Sunday, May 31, 2015

Birthdays & Memorial Day

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it refereeing a few high school girls’ basketball games (summer tournament), and in the evening went to the LDS Temple and a fireside with the student ward that I work with. It was a wonderful day of service to others. For me that is an ideal birthday. I would rather focus on others than have others focusing on me – especially since this was number 63 for me. I am grateful that I still have the health and energy to be able to referee the many sports that I do. Summers are full of tournaments that last two or three days and you can do 5-6 games each day. I have learned that I am not able to do 6-7 games anymore on one day, but I can still do 3-4.

My birthday is May 30th and when I was young May 30th was Memorial Day (it was changed to the last Monday in May in 1971). I always thought it was pretty cool to have the whole town celebrate my birthday with a parade and all the other activities. It took a while for me to realize they were not celebrating my birthday, but something much bigger. Memorial Day in the town I grew up was a big deal. We had a parade with all the scouts and military personnel dressed in their uniforms and the high school band, floats and others. The parade would go down the one main street in our small Midwest town and ended up at the cemetery where there would be speeches honoring those who had fought and died to defend our freedoms.

I don’t know if Memorial Day was such a big deal because we were in the middle of the Vietnam War and there were still a lot of WWII and Korean War veterans and even a few WWI Vets; but it seems that today it is just another day off from work and a day to play. I know there are many family traditions where they go to visit the graves of their family members who have died but except for the many Facebook posts about remembering those who died in the many wars we have been involved in, you don’t see that much from communities celebrating Memorial Day.

The holiday originated from several community events after the Civil War that were held to remember those who died in that war. According to the first official “Decoration Day” as it was first called was on May 30, 1868.

“General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

“On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.” (“History of Memorial Day”)

In another article published on May 28th, Rick Elkins questions if we are losing the meaning of Memorial Day. He says:

“I got to thinking that we are losing sight of what Memorial Day is about and about the role of the military in our history and world today.

“Not only are there fewer and fewer men and women around who served in World War II, we are losing their children as well.

“Today, we do not give as much thought to the men and women who serve and the sacrifices they make, but we should. Just because their battles seem far removed from Main Street, we should not forget they are fighting for us, they are putting their lives on the line for us. We certainly do not have shortages because of the war effort and we don’t see the effort every day.

“I hope the younger generations never have to go through what my parents went through, but I also hope they do take the time to understand what their grandparents, and today great-grandparents, went through to defend this nation and realize those efforts are still being undertaken today.” (“Are we losing the meaning of Memorial Day?”, Rick Elkins, The Porterville Recorder)

My father served in the Army during WWII, my wife’s father and an uncle (he died serving in WWII) served in the Canadian Army in WWII, and my oldest brother served in Vietnam. I grew up with the draft during the Vietnam War but my draft number was 306 (which meant that those with birthdays that were on days that had lower draft #’s was drafted before me) and so I was not drafted and did not serve.

As my birthdays come and go, I don’t mind forgetting about them, but we should never forget those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives so that we can enjoy the blessings of living in a free country. Regardless of your feelings towards the wars that our military is fighting right now, we must not take it out on the brave men and women that have been sent into those battles. Whenever you see someone in uniform, please take the time to say thank you. If you have the ability to help with the various organizations that support wounded military personnel do it. It is a sad thing to see those who come home with life changing injuries that have to struggle to find proper care, employment, and support from our communities.

Here is my favorite tribute to those who gave their lives. It is an eleven-year-old boy paying tribute to those who lost their lives on Omaha Beach. Your comments and questions are welcome.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

We Are Saved by Grace After All We Can Do

I know a young man that grew up in an LDS home where he was taught the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but for reasons only he knows he chose not to live by those principles. He chose friends that that were the opposite of what he was taught. Living at home became to hard. He constantly fought with his parents and his siblings; he was miserable. Finally he could not stand living at home and left.

Finally free from his parents and their rules he thought he would be happy. He and his friends got involved in drugs, gambling and other things. They sold drugs to pay for their habits and eventually he was arrested and went to prison for a year. When he was released he was changed and he was for a while. Things seemed to improve and he married and had a baby girl. Life seemed to be going great, until some of his old friends got him back into some old habits and he was back to doing things that he knew were wrong. His marriage ended in divorce, and was sent back to prison after fleeing the state to avoid being arrested.

One day while visiting him in prison he told me that he did not believe that there was a God. After he explained what there could not be a God I finally looked at him and said: “I know that you know there is a God, your parents taught you to believe in God.” I continued: “The only reason that you do not want to believe in God is if there is no God, you are not accountable for all the things you have done that put you here.” After a few minutes he looked at me and said: “You are right, I know there is a God but how can I fix what I have done?”

We talked about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and his gift of Grace. I told him that he must not only believe IN Jesus Christ but we must BELIEVE Him. We need to believe that he suffered for all of our sins; those that we have done or ever will do. There is nothing that we can do that he has not already paid the price for us, if we completely, totally, and unconditionally give ourselves to him and seek his forgiveness and then CHANGE our lives and give up our sins to follow him and keep his commandments. The scriptures teach: “that we are saved by grace, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis added). What does after all we can do mean? Brad Wilcox speaking about how the gift of Christ’s grace and the principle of obedience work together:

“Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 2 Nephi 2:7; 3 Nephi 9:20).

“Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.” (“His Grace is Sufficient”, Brad Wilcox, BYU Devotional, July 2011)

True repentance brings a change in our lives. To have the full blessings of Christ’s Grace we must be born again and no longer desire the to live the sinner’s life. The first time the young man I know was released from prison he thought he was changed, but as soon as the temptations came back he gave in and went back to his old life. His repentance did not change him. He was not comfortable being around those who were keeping the commandments and serving God. Brother Wilcox explains it this way:

“But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

“The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.”  (“His Grace is Sufficient”, Brad Wilcox, BYU Devotional, July 2011)
The Book of Mormon is full of examples of how the Grace of Jesus Christ changes people from sinners to saints with a disposition to no longer do evil. My favorite is Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. (See Mosiah 27). Alma and the four sons of Mosiah went about seeking to destroy the Church of Christ until an angel appears to them and tells them if they don’t stop they will be destroyed. The change they experience is so great Alma becomes one of the greatest leaders of the Church and the Sons of Mosiah go on a mission to the Lamanites and converted thousands. Those who were converted change completely that they buried their weapons of war and would not fight with the Nephites or their brethren. When the Lamanites that were not converted came against them to slay them, the king of the converted Lamanites responded:

Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not.

 Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the  atraditions of our wicked fathers.
 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to atake them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let usahide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made usbclean thereby.

And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall ago to our God and shall be saved. (Alma 24:6-16) 

Until we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ to change us and “put off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) we will not be able to stand to live in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Having felt that change in our lives will not guarantee that we will not sin again, we will. But when we do we turn to the Lord again with a broken heart we once again seek his forgiveness and the Lord has promised that “as often as my people repent will I forgive them” (Mosiah 26:30).

I am grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I know he has suffered for my sins as well as yours. There is nothing we can do that he has not already paid the price for and has already forgiven us if we have the faith to believe Him. If we do this we can be “saved by grace, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

Your Comments and questions are welcome.