A Spark of True Nobility

This post is not directly related to the Church, but it concerns an inspiring event in U.S. History that I heard about for the first time recently on the Washington Post’s Presidential Podcast. I thought it was worth sharing on this blog because it is a story that powerfully illustrates many gospel principles. In particular, it truly affirms for me the powerful impact that one person who sees and encourages the potential in another can have. This is the story of one obscure woman, Julia Sands, who provided the moral conscience for a president. Continue reading

A People Prepared for the Restoration

One of the talks that really stood out to me in this most recent general conference was one by Elder Jairo Mazzagardi entitled “The Sacred Place of Restoration. A few weeks ago I wrote a post on my blog explaining how this talk helps us learn about the process of receiving personal revelation.

This week I have been thinking quite a bit more about the question that caused Elder Mazzagardi to struggle so much: Why did the restoration have to occur in North America when it did rather than anywhere else or at any other time in human history? He offers some answers in his talk, namely the existence of religious freedom and the confluence of religious revival and economic explosion in upstate New York. These are very significant answers, but certainly many more things could be added to that list.

I have been listening recently to free lectures on Open Yale Courses while working out or commuting. And this week I have been listening to a phenomenal course of the Civil War and Reconstruction by historian David Blight. One of the early lectures is about the “Northern World View.” Listening to this lecture gave me added insight into Elder Mazzagardi’s question. Continue reading

Rooting our Worship in the Savior

I recently had a dear friend publicly announce that she was leaving the Church. I have known about her objections and her decision for a while, but seeing her announce it was still painful.

One of her criticisms that I have also heard others mention is that she felt that teaching in the Church was not focused enough on Jesus Christ and too focused on peripheral matters such as tithing or food storage. She felt that these matters distracted from the focus on Jesus Christ and harmed her relationship with him.

Of course, there is some merit to this critique. We should always strive to do better in tying our discipleship and everything that we do to the Savior and his Atonement. Without him all of the commandments that we keep, callings we hold, and sermons we preach would be in vain. Without his grace, everything would lack efficacy and meaning. If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the true core of the Gospel. Continue reading

Drawing Closer to God and Eliminating our Sense of Spiritual Entitlement #ldsconf

This conference has been an absolute delight. So many sermons have stood out to me with clarity and power. One of my absolute favorites was delivered by Elder Dale G. Renlund at the conclusion of the Saturday Morning Session.

There are three themes from Elder Renlund’s talk that stood out to me and that I want to write about briefly. First, the relationship between distance and spiritual entitlement. Second, how our desire to sin is reduced as we draw closer to the Savior. And third, the role that sacred ordinances play in the process of drawing closer to God.

Distance and Entitlement

Elder Renlund spoke about the relationship between our distance from our father in heaven and our sense of spiritual entitlement. He noted, that the more distant we are from our Father in Heaven, the more likely we are to voice grievances and to see unfairness in our circumstances in life. At first glance, this seems wholly contradictory. Surely, those who are closer to God would be those who feel entitled to blessings for their obedience.

But when we consider examples in the scriptures and in our own lives, Elder Renlund’s teaching ring’s true. He used the story of Nephi and Laman and Lemuel, but we can find many other instances in the scriptures where those who were unfaithful also felt particularly entitled to blessing and protection from Heavenly Father. For instance, the people in the days of Isaiah and Lehi felt that because they were “chosen” they were entitled to God’s protection. They felt this was the case irrespective of their spiritual standing or willingness to live righteously. Christ also strongly condemned those hypocritical Pharisees who made long prayers as a sign of righteousness, but devoured the widows mite and were distant from God. In our day, Joseph Smith was warned of those in the world who “draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

In contrast, there are many examples of the righteous bearing indignity with long-suffering. From Job to Joseph Smith, the scriptures are replete with such exemplars who understood and did not murmur. And of course, we can consider as Elder Renlund did, the matchless example of the Savior who suffered without cause and yet bore his suffering for our sake. Self-righteousness and entitlement truly are inversely correlated with our relationship to God.

Our Desire to Sin 

Just as entitlement and Self-righteousness dissipate as we draw closer to God, so too does our desire and disposition to Sin. When we are distant from God, we are likely to expect him to excuse us in our sins. For after all, we think we deserve mercy and grace. And we see our selves as righteous and deserving of salvation.  But as we realize the price that our redeemer paid to redeem us of our sins, we cease to think of grace as cheap or cost free. We realize that when we sin, we add to the burden borne by the Savior in Gethsemane. We realize also that we are hopelessly in need of redeeming grace. Without God’s mercy, we are truly reprobate and the worst of sinners. This recognition pushes us to repentance and true change. We no longer take for granted the many drops of blood which were shed for us.

The Role of Ordinances

Elder Renlund spoke of ordinances, particularly the sacrament, as the vehicles by which we can draw closer to the savior and gain a greater appreciation for his redemptive sacrifice.

I loved his example of the sacrament being administered personally for a woman who the deacons had accidentally forgotten. One of the most tender experiences on my mission came as we would weekly go to the home of an elderly sister in her 90’s and administer the sacrament to her. She was one of the most humble and faithful individuals I have ever met. And each week, she would radiate such joy and gratitude as we brought her the emblems of the Lord’s supper. From her, I learned so much about the sacred importance of the sacrament. Each week, that ordinance is an opportunity to remember our savior and to improve ourselves through his grace and through the power of the Holy Ghost.

The other ordinances of the Gospel are likewise essential. I have especially felt the healing and sanctifying power of the holy temple. Every time I go to the temple, I feel my nature incrementally improved and feel myself drawing nearer to God. I am grateful for the ability to go frequently to the temple and to again and again participate in those sacred ordinances. And I am grateful to weekly partake of the sacrament and reflect on the atonement of the savior. These ordinances point me to Christ and draw me closer to God.

Cross-posted on Symphonyofdsisent

Donald Trump, the Rule of Law, and the Arm of Flesh

Members of the Church often voice outrage when the Prophet or one of the apostles speaks out on a political issue or offers his thinking regarding the qualities necessary for political office. But nevertheless supporting righteous leaders and opposing wicked ones is a religious as well as a civic duty. In Utah, the First Presidency recently released a statement urging members to participate in our caucuses coming up on the 22nd. I don’t believe similar statements were read over the pulpit in other states, but general statements encouraging civic participation have also been common.

This is not surprising since Latter Day-Saints are commanded, “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.”

In the April 1972 conference (a few months before a Presidential election) President Benson spoke of civic standards that we as latter day saints should follow  when selecting leaders. Aside from references to communism, most of this sermon could comfortably be delivered next month in conference and be just as timely and topical. Continue reading