, Postmortal
7. Jesus Christ, Ascension of
8. Jesus Christ, Atonement through

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Favorite Quotes From Lorenzo Snow

teachings-of-presidents-lorenzo-snowBrethren and sisters, there are some things that you and I ought to think about. The time is come when it behooves every man and every woman to know for themselves in relation to the foundation on which they stand. We should all strive to get a little nearer to the Lord. It is necessary for us to advance a little and obtain a full knowledge of those things which we should more fully understand. It is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint.

This is the condition of all men, no matter how well they start out, who allow their thoughts and affections to run after the world and its ways, and it is a plain and indisputable proof that when this is the case with men they love the world more than they love the Lord and His work upon the earth. Having received the light of the everlasting Gospel, and partaken of the good things of the kingdom, and being of the seed of Israel and heirs to great and glorious promises, we should labor with fidelity and diligence to accomplish what God has designed to do through us; we should be men and women of faith and power as well as good works, and when we discover ourselves careless or indifferent in the least, it should be sufficient for us to know it in order to mend our ways and return to the path of duty.

Nothing can be more foolish than the idea of a man laying off his religion like a cloak or garment. There is no such thing as a man laying off his religion unless he lays off himself. Our religion should be incorporated within ourselves, a part of our being that cannot be laid off. If there can be such a thing as a man laying off his religion, the moment he does so he gets on to ground he knows nothing about, he gives himself over to the powers of darkness, he is not on his own ground, he has no business there. The idea of Elders in Israel swearing, lying and giving way to intoxication is far beneath them; they ought to be above such things. Let us put from us every evil and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God [see D&C 98:11]. Let us lay hold of every duty assigned to us with ambition and energy that we may have the spirit of our God, the light of truth and the revelations of Jesus Christ within us continually.

CHAPTER 3: LIFELONG CONVERSION: CONTINUING TO ADVANCE IN THE PRINCIPLES OF TRUTH

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What Is Section 132 Really About?

Not marriage. Not really. A question about marriage is the impetus for the revelation, and information about it is given at a few points, but that information is always incidental, and given to illustrate points about the revelation’s larger theme.

Consider that section 132 is the last revelation Joseph Smith received that’s included in the Doctrine and Covenants. What might be the most important message of that book overall for the Saints in this dispensation? It’s one that is indeed extremely important and relevant for us this very day.

 

WORD COUNTS

In 66 verses, the word “marriage” is only used two times. Other marriage-related terms occur not much more often: “marry” and “sealed” occur six times each, “concubines” and “wives,” four times each. The most commonly used marriage-related terms are “wife” and “adultery,” which occur ten times each; and “adultery” is always mentioned in material that’s meant to ensure that that sin is not committed.

Contrast that with the frequency of these other significant terms:

  • Commanded, commandment, priesthood – 7 times each
  • According, appointed, received—9 times each
  • Exaltation, receive—11 times each
  • Abide—12 times
  • Power, word—13 times each
  • Covenant—15 times
  • Servant—16 times

And perhaps the most important term of all, as suggested by frequency of use:

  • Law—32 times

 

132

A word cloud of terms in Doctrine and Covenants section 132

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Men and Porn

A friend of mine who works in the IT industry told me about this experience he had about a decade ago.

A guy in the cubicle next to his asked him to come over and look at his screen. My friend did and saw that his coworker had a pornographic image on display. He quickly turned away and said something like, “Thanks but no thanks.”

The coworker teased and scolded him a bit about being a prude and said, “C’mon, don’t pretend you don’t like it.”

And this is where the story gets memorable for me. My friend said, “I’m not pretending I don’t like it. I’m sure I would like it. That’s why I have to force myself to avoid it.”

I think that’s a great lesson for all of us.

The Sacrament Prayers As A Heroic Epic

The promissory elements of the sacramental prayers, especially the prayer on the bread, can be seen as an enactment of a typical heroic arc.

I’ll illustrate here with images from that typical hero’s journey, the Star Wars saga. It’s not perfect or in order, and I hope you don’t find this irreverent, as this analogy makes Darth Vader into Jesus (though there really are clearly some aspects of the Savior used in the character of Anakin Skywalker). In these pictures, Luke Skywalker is each of us as we take the sacrament.

The first thing we as individual participants do is to eat “in remembrance of the body of thy Son.”

FuneralPyre.png

“in remembrance of the body of thy Son”

A great hero has fallen, his life given for the good of others, and the young disciple (or in our case, disciples) who must now carry forward the legacy of his work must, first of all, mourn and find strength from the sacrifice of the elder master.

Lukesaberanh.png

“they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son”

The fallen master’s legacy is now conferred on the next generation, who “take upon them” (physically, spiritually, or both) some talismanic aspect of the master (be it a lightsaber or a holy name).

lukes-hand-3-e1452371248564

“and always remember him”

Here’s another example of becoming literally more like a great heroic mentor through continual remembrance–Luke’s bionic hand. In our case, eating the sacramental bread itself could fill this role. (The work and clothing of the temple fit here as well.)

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“and keep his commandments which he has given them”

Armed with committed resolve and the basic emblems of the way, the young disciple(s) now must live the way with increasing fullness, through a life of practice, tests and trials, and general faithfulness as they embark on their own version of the master’s journey. This training is ongoing and episodic, like a series of scenes in a movie franchise, or over the course of our daily lives. Either way, growing in strength through regular obedience to the laws of the way is expected.

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“that they may always have his Spirit to be with them”

The reward for demonstrated faithfulness to practicing the way of this order is to have the eternal, spiritual presence of its holy divinities with the young disciple along the path of the dangerous journeys ahead. These spiritual guides offer blessings and gifts that aid the hero on his ever-maturing way (“Use the Force, Luke” or “Choose the right,” perhaps).

This pattern could also be illustrated with scenes featuring Obi Wan more, or figures like Gandalf or Dumbledore. The point here is to invest the great words of our compact little sacrament prayer with the majesty they deserve. It’s a simple routine for us, but one that can and should have profound meaning.

Keeping in mind this pattern of a heroic journey as each of us takes the sacrament each Sunday might help us realize its importance and power. It may only last a few minutes, but this ordinance has the ability to orient and refresh us after a long week of heroic journeying, and prepare us to continue fighting forward.

Sacrament Talk: “Endure Forward Well With Joy”

Some years ago I had a conversation with a good man who was losing his testimony, who wanted clear and close benchmarks in life like in his youth, not a marathon with no end. Life felt like driving through a Midwest state with nothing new in it. Maybe we feel like that, or burnt out, or new and overwhelmed, or young and bored, or just realize there are more blessings out there. A lot of us might be in the same spot, looking for landmarks to encourage us and help us along the way.
This brings to mind any number of scriptural phrases: endure to the end; endure it well; press forward with faith; find joy in the journey, among others. They all basically mean the same thing. Let’s just call today’s talk, “Endure Forward Well With Joy.”
I wanted a list of three items, all based on quotes from general conference, and all focused on the Savior. We all came here today looking to be filled with the Spirit and lifted up spiritually, and I hope that there’s something in here for each of us to benefit from.
Landmark #1: Ordinances
In leadership councils of the church, one way ministering is planned is by asking, “Who needs an ordinance?”, making the answer a goal, and planning how to reach that goal.

Now, for some, that may be easy: we might need to go to the temple for the first time, men might need a priesthood ordination, we might even just need to start by being baptized. These are natural and obvious landmarks in our lives, and as we set our sights on them and reach them, we’ll find that life is fuller and sweeter, because we will always know that we’ve been doing the best things with our time.
In the April 2015 General Conference, David A. Bednar taught:

Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use to construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His Atonement. We are connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those sacred commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. And that bond is the source of spiritual strength and stability in all of the seasons of our lives.

We can be blessed to hush our fears as we firmly establish our desires and deeds upon the sure foundation of the Savior through our ordinances and covenants.

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